Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has traditionally played the role of kingmaker in Lebanese politics. However, nine months after the end of the presidential term of Michel Suleiman, there is still no new president in Beirut’s Baabda Palace.
The Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance continues to back Michel Aoun, while the Future Movement-led March 14 Alliance has thrown its weight behind Samir Geagea. With neither coalition appearing willing to back down, Jumblatt has called for the election of a “settlement president” to address the deteriorating political and security situation in the country.
The Progressive Socialist Party leader spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the ongoing presidential crisis in the country, fears the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may attack Lebanon, as well as the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front’s presence in the country.
Asharq Al-Awsat: How do you view the situation in Lebanon today?
Walid Jumblatt: The pointless debates that are raging domestically in Lebanon make us incapable of electing a president. But at the same time, we should not forget that there is a fundamental struggle [in Lebanon]. Hezbollah and other [March 8 affiliated] political powers will not give up on nominating General Michel Aoun for the presidency. While it is difficult for the leaders of the four major Christian blocs [Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement, Samir Geagea of the Lebanese Forces, Amine Gemayel of the Kataeb party and MP Suleiman Frangieh] to agree on a settlement candidate. We are caught in a vortex.
The disagreement has created a dilemma and for the time being it seems that a president will not be elected anytime soon.
Q: Do you attribute the failure to elect a new president to domestic or international reasons?
This is due to both domestic and international reasons. The Islamic Republic of Iran, through Hezbollah, has a main ally in Lebanon, namely General Aoun. This is no secret. I do not believe that there are any circumstances in the Arab world or Iran capable of bringing about a settlement similar to the one when we elected President Michel Suleiman. At that time, Qatar was the godfather that mediated with the Iranians, Syrians and other powers.
If there were some sort of Arab-Iranian rapprochement somewhere—or to be more frank, Saudi—Iranian rapprochement—then there could be a political settlement in Lebanon.
Q: What about the security situation in the country?
I do not share the opinion that says ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front will attack Lebanon. I do not know why these claims suddenly emerged. I don’t believe this will happen. We have to safeguard and defend our borders, but for the time being I do not believe that ISIS or the Al-Nusra Front pose an imminent danger to Lebanon.
Some newspapers and media outlets are promoting the view that ISIS will launch an all-out attack on Lebanon. I do not think ISIS today is capable of launching any such attack, particularly as it is already fighting a war on a number of different fronts.
Security apparatus have been coordinating among themselves over the last two years to confront this so-called terrorism. Yes, there have been acts of sabotage and booby-trapped cars in Beirut’s southern suburbs and close to the Iranian embassy, which are definitely acts of terrorism. But I will not consider nor will I call the Al-Nusra Front a terrorist group as long as it has one Syrian person among its members. It is not a terrorist group and this debate should come to an end.
Q: Are you now attempting to court the Al-Nusra Front and its supporters in Lebanon?
No, I am not courting the Al-Nusra Front but there are Syrians who were left with no choice but to join this group. They found it a way to triumph over the terrorism of the Syrian regime. What can I say to them? Shall I call them terrorists? I will not do that. They are not terrorists, despite the Arab and international claims in this regard.
Q: Do you think Saad Al-Hariri’s return to Lebanon might resolve the presidential impasse?
The dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement is very useful and may produce, as I have previously said, the possibility of electing a “settlement president.” I stress and repeat that I am an advocate of electing such a “settlement president.”
Q: But who would this so-called “settlement president” be? Does he have to be unaffiliated to the four major Christian blocs?
Yes, I am of this view. I emphasize that I do not have any doubts about the representation of those four blocs.
Q: Do you encourage Hariri to re-assume the position of prime minister?
This is his own business and Hariri has a well-known patriotic record. But this has to wait until we elect a new president. We cannot reshuffle the cabinet without a president.
Q: Would you agree that you have tried to take a “moderate” political approach over the past years?
I tried [to be moderate]. It is true that Michel Suleiman and Najib Mikati were with us. However Mikati is now preoccupied with giving lectures at foreign universities, while President Suleiman established a new bloc and I do not know if I can call it moderate or not. I will stick to my own form of moderation. After all, there must be an intermediary [between the Christian blocs].
Q: Regarding the Syrian crisis, you famously said that the frontline extends between Beirut and Tehran. Can you elaborate?
Without the financial, human and military support of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian regime would not survive. There is also the support from Russia but the Iranian support is the key. In my opinion the Arab dimension is vanishing in Syria. Syria has no Arab nature. There is [now] an Iranian nature in Syria.
Q: Is a political settlement still possible in Syria?
It was possible to reach a settlement in Syria, but that was a long time ago. Today, even Iran has reached an impasse unless it wants [to deal with Syria] in the same way it did with Iraq, namely instead of dealing with it as a unified country, it dealt with it as a dismantled one.
What remains of Syria? Even if Bashar Al-Assad could control Aleppo, which is unlikely, at the end of the day he has displaced 10 million of his people and he will only bring them back in his own way, perhaps through imposing security or military measures or after vetting them according to sectarian criteria. Then the regime will draw a new map of Syria and will only allow the displaced to return in a way that sees the majority [Sunni community] surrounded. Homs has been surrounded and so has Aleppo. These Sunni-majority [cities] will not return to how they used to be. Does this serve the interest of Iran? I do not know but it seems to be the case.
As for the Alawite sect, it seems as if its massive backing for the regime has made it a prisoner of the regime. The Alawites have endured massive losses. On the other hand, the Syrian National Coalition has failed to deal with Alawites as Alawites. Alawites are in a predicament because the regime is using them as human shields everywhere [in Syria] while at the same time they have nowhere else to go to. I was told that the well-to-do and moderate Alawites, like all wealthy and moderate middle class Syrians, are increasingly leaving the country.
Q: What about the fate of the minorities in Syria?
There is a major threat facing the Christians in the Levant and not just from ISIS . . . They are caught between two fires, between the regime and the rebels.
The Druze are also facing a dilemma because they backed the regime, although not all of them. I issued several calls to them; what more can I do? I believe my calls will someday resonate among them because they are also being used as fuel for the regime’s canons. I made efforts to encourage Syria’s Druze to play a bigger role in the revolution but I failed.
This is an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic.