Lebanon Druze wary of being dragged into Syria conflict

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With the attack of Suwayda, Syrian Druze have abandoned their neutrality with respect to the Syrian crisis, while the question of whether or not Lebanese Druze will join their coreligionists on the battlefield to fend off insurgents remains.

The Syrian war has proven that neutrality has no place in a region inflamed by various forms of extremism. The flames of the war have reached the countryside of Suwayda, where Bedouin supporters of Jabhat al-Nusra are attacking the Druze regions of the town of Dama and the village of Shaniya. According to media reports and local sources, the clashes have led to the deaths of 12-16 people.

The Druze — who constitute the bulk of Suwayda’s population — have attempted to remain neutral in the region’s conflicts. Since the Druze sect is one of the region’s minority groups, Lebanese Druze feel a special empathy with their coreligionists in Syria and fear for their fate.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Syrian Druze have actively pursued a policy of non-involvement and preserved their neutrality with respect to the country’s ongoing conflict. But they have now been forced into the battle since some of the sect’s religious leaders have been killed. This has brought an end to the neutrality and has led the Druze of Jabal al-Arab into the heart of the storm.

Times of adversity

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The Druze are well known for their solidarity in times of adversity. Therefore, what happens in Jabal al-Arab is seen as an existential threat to the Druze sect as a whole, though some consider it a strictly Syrian concern. Many wonder if the [Lebanese] Druze will follow in the footsteps of other Lebanese groups and intervene in Syria in defense of their coreligionists.

With this in mind, we spoke with Lebanese Druze youths. Some said it is incumbent upon Lebanon’s Druze to “remain neutral,” and said that they feel “empathy and no more” for the Druze of Syria. Others, however, contended, “This real conspiracy creates a dire need [for intervention] given the conditions under which the [Druze] sect lives.”

Ziad, a Druze youth who lives in a region close to the Lebanese-Syrian border, said, “The Druze are not attacking anyone, but there is a conspiracy to divide the region.” He added, “No one makes his own decisions. There has been an international decision made to prepare the fragmentation of the region. We hope not to play our part in this plan.” He suggested that “the Druze of Lebanon have not, and will not take the rights of their brothers in Jabal al-Arab lightly. The most important thing for us is dignity and stability in our regions.”

Jad [another young Druze] contended, “The Druze of Syria do not need Lebanese Druze to protect them. They number nearly 550,000 people, while the number of Druze in Lebanon is no more than 200,000.” He continued, “It is upon us to defend ourselves within our nation. As for the Syrian Druze, there are those who arm them, and we support them as much as we can. We give them moral support, but we will not intervene directly.”

A fleeting event?

In an interview with An-Nahar, Judge Abbas al-Halabi [president of the Arab Group for Christian Muslim Dialogue], said, “What is happening in our region in general is tragic. Its reverberations do not reach the Druze alone, but all sects, especially moderate Muslims.” He hopes that the events in Jabal al-Arab are fleeting.

Discussing the possibility of Lebanese Druze intervening to defend their coreligionists in Suwayda, Halabi said, “The Druze of Syria are a human reservoir. They do not need anyone to defend them. … The Druze of Lebanon will not let themselves be persuaded, like some other Lebanese sects, to intervene in the war in Syria.”

A source in the Progressive Socialist Party told An-Nahar, “The goal of the events in Jabal al-Arab, and specifically in Deir Dima, is to drag the Druze into the battlefield.” He said, “There could be individual instances in which youths go to fight in Syria in defense of the people in Suwayda, but the Druze leadership in Lebanon rejects intervention in Syria.” He confirmed that the Druze do not want to arm themselves, since we have witnessed other Lebanese factions’ attempts to rely on this strategy. [Their example] has made clear that this is not a successful [strategy].”

On the other hand, Salim Hamadeh, adviser to member of parliament Talal Arslan, told An-Nahar that the Lebanese Democratic Party “has sounded the alarm over and over that the Islamic State’s (IS) operations could reach religious minorities, be they Christian, Druze, or Yazidi … ” He indicated, “IS’ project does not have its origins in Islamic ideology, as is commonly said. Its goal is to support Israel’s project.” He added, “What happened in Suwayda was predictable, in light of [the goals of] this project.”

As for the Democratic Party’s stance on Druze self-defense, Hamadeh argued, “There are those who want the Arab nation to fragment into military and political cantons, then statelets, which will forge alliances according to their own self-interest and thus divide the region. This has long been Israel’s goal.” As for the possibility of intervention in Syria, Hamadeh said, “Substantive intervention is not on the table, and the time for its consideration has passed.”

Naturally, the opinions of Lebanese Druze leaders are divided between those who blame the regime for the fighting in Suwayda and those who rally behind it. Yesterday [Aug. 20] the president of the Democratic Gathering, member of parliament Walid Jumblatt, stated that the Syrian regime is responsible for the events in Suwayda. In his opinion, the regime “focuses on inciting the regions and sects against each other, and fanning the flames of civil strife, so that it can re-establish its military and political control across Syria.” Other Druze factions, like the Democratic Party, have called upon the Druze to “stand beside the Syrian state to preserve the security of the Druze of Jabal al-Arab.”

Despite the differences of opinion among Lebanese Druze, which is divided along lines of political affiliations and positions on the Syrian conflict, there is consensus for self-control to prevent Lebanon’s Druze from being lured into battle. Nonetheless, Jad argued, “Our being minorities causes us to be in greater danger, since our numbers are small. The loss of 12 or 16 individuals to the sect, as the news says recently happened, is not acceptable.” For his part, Ziad argued, “The Druze are one body that cannot be divided.” He quoted Jumblatt: “We are a people who does not attack, but defends and wins.” These last statements pose large questions, which will be answered in the coming days.

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Found in: walid jumblatt, syria, religious minorities, lebanon, druze
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