After years of political instability in Lebanon, the recent election of President Michel Suleiman has brought a renewed sense of hope to the religiously diverse country. Veteran politician, Walid Jumblatt, heads the Progressive Socialist Party of Lebanon, and is the most prominent leader of the Druze community. He spoke to Euronews about his country’s current situation.
euronews: Mr Jumblatt, has Lebanon’s political life returned to normal?
Walid Jumblatt: Yes, sort of. Politics is back to normal. The opposition has dismantled its camp in the centre of Beirut. The republic has a president again, and life is returning to normal, but we still have to deal with a situation where the Lebanese state and a state of resistance co-exist. By that I mean the state of Hizbullah.
euronews: Does that mean that Hizbullah is a state within a state?
Walid Jumblatt: Absolutely. I’ve said it in the past, and I’ll say it again. The regional powers, Syria and Iran, have done all they can to ensure Hizbullah becomes an independent political and military force that we have to live with. It’s certainly a strange situation, but we have to put up with it.
euronews: Is Iran still pulling the strings in Lebanese politics?
Walid Jumblatt: I hope the Iranian leadership will recognise the Lebanese government instead of supplying Hizbullah with financial and military aid. I dare to hope that it’s time Iran supported the Lebanese state with money and weapons.
euronews: Are there obstructions preventing the formation of a new government?
Walid Jumblatt: There are always obstacles whenever a government needs to be formed, because in Lebanon we have a system of quotas for each community. In any case it’s a task Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is slowly but surely weaving together.
euronews: What are the possible scenarios if the new government isn’t put together quickly enough?
Walid Jumblatt: “It’s normal that there are problems. Having said that, I think the talks between Siniora and President Michel Suleiman will lead to a solution that satisfies everyone.”
euronews: You’ve said in the past that Lebanon needs Hizbullah’s armed wing to defend itself. Do you still think this?
Walid Jumblatt: I didn’t say that. I said it is important to establish a defensive strategy that allows Hizbullah’s weaponry to be integrated into the Lebanese state. No party should hold more sophisticated weapons than the state, or should be able to have a free hand in declaring war or peace whenever it likes. But this is of course linked to the regional situation. You know that Hezbollah is a political, military, and security phenomenon with a regional dimension embodied by Syria and Iran.
During the meeting between the Syrian President Bachar al Assad and the Emir of Qatar there were calls for Arab solidarity to reinforce Lebanese consensus. Can we understand by this that consensus is some way away yet?
Walid Jumblatt: What consensus?
The consensus within Lebanon, and Arab solidarity.
Walid Jumblatt: What is for sure is that I do not want the Syrian president visiting Lebanon. If it can’t be avoided, then I want it to take place on the Syrian border with Lebanon, just like in 1958, between President Gamal Abdel-Nasser and President Fouad Chihab. Of course, comparing President Assad with President Nasser doesn’t stand up. A meeting at the border could be a first step towards recognising Lebanon as a nation. However, in the current divided political climate, I personally would not be in favour of President Assad coming to Lebanon.
euronews: I understand from that that you are saying to the Syrian president: “Stay where you are. You have no business coming here!”
Walid Jumblatt: That’s my personal opinion. We’ve had deep disagreements with the Syrian regime since Damascus backed the extension of President Lahoud’s mandate. The price of this extension was the blood of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and the blood of all the martyrs in the movement for Lebanese independence. This is why my opinion hasn’t changed.
euronews: For some time there have been some theories supporting the idea that Syria wasn’t involved in Rafik Hariri’s assassination, and that regional powers or regional secret services were behind the murder.
Walid Jumblatt: All those who were against the Syrian presence, and the extension of Lahoud’s mandate, and who were calling for Lebanese independence, and who were calling for an equal relationship with Damascus, why have all these people been killed? Who else is behind it but the Syrian regime, which to this day still hasn’t recognised our independence?
euronews: Are there still fears within the political class that there will be more political assassinations?
Walid Jumblatt: I don’t know. Anything’s possible.
euronews: How is the international tribunal, investigating the assassination of Prime minister Rafik Hariri, progressing?
Walid Jumblatt: I’m hoping that it will begin its work quickly, but it seems that things are dragging on somewhat. I don’t know if this delay is political or technical.
euronews: And if it is political?
Walid Jumblatt: If it is political then the United Nations, or let’s say, elements within the UN security council are coming to terms with the Syrian regime at the expense of Rafik Hariri’s blood, and the blood of the other martyrs to Lebanese independence.
euronews: Let’s talk about the visit of the French president. What do you expect from President Sarkozy?
Walid Jumblatt: We’re hoping for a less ambiguous French policy towards the Palestinians, as was the case during the time of President Chirac.
We have also learned that the Syrian president has been invited to the July 14th parade, to stand next to President Sarkozy, in the context of the launch of the Mediterranean Union. If this is the case, I would say it’s an insult to the French people.
euronews: What do you think of the EU’s role in Lebanon? Do you think it’s absent, or, on the contrary, do you want it to be more involved?
Walid Jumblatt: There is no common European policy. There’s certainly an economic giant called Europe, but there is no single voice on foreign policy, and that doesn’t only concern Lebanon, but the whole Mediterranean region.
euronews: Do you think that the Mediterranean Union can bring a new outlook capable of isolating dictatorships in the Arab world?
Walid Jumblatt: No, I don’t think so. I think that, unfortunately, the Mediterranean Union is a way for France to isolate Turkey. And when we speak about the Mediterranean, Turkey is a part of that. There’s also Israel, which pursues a policy of racial discrimination and repression against the Palestinian people. I do not understand how Europe can divorce itself from the Palestinian question by adopting such an ambiguous position.