Al Arabiya's exclusive interview with Lebanon's Walid Joumblatt

 

The President of the Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Joumblatt, said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad only stayed in power because of armies that are present in Syria, in an Exclusive interview with Al Arabiya.

Asked if he sees Bashar al-Assad staying in power for the next 20 years, Joumblatt said: “He cannot stay. Stay to rule what? Syria’s rubble? People who are displaced in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and across the world? He has stayed as a result of armies present in Syria, the Russian, the Iranian army, but then what?”

Joumblatt said that the US will not succeed in passing the “deal of the century,” which states peace between Palestine and Israel.

“It’s impossible … and if they succeed, it will be temporary,” Joumblatt said in the sit-down interview with Al Arabiya’s Rima Maktabi.

Below is the full transcript of Al Arabiya’s interview with Walid Joumblatt:

We’ll begin with regional files specifically Syria. Eight years after the Syrian revolution, Bashar al-Assad is still on the chair. Was there a mistake in calculations or something huge happened and half a million people were killed and 12 million Syrians were displaced.

It’s not a matter of a mistake in calculations but there is a people that wanted life and freedom. Some powers came and intervened in favor of the regime. First it was the Islamic Republic of Iran then Russia. At the same time, the West abandoned the Syrian people. It abandoned the Syrian people and did not help them in the civil revolution or even in the armed revolution when it was national. Later, outsiders and extremist members entered Syria so the regime temporarily succeeded in saying it’s either me or ISIS, either me or extremism, and the West just abandoned the people.

Do you think it was possible to topple Bashar al-Assad?

I think in 2012, yes, but after the chemical agreement was reached, you remember, the chemical agreement in Pittsburg between Obama and Putin, they completely stopped supporting the Syrian people and the semi-secular national powers.

So the price of the nuclear deal between the West and Iran was Syria, or it was one of the prices.

I think back then, revolutions were at their peak. You remember, Bill Burns in Oman and others.

So Bashar al-Assad will stay for 20 or 30 years?

He cannot stay. Stay to rule what? Syria’s rubble? People who are displaced in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and across the world? Stay on what? He has stayed as a result of armies present in Syria, the Russian, the Iranian army but then what?

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir killed half a million people and there’s an arrest warrant issued against him, and the international community embraced him.

Did not embrace him.

Would it be possible that the international community will embrace Bashar al-Assad and he returns to the Arab League?

The people’s revolution does not have an accurate calculation. When people revolt, they just revolt. They do not have accurate calculations. In Syria, the people revolted in Daraa. This is why Bashar does not want all refugees to return, and I do not think he can resume this path. Fine, Bashir ruled for 30 years. Bouteflika ruled for 30 years too. Then people spoke out and said enough. There will come a day when the Syrian people will say enough and the displaced people outside Syria are already saying enough.

Most of the Sunnis in Syria are with Bashar al-Assad.

This is not true. Some of the cities’ Sunnis are. This was Hafez al-Assad’s plan to gain the Sunni and Christian bourgeois and others in businesses, and they left the countryside. But people in the countryside and those who were displaced from Ghouta, Daraya and other areas from Homs and Aleppo, you think they’re all with Bashar?

But let’s talk frankly. If you look today at the Syrian political scene, is there anyone whom you think can lead Syria. Who is the alternative to Bashar al-Assad?

Is it forbidden to have a civil regime in Syria or a civil government? Must there be a dictator ruling since 1970, one person governing Syria? Is this reasonable? There’s no alternative, a democratic alternative, alternative for freedoms, parties exchanging, etc. I reject this logic.

What do you tell the Druze in Syria?

I tell the Syrian people that one day they will have freedom. Druze there are actually Syrian, they are part of the Syrian people. My relation is with the Syrian people and their uprising, not only with the Syrian Druze. It’s a relation with the Syrian people based on a principle.

What do you think of the Iranian role in the region, beginning with Syria?

The Iranian role has led us to this dead end where the confrontation happened or the confrontation today is in full swing between Iran and the US. We did not need Iran to support the Syrian regime at the expense of the Syrian people and to enter Yemen this way. Today Iran is threatening to shell all Gulf cities and does not see Iraq as an Arab country.

It’s no longer Arab?

It will go back to being so but the Arab identity that we once dreamt of and which was at its peak back then was defeated in 1967 when Abdelnasser was defeated. However, it will be restored as we are Arabs. We are Arabs who are with diversity and plurality but not according to the Baathist dictatorial way in Iraq and Syria and not even according to Abdelansser’s way.

Your father was killed and you went ahead and opened a new page with the Syrian regime in 1978.

I had to. What can I say, we want to reopen old wounds? I had to do so due to Lebanese domestic alliances and wrong calculations by some parties and Israel had begun occupying Lebanon in 1977, they brought Saad Haddad to power.

Do you see yourself shaking hands with Bashar al-Assad one day?

No, I’ll maintain my principled position, and I will continue to do so with a clear conscience until the last day of my life. No one is cornering me. I am at ease.

Hezbollah is strongly present in the government. There is a feeling that Lebanon has become Hezbollah’s state.

No, this is also wrong. Hezbollah represents a certain category of the Lebanese people, and at the same time it represents the Iranian extension. But one day, it’s a must to realize that Lebanon is better for Hezbollah than the Iranian extension, but this needs time.

Hezbollah was formed based on an Iranian doctrine with Iranian funding in the 80’s, so why end the engagement now?

It was established based on an Iranian doctrine back then. Hafez al-Assad facilitated their presence in Beqaa then it extended. The excuse, and it’s not an excuse, was the Israeli presence, the Israeli occupation. After we, as a national movement, fought Israel and after Arafat fought Israel, Hezbollah came and the Amal Movement came. There were parties and Hezbollah remained the party that is in control of the South’s decision. We hope that only the Lebanese state will have the military, the security and southern decision one day via dialogue.

How is your relation with Hezbollah?

We’ve agreed with Hezbollah to organize the dispute. Meaning, we disagree with Hezbollah regarding Syria and interference in Syria alongside the Iranians. But at the same time, we view them as an essential power in Lebanon, a political and military power of course. In the past during the tenure of President Michel Sleiman, we proposed the defense strategy issue, as in based on a Hezbollah decision, the Lebanese army, the Lebanese state, contains Hezbollah’s military apparatus. But this is not a unified Lebanese decision. It’s a Lebanese decision and Hezbollah agrees, and we are waiting.

Who restores internal balance in Lebanon? The rise of another armed party, another militia?

No, no. We believe in the state. We, and we’ve always said this, believe in the state, and they’re part of the state. And I think one day they will realize this, that only the state will protect them.

Has Lebanon lost its relationships with the Arab World? Did it lose its relations with Gulf countries?

It did not lose its relations with Gulf countries. The Gulf is still an actor in Lebanon. We must also say that if it weren’t for the Gulf, if it weren’t for Saudi Arabia, if it weren’t for the UAE and Qatar, where would this economic growth in Lebanon come from? In the end, there’s the Gulf and the diaspora. Historically, the Gulf was the Lebanese people’s resort. The resort to what’s good. Hezbollah in some of its attacks on the Gulf did not realize that this harms the Lebanese people. Is there a Lebanese community in Iran? No.

Does the Taif Agreement continue to stand?

Theoretically it does, there is no other agreement.

But the formula changed. The Shiite component in Lebanon was not this strong when the agreement was reached. Do you need a new agreement?

I disagree with you because you’re saying Shiite, and I do not like this label. There was a party then, Hezbollah, and it rejected the agreement then it joined us. Even Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah emphasized the Taif Agreement in several speeches. There’s also Speaker Berri, who leads the Amal Movement, he’s with the Taif.

Who are your allies today?

My current allies? There are no alliances and no fronts. This may be better, as someone will have more freedom of movement. March 14 ended and March 8 still exists their way.

But there’s no real opposition.

The lack of opposition has nothing to do with Iran or America. There’s no opposition because how will an opposition form if the MP is a minister, and if the one who represents laborers does not hold the government accountable, Accountability is absent. And the political class, which I’m part of, Lebanese citizens have, in varying degrees, lost trust in the political class.

Why?

As a result of corruption and as a result of the political practices, which control and block things for the wider public.

To what extent are you in control of the situation with your supporters, when it comes to livelihood and the economic situation. Do you fear an economic collapse or a social revolution in Lebanon?

If we mess with the austerity project, and if we mess with the core things, and the major livelihoods of the Lebanese citizen and employee, then yes, there will be a social revolution. That’s why we need to be very careful when it comes to the plan of reducing the deficit spending.

Do you fear a new war in Lebanon or against Lebanon?

This is a historical fear, as a result of the Israeli enmity. I know this by heart, 76, 82, we know this by heart.

But is the party fighting Israel today, Hezbollah, exhausted in Syria? Syria lost the Golan Heights and didn’t defend its lands. The Americans just decided that the Golan has become Israeli. Who will lead the war (against Israel)?

True but this simplifies it. A Lebanese citizen, specifically when it comes to the South, sees that Hezbollah is a basic tool in defending Israel. This citizen is on the line of contact. We live behind, in the cities while they’re there in the front and they see Israel every day.

You’re well-known as an insightful who reads the political situation on the long term. Do you think the Americans will succeed in passing the so-called deal of the century, meaning peace with Israel?

They will not succeed. It’s impossible, and just like I said that it’s impossible for Bashar to govern Syria and continue to displace millions of Syrians inside and outside Syria, it’s also impossible for the Americans to transfer Palestine from one place to another. This is what I think, and if they succeed, it will be temporary.

Isn’t it time for some sort of a deal because the Palestinians have in the past lost the chance to seal deals that were perhaps good?

The balances right now are not in the Arabs’ favor. But in the end, there is a central cause called Palestine. It’s true that the new Arab revolutions do not remember Palestine because their concerns are freedom and dignity against dictatorial regimes, like Algeria, Omar al-Bashir and Bashar. But there’s currently one central postponed cause and it will not die.

Isn’t it time for peace with Israel?

There’s no peace with Israel. They are an alien body in the region. They are an alien body. I am not talking about the Jews. Historically this region has been diverse. A project from the late 19 century and beginning of the 20th, came to import Jews from Russia, from Poland, from Ukraine and from everywhere else and bring them to Palestine under the slogan that’s it’s a land without people, but it has its people who have their ancient history.

What if the Palestinians agree to a deal? What will the Lebanese have to say to that?

They will not accept one. No matter who the leaders are, they won’t accept, that’s impossible.

What do you think of America’s performance in the Middle East and the proposals of which the deal of the century is one of?

Due to this Arab weakness, America is benefitting by selling arms, by affecting the oil prices, either decrease them or increase them. The Arab world is drowning in these divisions.

What is Lebanon’s problem, in brief and in general?

Sectarianism which has been deeply rooted for decades. My father tried with the Lebanese left to reach a non-sectarian system. The obstacles were local and international and some were Arab.

But the sound of the church bells tolling with the sunset adhan is beautiful.

And who said cancelling sectarianism is cancelling the adhan and preventing the churches from tolling bells. But one at least feels that he’s a citizen with the same opportunities and without any discrimination.

Since you’re talking about a civil system, and you support women, why didn’t you ever suggest a female Druze minister?

Due to the sectarian composition of my area, and especially with the last electoral law, they besieged me. They besieged me in the last electoral law.

Do you fear for the Druze in Lebanon’s political life?

No, I do not. The Druze are part of the ancient Arab fabric in the entire region, and they were at the forefront as fighters. At the current time, and like everyone else, the broad Arab tide receded, and we’re back to talking in the logic of tribes, sects, isolationism. But this will pass, and I am not afraid.

There was a funny question in the reactions to the economic situation in Lebanon. A Lebanese citizen proposed that some Lebanese politicians return some of the Lebanese people’s money and fortune to a certain safe or fund. Do you support such an idea?

I do but this needs a mechanism.

So you’re willing to return money?

If it’s proven that I took, then I am ready. Before handling an issue like this, let’s put the progressive taxation. In Lebanon, the income tax is still 15% while in any other country it is between 30% and 40%. This was French President Macron’s mistake when he slashed wealth tax. It’s symbolic in Lebanon, they pay 3% but in France, they pay 30% and 40%.

And you’re willing to give the Lebanese people?

The law must obligate me, hold me accountable and make me pay. Yes.

What’s your advice to Taymour Beik, your son?

I was not Kamal Jumblatt, and he will not be Walid Jumblatt. He must make his own path, and I wish him all the best. And I hope, especially that he’s from a different generation, that he does not forget Palestine.

The majority of the Arab youths no longer mention the Palestinian cause.

It will return, it will return. I see Palestine today or the Israeli entity like the issue of the Crusade wars in the past. Back then, people were divided with and against the Crusaders, and in the end, they left.

You are active on Twitter, and you convey political messages through it.

A little, not a lot. I have decreased this now, but that’s the last bullet in my gun.

What’s the secret of this activity on Twitter. Do you believe in the new media, and who gets you the interesting photos?

I used to rely on the New Yorker magazine and I am not reading it as much. Now, I create, and I take photos via the Iphone and post them on Twitter.

Do you still read the newspaper?

Of course, Al-Nahar and Al-Akhbar. I have to so we can see the attacks and the poisons spread by some authors. Too bad As-Safir closed.

People no longer read the newspaper. Do you think the new media took everything?

It seems so, but I am old school. I prefer paper and with Twitter, I convey some environmental, political remarks and whatever I think of.

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