What does the future hold for the Druze under Teymour Joumblatt’s leadership?

‘Discreet,’ ‘modern,’ and ‘less inclined to compromise.’ The heir to the Progressive Socialist Party leadership is different from his father.

What does the future hold for the Druze under Teymour Joumblatt’s leadership?

Teymour Joumblatt for his first walkabout in Mukhtara, March 19, 2022. (Credit: Nabil Ismaïl/L'Orient-Le Jour)

The move is too rare to go unnoticed.

Last week, Druze leader Walid Joumblatt, 73, announced his resignation as leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) — a position he held since the assassination of his father, Kamal, 47 years ago.

While it is unusual in Lebanon for a party leader to willingly step down, the “bey” will see his son, Teymour, succeed him, as dictated by tradition.

Unless something unexpected happens, Teymour’s succession will take place at a party meeting scheduled for June 25. He will then assume a central position in the political arena as leader of the Druze — one of Lebanon’s main religious communities.

This is particularly true since his father, known for his remarkable flair and political skill, turned Mukhtara into a political heavyweight to all other actors, allies and adversaries alike.

Today, the elder Joumblatt is leaving his role in the midst of an ongoing presidential vacuum and political impasse, not to mention the regional geopolitical upheavals.

In this challenging arena, what does the future hold for the Joumblatt legacy in Teymour’s hands?

Special timing

Walid Joumblatt is no ordinary zaim.

The Druze leader is known for his political elasticity, his positioning driven by his main concern for the protection of the Druze mountain against sharp political divisions.

With over 40 years of political experience, he led his community through many episodes: the Lebanese Civil War, the Syrian occupation, the March 14, 2005 uprising, the Hezbollah invasion of parts of Beirut and the Druze mountain in 2008, the massive Oct. 17, 2019 uprising — which impacted his popular base — and the economic and political crisis that continues to shake the country.

Through it all, Walid Joumblatt established himself as a key figure, enabling the Druze community to maintain a central role despite its demographic decline. Lebanese Druze accounted for just five percent of voters in the 2022 legislative elections.

In March 2017, on the 40th commemoration of Kamal Joumblatt’s death, Walid Joumblatt draped a black and white checkered keffiyeh on his son’s shoulders in front of a crowd in Mukhtara, marking Teymour his designated successor.

Subsequently, it was Teymour who ran in the 2018 and 2022 parliamentary elections, inheriting his father’s parliamentary seat and assuming a more central role.

A campaign poster of Teymour Joumblatt, who appears alongside his father Walid, in Beirut. (Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP)

But the official passing of the torch ceremony comes at a special time.

At the regional level, the reconciliation between Riyadh and Teheran paves the way for appeasement in the Middle East. After spending more than 11 years on the sidelines, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad returned to the Arab League, much to the dismay of Walid Joumblatt, who was an early supporter of the Syrian opposition. This position risks backfiring on the PSP leader, with some observers fearing the regime may once again exert influence in Lebanon.

At the local level, Lebanon has been without a president for seven months due to a lack of consensus between the political parties. The Amal-Hezbollah camp, which supports the candidacy of Sleiman Frangieh, continues to be inflexible.

Against this backdrop, rumors are swirling of a rift between Walid Joumblatt and his son.

“Teymour refuses Sleiman Frangieh as an option [for the presidency]. He has even threatened to leave Lebanon if the PSP ends up supporting him,” said an official in the anti-Hezbollah camp.

The young MP seems to fear that Parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri, one of his father’s partners, will succeed in convincing Walid to support Frangieh’s candidacy.

So far, the current Mukhtara leader has refused this possibility. The future is now in Teymour’s hands, Walid Joumblatt said as he left Ain al-Tineh a few weeks ago.

“There is no rift. Walid and Teymour always consult each other on the position the party should adopt and agree on the broad lines,” said a close friend of the family.

Walid and Teymour Joumblatt declined to comment to L’Orient-Le Jour.

The challenge facing Teymour is that his party must consolidate its foothold in the opposition, just as it did at the start of the presidential election period by supporting reformist MP Michel Moawad.

His father, however, “understands his son’s arguments, but has advised him to be pragmatic,” said a political figure that worked with the Joumblatt family.

A modern zaim

Behind the rumored divergence of opinion between father and son, many observers point to the very visible differences in character.

“The temperaments of father and son are not the same,” said political scientist Karim Bitar.

“Walid Joumblatt is known for his flamboyant character and his affinity for debating ideas. Teymour, on the other hand, seems rather reserved and discreet,” Bitar told L’Orient-Le Jour. “We don’t yet know what his major orientations are.”

The young MP often stays out of the spotlight.

“If Walid Joumblatt, motivated by the best interest of the mountain, doesn’t hesitate to change his mind, Teymour is different,” said the above-mentioned opposition official.

“He is more guided by his principles, those of March 14, and less inclined to compromise on these ideals in the name of the best interests of his community or region,” the official added.

A former PSP MP agreed. “Teymour is a man of his time. He is a more modern version of Walid Joumblatt,” said the former MP. “He was born in 1982 and is less marked by war or interfaith violence.”

Will this enable Teymour to become the main leader of the Druze — a largely rural and traditional community where the zaim plays an important social role?

“Just like the rest of the Lebanese, the Druze need young leaders, and that’s why Walid Joumblatt decided to pass the torch, and he’s been preparing for this since 2015,” said the close friend of the family.

With this in mind, the young MP plans to “modernize” the family leadership.

“Teymour wants to move away from the traditional model, where villagers come to meet the zaim in Mukhtara to formulate a list of demands. On the contrary, he wants to create institutions and NGOs to give more space to civil society,” said the political figure close to the family

Several people close to the family agree that Teymour is critical of the political class and the exercise of power in Lebanon.

“His father must have pushed him at some point earlier,” said another close family friend.

“For several years, Walid Joumblatt has clearly been trying to push his son to the forefront and make him known,” added Bitar.

The young MP was also impacted by the Oct. 17, 2019 uprising, which reached the Druze parts of Mukhtara.

In the Mount Lebanon IV voting district, the protest movement’s list obtained a remarkable number of votes in the parliamentary elections, winning three seats (including one Druze seat) although the opposition ran in scattered ranks.

Faced with the desire for change, geopolitical upheavals and the Druze demographic decline, is Teymour up to the challenge bestowed upon him by his father? The Jumblattists circles convinced so.

“He will guide the party towards modernity while retaining the continuity of his father,” said one PSP official.

Others are a little more skeptical. “Teymour certainly has many qualities and personal ethics. But to be Walid Joumblatt’s political heir is no easy task,” said the opposition official.

But it's unlikely that the young leader will be alone at the helm.

“Even after his resignation, the current PSP leader will not withdraw completely,” said Bitar. “When your name is Walid Joumblatt, you don’t stop doing politics.” 

This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Joury.

The move is too rare to go unnoticed.Last week, Druze leader Walid Joumblatt, 73, announced his resignation as leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) — a position he held since the assassination of his father, Kamal, 47 years ago.While it is unusual in Lebanon for a party leader to willingly step down, the “bey” will see his son, Teymour, succeed him, as dictated by...