All Roads Lead to Lebanon: Part 1

October 19, 2011

Uncategorized

All Roads Lead to Lebanon: Part I

Me and my brother against my cousin. Me, my brother and my cousin against the stranger.”

–       Bedouin Proverb

 

 Confessions of a Micro State

The victim of geography, Lebanon seemed fated to irritation even at birth.  When the borders were carved out of Greater Syria the balance of factional power was turned on its head. Muslims, who had once lived in a fairly homogonous Islamic state, then became a minority who’s power decreased under the now majority of Catholics. In this way, the establishment of Lebanon was also the establishment of an identity crisis. It’s due in part to this crisis that the one of a kind “Confessional” government was created, and due largely to this system that the crisis of identity has deepened. Under the confessional administration the president must always be a Catholic Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shite Muslim. Yes, this set up has helped prevent the tyranny seen in so many Arab neighbors, (cough, * Syria, cough, *), but it’s a system in which “all the various groups must live in mutual suspicion of each other,”  ( – Robert Fisk). Confessional government has steadily done its share in polarizing loyalties in favor of the 18 official communities and away from Lebanese nationalism. The political structure therefore strengthens its ethno-religious groups at its own expense.

Indignation

 Lebanon’s confessional environment has helped to preserve the identities here. It’s a special thing, to have diversity in an area where authoritarians ruthlessly peruse consistency.  However, the various factions have also provided a channel through which Lebanon’s neighbors chase their own agendas. Syria partnered with groups here and occupied the country until 2005, infiltrating even the upper echelons of government. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard held a strong presence here during the civil war, waging a war of proxy against Israel, hand in hand with Palestinian organizations. The interplay of geopolitical forces has only intensified amid the Arab Spring, which is unpredictably reshuffling the deck. To be in Lebanon today is to be in the epicenter of so many converging Middle Eastern interests. It’s those interests that often seek to manipulate a factional and conflicted Lebanon that is, as always, caught in the middle.

 A Presidential Tour

It’s easy to forget all this as my friends and I sip Turkish coffee in a mansion fit for a president. We’ve headed today to the Shouf Mountains, an area known for the secretive and philosophical Druze community. The Druze, whose faith is an offshoot of Islam, have followers throughout the region, but most are located here, in the only country that’s afforded them true political representation.

Our morning began with a tour of the President’s luxurious summer home inside Beit El Deen. The guide did a good job of pointing out the intricacies of the architecture. He also did a good job of showing me his scars from his days as a journalist when he caught shrapnel from an Israeli cluster bomb.

 Walid Jumblatt, a World Class Shape Shifter

 After lunch the bus made a stop that came as an especially exciting surprise to me. We arrived at the house of Walid Jumblatt, the primary representative of the Druze in Parliament. His father was the founder of the Progressive Socialist Party and was assassinated during the civil war. Walid, just 27, then became the commander of the Druze militia right as his precious Shouf Mountains became the battleground for some of the most brutal fighting of the decade. Although he has consistently supported militants against Israel, he has had the unique ability to shift alliances, always emerging on the winning side throughout Lebanon’s countless political crises. There is a Bedouin proverb that goes, me and my brother against my cousin. Me, my brother and my cousin against the stranger.” This mentality has served Walid well in his maverick and unilateral leadership of the Druze.

My friends and I were inspected by the guards, cleared, and lead past a large iron gate. We had a brief walk through the complex before being seated in a bright room lined with padded benches. Men came in serving Turkish coffee and it was only after smelling the brew that the reality of where I was actually sank in. Just then, the room went silent as in walked Walid Jumblatt himself.

He went around the room shaking hands, then sat back on a bench to take questions.  His face seemed aged by war and his expression was haunted by his burden; the responsibility to protect the Druze of the entire Middle East. Although his militia has theoretically disarmed, his influence remains as strong as ever. Recently he even flew to Syria, making deals with the government and keeping his Syrian Druze out of harms way. Despite the bags under his eyes there was serenity in his demeanor.  It was the composure of a man who has accepted his inevitable, although possibly premature, fate. In one meeting with former Primer Rifik Hariri the two actually discussed who would be bombed first. Belonging to a family that has known assassination, in a country known to dispose of its politicians, Walid Jumblatt is well aware of the price on his head. When asked about security concerns he responded simply, “that’s trivial; I don’t think about it. When they come, they will come.” After our discussion he got into his Range Rover and drove himself somewhere into the mountains, leaving his bodyguards at the gate. Someday, his passing will be the end of a distinct era for the Druze.

This is a famous Church in the Shouf

Beit El-Deen

Map of the Complex

Outside Walid Jumblatt’s House

Walid Jumblatt on the Left

This is the Very First Flag of Lebanon

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2 Comments on “All Roads Lead to Lebanon: Part 1”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 62. Fading Light | My Soul is a Lock Without a Key - May 1, 2015

    […] Picture:  “Beit El Deen Palace: Stained Glass Room” by beirutmabitmoot; https://beirutmabitmoot.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/526/ […]

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