News You Really Need To See: “Lebanon’s Druze, Unhappily, Are Being Dragged into Syria’s War”

“Lebanon’s Druze, Unhappily, Are Being Dragged into Syria’s War”

The Christian Science Monitor, November 16, 2014

“Deadly clashes pitting Syrian Sunni jihadis against Druze militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have exposed divisions within this small esoteric community that spans the Syria-Lebanon border.  The bloody wars roiling the Middle East from Lebanon to Iraq’s border with Iran are essentially political struggles for power and control.  But the two main protagonists are adherents of the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam.  That leaves the region’s religious minorities, like the Druze who only number around one million in the Middle East, facing the agonizing – and potentially existential – decision of who to support in order to ensure communal survival. … On the eastern, Syrian, side of Mount Hermon, recent clashes near the village of Arneh between Druze fighters serving with the pro-Assad National Defense Force militia and Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria’s Al-Qaeda franchise, left more than two dozen Druze dead, a high number for this close-knit community.  According to residents of Rashaya and leading Druze figures in Lebanon, the fighting was provoked by the Syrian army. … The move was seen as a cynical attempt to stoke Sunni-Druze hostilities to force the latter group to remain loyal to the Assad regime.  It is a suspected ploy that Walid Jumblatt, the paramount leader of Lebanon’s Druze and an arch critic of Mr Assad, hopes will backfire on Damascus. … Mr Jumblatt inherited the mantle of Druze leader in 1977 after his father, Kamal, was assassinated, purportedly on the orders of Mr. Assad’s father and predecessor as president, Hafez al-Assad.  Since then, Jumblatt has become a master of navigating the treacherous waters of sectarian minority politics, earning the nickname ‘the weathervane’ for his ability to make and break alliances to suit the interests of his community, which forms about seven percent of Lebanon’s 4.5 million population.  Today, he maintains a typically paradoxical stance of overt criticism of the Assad regime while enjoying warm ties with Lebanon’s  powerful Shiite group Hezbollah, a key ally of Damascus. … But some Lebanese Druze disagree with Jumblatt’s call on Syria’s Druze to abandon the Assad regime, believing that minorities must unite in the face of the extremists of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Quickie Analysis: The Jumblatts and the Druze have been playing a dangerous game to maintain outsize political influence for decades.  Will they be able to navigate the Syrian war or will it be their downfall?

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