What does it take for a politician to survive in Lebanon? I often asked myself how some leaders have managed to uphold their careers despite all the ups and downs their country has experienced. In some cases, the secret of survival is charisma, in others, religious legitimacy. In most, however, survival is based on the ever-present state of political anarchy. Lebanon is one of the few countries that has no taboos in its political dictionary.

Some leaders have orchestrated mass killings during the Civil War (1975-1990) while others have conducted secret deals with Israel, yet remain at their positions and have never blushed or attempted to hide their mistakes. This survival and confidence is explained by one element – the ability of the wrongdoer to convince his sect that what he has done was best for their collective interest.

The average citizen
In Lebanon, leaders are semi-divine in their political communities. On Tuesday, 45 minutes after news of the plane crashes in America took Beirut by storm, I was rushing down a central street, speaking on the phone about what had happened. A plump man, hurrying to close down his shop and rush to a nearby television, ran up to me, unable to conceal the big smile drawn across his face. Obviously, all he had heard was that "America is under attack." He asked, "How many planes have fallen?" Four, I replied, and he beamed saying, "May God preserve you Walid Jumblatt – may God preserve our beloved zaiim." Only Walid Bey, he pointed out, "had the courage to attack America and restore dignity to the Arab people." This was an average Lebanese citizen who sincerely believed that his patron had just attacked the world's No. 1 superpower. Of all the leaders in Lebanon today, no one stands out as well-established, influential, and controversial as Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt.

An ally of Syria and traditional Druze leader, Jumblatt reigned as head of a religious community that dreamt of smashing the confessional system that barred them, being members of a Muslim minority, from the presidency and restricted their posts to cabinet ministers. Throughout the war years, the Jumblatt family, Walid and his father Kamal before him, had fought against the Maronite community in Mount Lebanon.

Following in his father's foot steps, he repeatedly called for the "removal of the Christians who have been ruling us for 200 years." On every occasion, he would call for blood revenge against the Maronites and demand repetition of the 1860 Maronite massacres in Mt Lebanon. On September 13, 1983 whilst the Druze where massacring Christian civilians in the mixed Druze-Maronite Chouf district, Walid Jumblatt announced his policy from Damascus: "With the help of our Syrian allies we have removed the Christians and only the Druze villages will remain from now on. Such is our objective."

In the post-war era, Jumblatt emerged as a tactic ally of Prime Minister Rafiq Al Harriri, who it seemed was also, a supporter of Damascus. In 1998, however, Jumblatt's relations with Syria began to wane when Assad sponsored the election of Emille Lahhoud, a military officer, as President of the Republic. When Lahhoud became President, he sacked both Prime Minister Harriri and Walid Jumblatt. Radical believers in civilian leaderships, both men moved into the opposition, and pretty soon, found themselves criticising Emille Lahhoud and the entire pro-Syrian establishment that was supporting him – an establishment that they had originally stemmed from.

In November 2000, Jumblatt astonished Damascus by demanding immediate Syrian troop redeployment and asking, "It is time to find out who killed the late Kamal Jumblatt?" The elder Jumblatt, it must be noted, had been shot by Syrian assailants at his village in the Mukhtara on March 16, 1977. An angry regime in Damascus responded by withdrawing Jumblatt's VIP status in Syria and pro-Syrian politicians in Lebanon snapped back within the Lebanese Parliament and threatened to kill him.

Tactical alliance

Within the next few months, he established a tactical alliance with the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, a former archenemy, and the two men began a chorus of statements demanded that Syrian authorities stop intervening in Lebanese decision-making and treating Lebanon as a puppet state. On August 4-5, 2001, under Jumblatt's urging, Sfeir carried out a groundbreaking visit to the Chouf district, meeting with both Maronite and Druze communities, who following in their leader's footsteps, had become predominantly anti-Syrian. Only ten years earlier, both communities had massacred one another in the same district and claimed that a make-up after so much bloodshed was impossible. Here was Jumblatt, referring everything in the past as "a mistake" and demanding "national reconciliation."

Immediately following his new found friendship with the Maronites, Lebanon experienced wide scale arrests that placed 200 ant-Syrian figures behind bars. Immediately, Jumblatt spoke out, calling out against the police state of Emille Lahhoud and asking for their release.

In protest, Jumblatt threatened to have his aid-de-camp Ghazi Al Aridi, the current Minister of Information, resign from office. Making his point clear, he travelled to Damascus to voice his opposition to Lahhoud's police measures and held a 90-minute conference with the Lebanese president's patron, Bashar Al Assad. Endearing himself to the Maronites by championing their cause, Jumblatt suddenly inflated from a local Druze leader to a national hero, hailed by everyone, even his traditional enemies. An ambitious man, Jumblatt took his popularity campaign one step further and conducted a mid-August tour of South Lebanon, visiting the liberated Jezzine, Khiam, Marjayoun and Shebaa districts and building bridges with Christian, Shiite and Sunni communities.

Defy Israel

Then, on August 12, Jumblatt addressed the "Druze of Palestine" from Bayyada village in Hasbayya, asking them to defy Israel's obligatory military service, irrespective of the consequences, which could reach up to 70 days in prison. Jumblatt's call on Israel's 70,000 Druze, two-thirds of whom live in the occupied Golan Heights, were responded to promptly. Earlier in May 2001, he had chaired a Druze congress in Amman that attracted dozens of the community's leaders who flooded in from Israel asking for their support in the Palestinian Intifadah.

"The Druze of Palestine are Arabs and are fighting for their Arab identity after Israeli attempts to separate them from their Muslim environment as part of a scheme to create small minority entities in Palestine," said Jumblatt. On August 19, Jumblatt travelled to Amman once again to meet its Druze community, and held a high profile meeting with King Abdullah II, discussing the regional conflict. Messages of support for Jumblatt's pro-Palestine campaign poured in from a formerly antagonistic Bashar Al Assad, along with the Arab member of the Israeli Keenest and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

Within one year, Walid Jumblatt has managed to elevate his image from that of a local Druze chieftain and former warlord to a pan-Lebanese nationalist leader. Meanwhile, he has maintained – in fact expanded his Druze patronage to other districts, stretching from Israel, t