Courtesy Reuters

The Druze Factor

Why Lebanon's Stability Depends on This Small Community

The world has been riveted by Egypt in recent weeks, captivated by the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Yet just prior to the beginning of Egypt's revolution, events in Lebanon dominated international headlines. In mid-January, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah withdrew from Lebanon's government, forcing the collapse of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's coalition. Hezbollah targeted Hariri for his support of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the UN investigation into the February 14, 2005, assassination of his father, former Lebanese Prime Minster Rafiq Hariri. By toppling the government, Hezbollah hoped to end Lebanon's endorsement for the tribunal, whose indictments -- to be publicly released soon -- are widely expected to implicate high-level members of the organization.

At the center of the battle between Hariri and Hezbollah stands Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze community. Once a prime supporter of Saad Hariri and the anti-Syria, anti-Hezbollah March 14 alliance formed after Rafiq Hariri's death, Jumblatt has since abandoned the March 14 camp and joined Hezbollah's orbit, helping it to form a new goverment led by the Lebanese billionaire Najib Mikati, Lebanon's current prime minister. Jumblatt's role in Lebanon's recent turmoil serves as a palpable reminder that amidst the conventional discussions of Sunni-Shiite divides and regional proxy wars in Lebanon, the Druze tend to be overlooked. Jumblatt and his community, however, are likely to play a vital role in determining the outcome of the tribunal process.

Jumblatt's ability to determine the direction of Lebanese politics is unique for a minority leader in the Middle East. Minorities, both religious and ethnic, exist in fair numbers across the region and often play a quiet role in the domestic politics of their respective nations (notable exceptions include the Alawites in Syria, who have ruled the country for decades, and more recently, the Kurds in northern Iraq, who enjoy political influence under Iraq's democratic regime). The outsized influence of the Druze community in Lebanon is thus nearly unparalleled. Yet in managing his role as a kingmaker, Jumblatt is

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