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Jumblatt turns Lebanese politics on its head

Jumblatt hints at splitting from March 14

In a move that looked to turn Lebanese politics on its head, the Druze leader of the country's Progressive Socialist Party said Sunday his alliance with March 14, Lebanon's anti-Syrian Party, was driven by political circumstances and hinted at the possibility of splitting off.

Politician Walid Jumblatt, once a March 14 hawk, said his membership in the alliance could not continue, thereby signaling a serious shift in Lebanon's political landscape and radical change in the alliance that started with the Cedar Revolution in 2005.

He surprisingly called for rapprochement with Syria, a radical change from his anti-Syrian stance which held the Syrian government responsible for the assassination of Hariri and the series of assassinations that followed.

Jumblatt's new political stance towards Syria comes amid the changing regional status of the country, once isolated by the West but now on better terms with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

Abbas Hisham, member of the March 8 Alliance, welcomed Jumblatt's statements and told a Lebanese T.V. channel that they signal forming a government within the coming week.

Great implications

Jumblatt's move caps a gradual swing in his political stance that would end the absolute majority March 14 won in the June parliamentary elections and weaken its influence in the cabinet that its leader, Saudi-backed Saad al-Hariri, is trying to form.

Political analyst Khalil Fleehan argued that Jumblatt's statements constitute a kind of self-criticism as he reconsiders the political alliances he entered in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

A video of Jumblatt criticizing members of the March 14 alliance was broadcast last April, two months before the parliamentary elections, upsetting members of the alliance although the disagreements were quickly contained for the sake of the elections.

Jumblatt also stressed that his party is mainly leftist and admitted to committing some mistakes that betrayed this line such as visiting the United States and holding meetings with the former American administration.

However, he explained that he did that for the international tribunal for the prosecution of suspects in Hariri's murder.

Hariri responds

In response to Jumblatt's statements, the Future Movement, led by Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri, issued a statement stressing its adherence to the Cedar Revolution and the principles of the late Rafik Hariri.

"Our slogan will always be that Lebanon comes first," the statement said. "Every party has the right to choose its way and adopt whatever slogans it wants, but at the end of the day the Lebanese come first."

Talal Arselan, Chairman of the Lebanese Democratic Party, welcomed Jumblatt's statements which he called "patriotic" and a positive step towards the national reconciliation initiative that started on May 11 2008.

"Jumblatt's wise decision lays a strong foundation for Lebanon's political structure," he said.

Jumblatt's wise decision lays a strong foundation for the political structure of Lebanon

Talal Arselan, Lebanese Democratic Party

On the other hand, Elli Marouni stressed that the March 14 alliance will always remain a political front with leverage even if Jumblatt decides to quit.

Sajaan al-Qazi, advisor to former Lebanese President Amine Gemayel, said that Christians will always be on good terms with Jumblatt.

"We will never become enemies with Jumblatt," he told Now Lebanon website. "He has to meet with members of the March 14 alliance and make up his mind whether to stay or leave."


(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)

We will never become enemies with Jumblatt. He has to meet with members of the March 14 alliance and make up his mind whether to stay or leave

Sajaan al Qazi, former advisor