A Druze Divided

Can Walid Jumblatt Hold the Group Together?

Members of the Druze community watch the fighting in the Druze village of Khadr in Syria, as they stand on the Israeli side of the border fence between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, near Majdal Shams, June 16, 2015. Baz Ratner / Reuters

For years, the small and relatively quiet Israeli Druze community—and its spiritual leader, Sheikh Muwafaq Tarif—has warned of the dangers its brethren face in southern Syria, where the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra group and other rebels have steadily gained ground. But it took the June 10 killing of more than 20 Druze villagers in Idlib in northwest Syria to whip them into action. They held massive rallies in northern Israel, where the five-colored Druze flag waved proudly and prominently in a show of transnational solidarity, and raised roughly $2.8 million to purchase weapons, via Jordan, for their Syrian co-religionists.

The reaction stood in marked contrast to that of the Druze community in Lebanon. Following the Idlib attack, Lebanese Druze were undoubtedly angry and concerned, but they mostly heeded the calls of their leader, Walid Jumblatt, for restraint. Jumblatt, who is the most prominent Druze figure in the region and a critic of the Assad regime, has played an indispensable role in easing sectarian tensions in Lebanon, which is deeply divided between pro- and anti-Assad camps. He heads the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), which since the Idlib incident, has taken the line that the solution to the Syrian Druze problem lies in “political communication.” Likewise, PSP Spokesman Ramy al-Rayess has explained that the party reached out to the al-Nusra group and other rebels now in control of large swathes of the Idlib province and to regional powers such as Turkey to ensure the protection of Druze—who numbered roughly 600,000 in pre-war Syria. A few days after the Idlib incident, al-Nusra, which Jumblatt does not recognize as a terrorist group, issued an apology and said that the murderers violated orders and will be held accountable. 

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt gestures as he walks out of the parliament building in Downtown Beirut, November 5, 2014.
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt gestures as he walks out of the parliament building in Downtown Beirut, November 5, 2014. Jamal Saidi / Reuters
The Syrian war has revealed fissures within the Lebanese Druze community. Some Druze sympathize with the Syrian regime and its ally, Hezbollah, whereas others have maintained their loyalty to Jumblatt, a pragmatic leader who’s seeking to keep sectarian tensions at bay. His mission is certainly difficult, but, so far,

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