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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Aug 11th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Extremism In Lebanon arrow Jumblatt says he’ll join Sleiman’s bloc in upcoming cabinet
Jumblatt says he’ll join Sleiman’s bloc in upcoming cabinet PDF Print E-mail
Written by Daily Star   
Tuesday, 04 August 2009


PSP leader’s shift in stance receives praise, criticism

Jumblatt says he’ll join Sleiman’s bloc in upcoming cabinet
PSP leader’s shift in stance receives praise, criticism
By Maher Zeineddine
Daily Star correspondent
Tuesday, August 04, 2009

BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader MP Walid Jumblatt announced on Monday that his party would align itself with President Michel Sleiman in cabinet, a day after the PSP leader said he was reconsidering his membership in the March 14 Forces. In an interview with MTV Monday evening, Jumblatt defended his decision to distance himself from March 14, saying that he was “an exceptional and independent case.”

“I am going to join the president, which is considered as a guarantee when deciding on the big issues,” he said.

“I will examine the conditions when I have to vote in Parliament and the cabinet,” he said, adding that “In the cabinet, we will join the president.”

Asked whether his departure from March 14 would obstruct the cabinet formation, Jumblatt said: “There are enough MPs in the Democratic Gathering to vote with the majority.”

The PSP politburo exerted efforts on Monday to clarify Jumblatt’s stances to long-term ally and Future Movement leader Premier-designate Saad Hariri, after his announcement sparked outrage among March 14 factions and received praise from some opposition parties.

Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading member of the opposition, on Monday said Jumblatt’s remarks were likely to have repercussions on the March 14 Forces.

Jumblatt’s remarks are said to cap a gradual swing in his political stance that could weaken the March 14 Forces’ influence in the cabinet that Hariri is trying to form. Jumblatt’s departure from the coalition would strip the alliance of the majority it won in the June parliamentary elections and weaken its position in the coalition cabinet which Hariri aims to forge.

Speaking on Sunday at the opening of the PSP general assembly, Jumblatt questioned his alliance with March 14, saying “it was driven by necessity and must end” and stressed the need to consider forming a new alliance “free of bias.”

He also slammed the March 14 Forces’ electoral campaign, saying it was “driven by the rejection of the opposition on sectarian, tribal and political levels rather than being based on a political platform.”

Opposition parties, including the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party, welcomed Jumblatt’s shift in stance.

Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel, a March 14 member, said Jumblatt’s shift in position was “not surprising.”
“Some have forgotten March 14’s sacrifices for Lebanon,” he told reporters following a meeting with Tourism Minister Elie Marouni on Monday.

Gemayel added that while certain goals can be achieved through political repositioning, “this should not be at the expense of other parties, which were honest and transparent.”

Meanwhile, March 14’s General Secretariat said the coalition and Jumblatt “have diverging views on numerous issues.”

The Secretariat’s general coordinator, former MP Fares Souaid, said the March 14 Forces were “keen to preserve Walid Jumblatt’s weight and position inside the coalition.”

“We refuse, however, to engage in a dispute with him,” Souaid said on Monday.

Souaid said overnight contacts with PSP officials confirmed that Jumblatt was still part of March 14 Forces.

Souaid said that the March14 Forces and Jumblatt were at odds “mainly concerning the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” to try the Hariri assassins. He added that Jumblatt considered “civil peace as more important than justice.”

Souaid claimed Jumblatt’s remarks were made under pressure from Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

On Monday, PSP caretaker Public Works and Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi and MP Wael Abu Faour, both members of the Future Movement, led contacts to clarify Jumblatt’s remarks to Hariri and other members of their party.

Hariri’s “Lebanon First” parliamentary bloc is expected to hold a meeting on Tuesday to discuss Jumblatt’s latest stances.

The Future Movement issued a statement late Sunday night underlying its commitment to the “Cedar Revolution.” It also said each political party has the right to adopt its own stance.

“The Future Movement believes in the right of each political party to adopt the stance and slogans that it wants,” it said in a statement. “However, the interest of the Lebanese citizen comes before any other party or movement.”

Implicitly lashing out at Jumblatt, the Future Movement said some politicians needed to be “reminded of their shameful history, when they fulfilled their own personal interests on top of the nation’s interests.” – with Reuters



Analysts attribute Jumblatt’s change of heart to international shift toward Syria
‘The final decision came after the British decided to engage Hizbullah’
By Michael Bluhm
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, August 04, 2009

BEIRUT: The political chameleon Walid Jumblatt has once again changed colors, dumping the March 14 coalition to ingratiate himself with Syria and Hizbullah, whom he sees as the political heavyweights of the moment, a number of analysts told The Daily Star on Monday. Jumblatt said to an extraordinary congress of his Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Sunday that he had joined the anti-Syrian March 14 camp out of necessity and the current form of their partnership must end.

The Druze leader has simply seen that Syria was regaining sway in Lebanon as it emerges from years of international isolation to be actively courted by the US and Saudi Arabia, said Paul Salem, head of the Carnegie Middle East Center. Jumblatt had broken from years of cooperation with Syria after the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which Jumblatt blamed on Damascus, a charge Syria has denied.

“He’s been shifting for a while, both for domestic and regional reasons, the main one being the changing international position toward Syria,” he said, adding that Jumblatt was simply following the leads of the US and Saudi Arabia in engaging Syria. Despite the shock value of Jumblatt’s Sunday speech, he is not the only Lebanese po­litician evidently making overtures to Damascus, as Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri – formerly a fierce critic of Syria – will likely visit Syria soon after he finishes forming the new cabinet, Salem said.

After the Middle East policies of former US President George W. Bush wound up strengthening US foes such as Syria and Iran, Jumblatt’s switch reflects his rejection of Bush and a move toward the those who resist US encroachment in the region, said Habib Malek, a professor of history at Lebanese American University and the son of former President Charles Malek. In his speech, Jumblatt called his meeting with Bush and his neocon coterie in 2006 a black mark.

“The trends writ large in the region – as Jumblatt tries to see them – favor the ascending of the rejectionists’ camp,” Malek said. “He’s trying to distance himself from the confrontational line” of Bush and the neo-cons, Malek added. However, Jumblatt did not criticize US President Barack Obama, who is pursuing a strategy of engagement with Syria, said Hilal Khashan, head of the department of political studies and public administration at the American University of Beirut. “Anything that [Jumblatt] does, he leaves an avenue of escape,” Khashan added.

On the domestic level, Jumblatt recognizes that his power, as well as that of his Druze community, is waning as their traditional enclave in the Chouf is ringed by predominantly Shiite communities loyal to Hiz­bullah, said retired General Elias Hanna, who teaches political science at Notre Dame University. In this light, Jumblatt’s departure from March 14 represents an attempt to ally himself and his community with his main local competitor, Hanna said, adding that the Druze also perceive a threat from the Sunnis in the Aqlim Kharroub region of the Chouf, as well as from the Christians who have lived in the Chouf for centuries.

Jumblatt “is afraid for the Druze community – number, role [and] political role,” Hanna said. “He’s weak; his community is weaker.”

 His Sunday rhetoric of political left and right, as well as references to Arabism and the Pa­lestinian question, were merely a “smokescreen” to cover the worries about Jumblatt’s future and that of the Druze which helped drive Jumblatt away from March 14, Hanna added.

Signals have augured Jumblatt’s break with March 14 for some time, as he clearly saw the new balance of power in the May 2008 clashes, when Hizbullah fighters seized large parts of Western Beirut and threatened parts of the Chouf, Malek said.
Jumblatt “has been very un­comfortable since May ’08,” Ma­lek added. “At the end of the day, Jumblatt wants to preserve his fiefdom, and it’s surrounded by Shiites. He’s opening the door with Hizbullah and possible men­ding of fences with Syria.”

The PSP chief might have in the end decided that the time had come to open up to Hizbullah after the UK – historically the Druze’s closest Western ally – announced in March that it was willing to negotiate with the political wing of Hizbullah, Khashsan said.

“The final decision came af­ter March this year when the British decided to engage Hiz­bullah,” Khashan added. “He hinted on a number of occasions that he was going to make a shift. He lived up to our expectations and defected again.”

Jumblatt could also foresee that the June parliamentary elections would fail to break the deadlock between the March 14 and March 8 factions or to dent Hizbullah’s real advantage on the ground, Malek said. Despite March 14 candidates gaining 71 Parliament seats to March 8’s 57, the poll was a “Pyrrhic victory” for March 14, Malek added.

As Jumblatt moves nearer to Hizbullah, he might well soften his tone regarding the disarmament of the Shiite group, a goal which has long unified the March 14 camp, Malek said. “This can only weaken the overall March 14 position, but who’s under the illusion that March 14 is going to be able to disarm Hizbullah?” Malek asked.

The alliance with March 14 might have grated on Jumblatt for historical reasons, as well – Jumblatt never became comfortable while coupled with the kind of Christian nationalists who replaced the Druze with Sunnis as their main partners when Greater Lebanon was declared in 1920, Malek said.

“Jumblatt cannot stand slogans like ‘Lebanon first’ – for him the connotations run much deeper and strike all sorts of nerves,” Malek added. “He doesn’t like the March 14 Christians and what their pedigree stands for. These are his traditional enemies and the enemies of his father.”

Turning toward the future, the effects of Jumblatt’s flip-flop remain unclear – Jumblatt did not specify whether he would leave March 14 completely and join the March 8 camp, Salem said. With Jumblatt’s friction with Lebanese Forces head and March 14 stalwart Samir Geagea, the trajectory of Jumblatt’s future course might well depend on his relations with Hariri, Hanna said.

At this point, it appears Jumblatt is not signing up with the March 8 alliance, Malek said. “He has no intention of moving his bloc wholesale to the camp of the opposition.”

“I don’t think this is a kind of realignment with the opposition in all ways,” he added.

For example, Jumblatt said on Sunday that he would stand with the March 14 coalition in supporting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The break might put off the formation of the new cabinet briefly, as the names of some ministers might need reshuffling, Khashan said. The unresolved status of Jumblatt, who seemed prepared to land two ministries in the new administration, also recasts the March 8 alliance’s demand for a blocking one-third of ministerial posts, Hanna said.

In this context, Jumblatt seems to be moving toward a nascent centrist camp including President Michel Sleiman and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri – a camp close to Syria and to the West but far removed from Iran, said Salem. Seeing that this grouping might become the decisive swing factor in Lebanese politics, Jumblatt might also be angling to increase his weight by moving closer, Khashan said.



Jumblatt says its time to part ways with March 14, slams electoral platform
Opposition leaders reiterate optimism on cabinet formation
By Elias Sakr
Daily Star staff
Monday, August 03, 2009

BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Head MP Walid Jumblatt reconsidered Sunday his alliance with the March 14 Forces, saying "it was driven by necessity and must end."

Opposition leaders, meanwhile, reiterated on Sunday their optimism regarding the formation of the cabinet within days, while March 14 figures highlighted the need to grant the government monopoly over war or peace decisions, a reference to Hizbullah's struggle with Israel.

At the opening of the PSP general assembly at the Beaurivage Hotel in Beirut, Jumblatt stressed on the need to reconsider forming a new alliance "free of bias."

The PSP leader slammed the March 14 electoral campaign, saying it was "driven by the re­jection of the opposition on sectarian, tribal and political levels rather than being based on a political platform."

Responding to Jumblatt's comments, the Future Movement issued a statement saying that the March 14 Forces had never rejected the opposition, adding that ruling majority's slogan would be always be "Lebanon First."

"The June 7 parliamentary elections led to sectarian alliances which should be eliminated," Jumblatt said, adding that the "polls result should not be considered a win."

The March 14 Forces won a majority of 71 seats in Parliament in the June polls.

Jumblatt, who stressed the need to abolish political sectarianism, emphasized the necessity of good Lebanese-Syrian bilateral ties following the end of Syria's mandate in Lebanon, a reference to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country in 2005 following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Regarding ongoing investigation into Hariri's assassination, Jumblatt voiced hope that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) would uncover the truth behind the crime, "without foreign powers meddling and influencing its decisions or results."

Jumblatt, who said he regretted holding talks with US officials in 2006, justified his meetings by saying that they aimed to protect the STL as well as Lebanon's independence.

The PSP leader held talks alongside other March 14 leaders with US officials from former President Georges W. Bush's administration prior, during and following the summer 2006 Israel war on Lebanon.

Also criticizing the current electoral law, Jumblatt's political foe Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun said in his editorial published on his party's website on Sunday that the adopted law in the June 7 polls "was the worst."

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Sunday that the new national-unity cabinet would be formed "within days."
In remarks published in the Kuwaiti daily Awan on Sunday, Berri reiterated that the agreement between the opposition and the parliamentary majority on the cabinet's make-up was concluded and discussions currently focused on the distribution of ministerial portfolios.

"The government formation will be complete within days, the most difficult part has been finalized and we were left with ministerial portfolios," Berri said.

Highlighting the importance of a national-unity cabinet, Berri said either coalition, "the March 14 and the opposition, cannot rule on their own and must bear the country's responsibilities together."

The speaker added that the progress made with regard to the accord among Lebanese groups on the government makeup was the result of Syrian-Saudi harmony.

Berri denied claims of a possible Lebanese-Syrian-Saudi summit in Damascus following the formation of the cabinet.

However, he said that Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri had "no problem" visiting Syria either before or following the cabinet-formation process.

Sharing the speaker's optimism, his opposition ally, Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance bloc head MP Mohammad Raad said Sunday the formation process could speed up following an agreement on the political framework of a national-unity government.

During a ceremony in the southern village of Houmin, Raad stressed that the political framework of the upcoming cabinet guaranteed real partnership among Lebanese factions.

"The cabinet's formation was almost finalized and the only obstacles yet to overcome were the distribution of portfolios and the nomination of ministers," Raad said.

Meanwhile, Phalange Party MP Elie Marouni accused the FPM leader on Sunday of hindering the cabinet's formation given his demands regarding the distribution of ministerial portfolios and the nomination of ministers.

Marouni stressed that opposition parties were "distributing roles" with regards to demands concerning the cabinet's formation, adding that no real disagreements existed between their groups.

Concerning the timing of the national dialogue, Marouni rejected holding sessions before the cabinet was formed, adding that no positive impact would result if Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah continued to refuse to discuss the party's weapons.

The Phalange MP also urged Hariri to form a majority cabinet if the opposition planned to obstruct the upcoming government's decision-making process.


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