To say that Walid Jumblatt is the weathervane of Lebanese and Levantine politics is of course a tired cliché, but it also happens to be true. Few other political leaders, even among the notoriously cynical Lebanese zu’ama, shift their opinions with as little apology and ceremony as Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and steward of Lebanon’s Druze community.
Jumblatt spent the first years of the 2000s being pro-Assad and then shifted to a radical anti-Assad stance around 2004, subsequently transforming himself into the radical vanguard of the anti-Assad March 14 camp in Lebanon. In 2007, he publicly called Bashar al-Assad “a whale vomited out of the ocean,” a “snake from which the snakes have fled,” an “ape unknown to nature,” and “a half-man creature,” and informed him that his execution was drawing near. Then a year later, as March 14's fortunes were plummeting, he started to swing back to a pro-Assad line masked as “neutrality, ” humbly asking for the Syrian ruler's forgiveness and declaring in 2010 that his statements had been “inappropriate.” That’s his modus operandi: always at the front lines of whatever battle he is fighting—always with an eye to the exit.
When the 2011 uprising began, Jumblatt again waited to see which way the wind blew. When Assad stumbled, and Saudi Arabia and other states began to join the fray, he again resumed his anti-Assad agitation. However, with the Syrian regime still standing in 2013, Jumblatt’s position is growing ever more strained. It is particularly troubling to him that the larger Syrian-Druze community refuses to back his policy. One Druze religious leader even went on Syrian state TV to denounce Jubmlatt as a “colorful freak,” saying that if his poor mother had still been alive, she would have cut off the breast at which he had fed; Walid Bek is clearly not the only Druze leader with a sharp tongue.
These past days, there has been a flurry of news about Jumblatt shifting his position, after he began criticizing Assad’s opponents in Lebanon. Al-Akhbar, a paper which is close to pro-Assad interests, says Jumblatt sent a letter along with his pro-Assad rival Talal Arslan to Damascus, asking for a fresh start in relations. The writer claimed that “senior security officials in Damascus” had declared themselves willing to forgive Jumblatt his transgressions:
Despite the open wounds in Damascus, it is willing to accept him back, regardless of the manner and timing.
The Daily Star, which tows the opposite editorial line, filled in with a report that according to a source from the pro-Syrian March 8 bloc in Lebanon, Jubmlatt's letter had
... called for re-evaluating ties between the PSP and the Syrian administration and appealed to Assad to re-enroll in the Syrian Army two Druze officers who had defected earlier, according to the source.
“Let's say that Jumblatt received a half positive answer,” the source noted, adding that while Assad “thought it was too early to carry out re-evaluations,” he promised to accept the two defectors back in the military. ”
This seems to have been planted disinformation. Immediately thereafter, Talal Arslan denied the news. Jumblatt also shot back with a curt comment to the PSP site al-Anbaa, saying that “as far as I know, I haven't yet reached that level of political dementia and imbecility.”
Tonight at 9 PM Lebanese time, the Druze leader will himself go on television to explain where he stands. Were the press leaks about his purported letter to Assad intended to influence or preempt this speech? Or was it just the ordinary Lebanese rumor mill? Stay tuned.