No Excuses for Walid Jumblat

By The Beirut Spring

Mr. Jumblat is in his full rights to make a political U-turn. What he doesn’t deserve however is sympathetic “understanding”

By now, everyone should have heard of Mr. Jumblat’s gargantuan swerve on the Lebanese political scene. The erstwhile leader in the March 14 movement decided to forsake his trench buddies for what he is laughingly calling a “neutral” position.

Mr. Jumblat has a way of making a splash; Lebanese newspapers and websites can’t get enough of the story and everyone has something to say about it. March 14 commentators are expressing disappointment while March 8 pundits can hardly hide their Schadenfreude. Yet one particular breed of commentators -the one I’m interested in for this post- have a peculiar take on Mr. Jumblat’s move: They “understand” why Mr. Jumblat “had to” do the thing he did and sometimes make Mr. Jumblat look like a Martyr.

There are two major arguments that the above-mentioned are making. The first is the one Ilham Freiha (of Al-anwar newspaper) made in her column today, that Mr. Jumblat is protecting his vulnerable sect. The second, best expressed by my friend Abu Kais, is that Mr. Jumblat was disappointed by a combination of spinelessness from his local allies and lack of commitment from the international community.

While those arguments have some merits, they remain insufficient for explaining what seems like a shortsighted move by Mr. Jumblat.

Ms Freiha writes (my translation):

Mr. Jumblat’s U-turn goes back to May 7th of last year. That is when he pressured the Seniora government (under the threat of resignation) to dismantle Hezbollah’s communications network and uninstall their point man from the airport’s security. Things went downhill from there and Hezbollah fighters reached the gates of Mokhtara. That is when Mr. Jumblat sensed a threat not only to his political position, but to the safety of his entire sect.

The trouble with that argument is that by surrendering to the transgressors, Mr. Jumblat is sending a dangerous signal that it pays to bully other Lebanese with your weapons. This will give another reason for Hezbollah to hold on to their arsenal and increase their defiance without really guaranteeing the safety of his people. Mr. Jumblat, a student of history, should know better:  The appeasers are usually the first to go under..

Abu Kais on the other hand, writes a brilliant piece in which he paints Mr. Jumblat as someone who was let down his spineless allies, so much so that he had to retreat into the safety of “moral cowardice”:

Now that he has seemingly been shown that moral courage is synonymous with suicide, Jumblatt defaulted to moral cowardice to survive and achieve peace, and reap the promised fruit of the fabled “new beginning”, albeit at the expense of an independence that will likely never come.

But moral cowardice isn’t the stuff leaders are made of. He should instead have discussed this with his allies and put them on the spot in front of the Lebanese public opinion. He should also have been forthright with the Lebanese about why he’s doing this instead of making up hollow reasons that won’t convince anyone.

In short, let’s all call this what it really is: An act of political opportunism that senses power gains from a perceived regional shift. Anything else would be excusing the inexcusable.

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Tarek is the founder and chief researcher at Youngberry, a youth research and marketing firm dedicated to the region. Tarek founded interactiveME.com and previously worked as Manager at Flip Media (Interactive Agency), Bayt.com (Job Site) and Consulting House Qatar (Consulting firm). He is researcher and writer on internet & disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, and youth culture.