Saturday, October 28, 2006

On Statesmanship... And hopes of Reform

The Druze have just completed an “unprecedented” election that was barely noticed in Lebanon, and all but unnoticed in the wider Middle East. Yet it may prove to be a momentous event that demonstrates how the Middle-East sectarianism could be brought into the 21st Century.

Yes, the Druze are a minority. But, as with the Christians, they set the tone of politics in Lebanon. Thanks to an ability to “augment” their own numbers, they matter even in “Greater Syria”; witness Sultan Basha El-Atrash and Salim Hatoum in Syria, as well as Kamal Joumblat in Lebanon

A move closer to secularism; as a first step, it defines the place of both the profane and the religious. Of a more immediate consideration, it shows how effective leadership can placate politicians, appease the religious, and unify a community.

The Politicians

The Druze had been uneasy about Syria’s increased heavy handed control of Lebanon; in this respect, their alignment with March 14th was unavoidable. There was a danger of the majority Joumblatis over playing their hand against the minority Yazbakis.

Joumblat proved his mettle here by treading carefully. True, many resent the role he played in hoodwinking the Christians by keeping alive Ghazi Kanaan’s election law (the new one does not look much better, anyway). Yet he managed well his own house, by bringing on board one Yazbaki/Arslan supporter among his “share” of Druze parliamentarians.

The Religious

The Druze “religious caste” has well done by staying away from the arcane details of politics.

They have avoided the path laid by Sheikh Bajhat Gaith; not that he chose to align himself with the Syrians, but that he towed their line too closely. It helped that the clerics resented a law passed under the auspices of Syria, which placed them under the authority of outsiders, but they did not overreact.

Whether it is Joumblat’s doing, or the act of the Druze spiritual authority, this is a masterstroke. The elected Sheikh Akl, Naim Hassan, is a Yazbaki, similarly to Bahjat Ghaith, the man he replaces. What placates Yazbakis further is that he was elected “unopposed”; he did not “run for office”, as much as “stood for office”.

The Statesmanship Part: A United Community

Some would say that, because their status as a minority forced them to look "outside", the Druze were able to better "import" and adapt new ideas... In this context, their religion may have become became one out of many sources of inspiration. But I see it more as a demonstration of Joumblat’s statesmanship.

Walid Beyk appears inconsistent outside his community, thanks to a confounding ability to exercise ruthlessness, demonstrate magnanimity, and commit perplexing shifts (to use a Politically Correct term). However, he has demonstrated to be fairly consistent towards his own Community. He has co-opted Arslan’s sympathizers, isolated Mir Talal, and unified his flock.

The Druze now stand united across borders; not behind a “leader”, but behind a system. As such, they are ready to face the nightmarish upheavals of the “new” Middle-East. By allowing room for all the diverse currents, they are unlikely to follow their leader as blindly as others.

Poor Mir Talal Arslan, he is not only aligned with the lost (?) Syrian cause, but he has to contend with such an intellect as Walid Beyk. Wait till November 5th, when Bahjat Ghaith is set to be relieved. No doubt some Yazbakis, under pressure from Syria, will want him to soldier on. Still, Joumblat’s smart maneuvering, and the election of Sheikh Hassan has not only created a split between Ghaith and Arslan, it has also effectively weakened pro-Syrians

The Reform Part: Can Others Emulate the Druze?

Christians, Maybe. Moslems, Unlikely.

It is notable to see that Druze are Christian clerics are not exclusively schooled in a single book, while the education of most Moslem clerics consists of rote memorization. Indeed, for 95% of the entire population of Islamic clerics, Arabic is the only foreign tongue they speak. Even then, most of it is memorized sections of the Koran and the Hadith. Incidentally, this compares well with the high proportion of Southern Baptist preachers who only speak English...

Maybe this explains why the religious establishment of Druze and Christian communities is comparatively less overbearing than others. Comparatively.

A note of caution; the present reform, though commendable, is Tenuous at best: recall that it had to be voted on by a parliament made up of a non-Druze majority. They aligned themselves with their Druze colleagues out of courtesy (something Lahouss ignores), This exposes systemic laws to Lebanon’s political morass; the country is still far away from a decentralized system…

In the meantime, a fruitful debate within Islam remains inexistent, and any hope at reformation still far away. Some have pointed out that, "Whilst [they are] deeply satisfied with Islam on an intellectual and theological level, much too often [they] have been far from happy in my experiences with fellow Muslims on a practical level".

While such milder voices are too often cowed into silence, Harder-hitting intellectuals such as Wafaa Sultan are coming to the fore. She is asking many right questions, but such style is unlikely to win many Arab Moslems to the cause of reformation, no matter their eloquence, or their support in the rest of the world.


R said...

mir talal right ? not majid

Jeha said...


Thanks, R;

Corrections made.

R said...

no comments allowed on top entry ??

Jeha said...


I am not sure what you mean by that. I think comments are allowed on the posts.

R said...

Hmmm, strange, for some reason, I can't comment on the top post. It tells me that comments are disabled for "this" post.

Doesn't matter, didnt have anything important to say anyway :)