Walid Junblat’s defection from the March 14 camp has attracted the attention of many friends and sympathizers outside Lebanon. From a wide-ranging history that moves from freedom fighter to war criminal to garbage man in New York to neo-con and back, people as different as Lebanon “expert” Lee Smith and UN’s Michael Williams have decided to freeze Junblat into how they like to see him and how they have seen him over the past four years. Smith and Williams have more in common when it comes to Junblat, as both refer to him as “Walid Beik.” After embracing his quasi-feudal status, both men also excuse Walid Beik’s move as a political exigency necessitated by the special position of his clan in Lebanon. And are not all Lebanese clans “special,” I wonder?
But I agree with Lee Smith on one thing: Walid Junblat is no weather vane. He is no cynical know-it-all who coldly calculates his every move and strikes without others knowing what hit them. After all, March 14 has been deadwood for more than a year now. And Walid Junblat did not complete his turn suddenly; he has been preparing his people for it since early this year. Nor was he the only one to soften up over the last year. The heat before the elections was a necessary sectarian galvanization to capture the vote. But apart from that, the rhetoric has gone down a few decibels over the past year.
No, Junblat is no weather vane. The composition of the government (15-10-5 by most accounts) has already been agreed on by Saudi Arabi and Syria. Some say as early as late June/early July. The “S-S,” as the two are referred to these days, have smoothed many ripples lately and the mutual flirtation between Saad al-Hariri and the Syrian regime right after the elections was evidence of that. So much flirtation, in fact, that there was a hue and cry among Hariri’s Christian allies when the idea that he might visit Damascus before the government was formed was floated around.
With the outcry against Junblat’s “betrayal” fading away, perhaps it can now be assessed more calmly. Saadallah Mazraani has done exactly that in an overview of the Beiks historical turns. But a short term effect of Junblat’s latest turn has not received much attention: With Junblat’s daramturgy, Saad al-Hariri’s task suddenly became easier. Hariri’s visit to Damascus is no longer discussed in terms of “if,” but rather in terms of “when.” That is not the function of a weather vane. I would venture and say that, as far as the relationship between Damascus and Hariri goes, Walid Junblat is, in fact, a bottle of champagne. Cheers!