BEIRUT: Divisions among leaders of the Druze sect in Lebanon over the unrest in Syria would not reflect negatively on the community or develop into violence, according to members and officials from the sect who spoke to The Daily Star Thursday.
“I am 70 years old now. Political disputes have been always present but they never developed into violence,” university professor Adnan Aridi said.
The people who spoke to The Daily Star said disagreements in politics are a common occurrence within the community, but internal strife is forbidden through an unwritten agreement upheld by Druze leaders.
“It is not a problem that there are diverse opinions on what is happening in Syria among the Druze sect,” Aridi added. He said it was unlikely that disagreements over events in Syria would lead to infighting between members of the Druze community.
Aridi argued that it was positive that members of his sect were split between pro-Assad and anti-Assad factions, because when a winner emerges, at least some members of the community would be on the victor’s side.
“A minority cannot take the risk of adopting only one stance,” he said.
Aridi added that during the 1958 crises in Lebanon, a clash in the Chouf between supporters of Majid Arslan and Kamal Jumblatt, the rival Druze leaders at the time, was quickly contained.
Engineer Hussam Malaeb agreed.
“I feel there is an agreement between the heads of the sect that violence not break out. I see no indicators that the opposite will happen soon,” Malaeb said.
He voiced fear over the fate of the Druze in Syria who are exposed to increasing violence and have feelings of uncertainty in their country.
Malaeb said he supported the diversity of stances in his sect and considered it a positive sign.
Ali Hamadeh, a journalist for An-Nahar from the Future Movement, argued that the divisions are not that sharp, since the majority of Druze are loyal to Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and are supportive of his position on Syria.
“It [the difference in opinion] doesn’t affect the mainstream in the Druze community for the simple reason that Jumblatt represents the larger portion of the Druze community in Lebanon ... The mood of the Druze community is anti-Assad, it is close to Jumblatt,” Hamadeh said.
Hamadeh explained that there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” among Druze leaders that any “difference in view on any topic would not lead to a clash.”
“In the May 2008 violence, the Druze protected each other, Walid Jumblatt contacted Talal Arslan and asked him to negotiate with Hezbollah in order to protect the Druze,” Hamadeh added.
The PSP leader is a staunch supporter of the Syrian uprising and has been calling on the international community to provide Syrian rebels with arms to help them in toppling the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan, Jumblatt’s traditional rival, and the head of the Arab Tawhid Party Wi’am Wahhab represent the pro-Assad camp within the Druze community.
Last month, a memorial attended by PSP MPs and officials was held in Aley for Khaldoun Zeineddine, a Druze officer in the Free Syrian Army who was killed in a battle against Syrian regime troops in January.
In an apparent response, the Arab Tawhid Party held a rally in the Chouf village of Baaqlin Sunday.
Addressing Druze political and religious figures from the predominantly Druze province of Swaida in Syria, Wahhab voiced his readiness to fight alongside the regime in the province. Assad received Arslan in Damascus the same day.
Khaled Khaddaj, from the Arab Tawhid Party, said the divisions within the Druze sect were normal and had occurred in the past decade over several issues, not only events in Syria.
“Divisions are present, but we do not think clashes will take place because there is a kind of balance between Jumblatt and his rivals,” he said.
But despite the current divisions, members of the Druze community are less divided over how to deal with the repercussions of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon. Over 200,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon since the conflict began. Thousands are receiving shelter and other forms of aid in the predominantly Druze town of Aley, a stronghold of the PSP.
Salim Hamadeh, Arslan’s media adviser, said that the LDP leader had given instructions to his supporters to “open their houses and hearts” to Syrian refugees.
“There is no place for political disputes here. If someone’s house was destroyed and came to you for help, do you talk to him about political disputes?” he asked. “This is how Talal Arslan thinks.”
Hamadeh said that just as residents of the Chouf hosted people displaced by Israeli aggression from the south in the past, they were now receiving refugees, irrespective of any disagreement over events in Syria.