The real issue behind Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s latest political clash with Lebanon’s President Emile Lahoud appears to really be continued perceived Syrian domination of the country. Tensions between the Druze and the regime have dramatically escalated since late December, with Jumblatt openly calling for US military intervention against Damascus.
The most recent flare-up concerns Lahoud’s refusal to sign a new law to restructure the Druze sect’s Civil Order. The bill calls for elections to the Druze Religious Council to be carried out by all Druze in Lebanon, instead of being determined—as they are currently—by the highest Druze religious authority, Sheikh Akl Bahjat Ghaith. Lahoud sent the bill back to parliament, saying he feared it could exacerbate sectarian conflict. An official statement said that “The president saw in this law a division of the Druze sect… A division inside a sect could lead to a division among the Lebanese people, something that the president would never allow.”
Druze MP Akhram Chehayeb countered that “Lahoud’s rejection of the law is part of Syria’s orders and the Syrians refuse to understand that they are no longer in Lebanon and have no say in what happens here, especially not causing chaos in governmental institutions and division between the sects.” (Lebanon Daily Star, Jan. 7)
On Jan. 2, Lebanese police defused an improvised bomb in a Druze shrine in the western Bekaa Valley. A bottle full of explosive material and pieces of metal was hidden inside the shrine of Sheikh al-Fadel in Rachya, and was found by a shrine guard. “The shrine and the sheikhs were saved by a miracle,” said a Druze sheikh who requested anonymity. “The hands of the criminals are now targeting clergymen.”
Druze leaders are among those who blame Syrian intelligence for a series of bomb blasts in Lebanon since the Feb. 14 slaying of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Jumblatt has been living under heavy security in the Druze-controlled Chouf mountains since Hariri was assassinated. (DPA, Jan. 2)
On Jan. 5, in a telephone interview with the US-based Lebanese-affairs daily Al-Safir, Jumblatt urged Washington to occupy Syria and oust its current regime as it did in Iraq. He called for the ouster of Syria’s President Bashir Assad and for him to face charges in an international court, as happened with former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. (Al Bawaba, Jan. 5)
On Dec. 30, Jumblatt accused the Syrian government of firing rockets from Lebanese territory into Israel, precipitating retaliatory Israeli air raids. He condemned the rocket attacks—which caused property damage and left five Israelis injured—and said Syria should have fired these rockets into the occupied Golan Heights. In the retaliatory raids, Israeli warplanes blasted a base the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) south of Beirut, wounding two fighters. (Xinhua, Dec. 30)
On Dec. 23, Jumblatt accused Syria of terrorizing Arab countries, and urged the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, to intervene. Jumblatt said Syria was “taking the path of terrorism in order to evade international pressure”. (BBC, Dec. 23)