Lebanon’s Druze leader Jumblatt resigns as political party chief

After stepping down at 73, Walid Jumblatt calls for elections to choose the Progressive Socialist Party’s next leader.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt resigns at 73. [File: REUTERS/ Jamal Saidi]
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt resigns at 73 [File: Jamal Saidi/Reuters]

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt is stepping down as the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) after 46 years.

Jumblatt, 73, has called for a party conference on June 25 to choose his successor, Lebanon’s state news agency NNA reported on Thursday.

He took over as the head of the left-wing PSP in 1977 after his father Kamal Jumblatt’s assassination, two years into Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, by suspected Syrian agents.

The PSP historically fought for secular governance and was one of the core groups supporting Palestinian resistance along with the Lebanese Communist Party, Syrian Social Nationalist Party and others from the left-wing.

But the party’s secular foundation collapsed after Jumblatt took the reins and Druze civilians turned to him for arms to defend themselves during the war. The Druze are a minority religious sect present in Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories and Israel.

Jumblatt was one of the leaders of the 2005 Cedar Revolution, a movement triggered by the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former prime minister. For years, he spearheaded efforts to free Lebanon from Syrian influence and was a vocal critic of the Syrian government.

Like most Lebanese, the Druze are fiercely divided over the war in neighbouring Syria, with some supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s government and others aligned with the opposition.

In October 2019, when people took to the streets across Lebanon calling for an end to the entire political and economic power structure that has been governing the country since the end of the conflict in 1990, he aided in mobilising civilian efforts but was also widely criticised for being merely performative.

The economic collapse that year saw the Lebanese pound lose more than 90 percent of its value, and the ruling class – which has been widely blamed for it – failed to check the currency’s free fall. In March 2020, the crisis culminated in the country’s first sovereign default.

Lebanon has had no president since October 2022 when Michel Aoun stepped down, and has also been governed by a caretaker cabinet since last year.

PSP supporters believe that a young successor will present a fresh chance to uphold the interests of the party, which has eight seats in the 128-member parliament. Jumblatt’s eldest son, Taymour, 41, is widely expected to replace him.

Source: Al Jazeera