Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Jumblatt Jr, new appearances of an heir apparent

Posted by worriedlebanese on 07/09/2009

Taymour JumblattIt seems Taymour Jumblatt is back from his self-imposed Parisian exile. And he is getting groomed to take over the “family business” from his father. “The Lebanese have to free themselves from the sectarian mentality” he said, comfortably slipping into his grandfather’s speech patterns while touring Rashaya and Hasbaya, also know as Wadi el-Taym, the historical birthplace of the Druze community (not of the faith though).

This is not the first time the “serious” media gives some attention to a person who holds no official or prominent position within a party, the state or even a municipality. Three weeks ago, his father had sent him to represent him at Hezbollah’s “Victory Celebration” held  in the southern suburb of Beirut to commemorate the outcome of the July war in 2006. The young Joumblatt also received some media attention two years ago when he publicly said that his father erred in 2005-2006 because he was mislead by the American administration and its Arab cronies.

After Frangieh Jr (soon to be joined by a cousin), the Gemayel Juniors (will Joumana join?)… it’s becoming quite clear that the third generation of Zu’ama is ready to step into politics. The political class is co-opting them (i.e. recognising their “rights” in partaking in public ressources and distributing them), the media is keeping them well centered in the limelight, the intelligentia is nourishing a lame debate on political inheritance (which keeps the focus on those heirs, transforms this specific political inheritance into a social phenomena, which it isn’t… and gives some pundits the opportunity to say that withstanding the fact that they inherited such a position, they’re bringing new blood in and some of them have excellent credentials).

What lies behind nepotism and “political inheritance”

Agency! political actors. That’s what lies behind what is being presented as a social phenomenon. Don’t look for traditionalism… People do not vote for Walid Jumblatt because he is the son of Kamal Jumblatt, and will not vote for Taymour in 2013 because he is the Bek’s son. Sure it gives him more social capital than another person who’d join the political game. Sure it gives him important political ressources that he can use against any potential rival. But that doesn’t explain why people WILL vote for him. They’ll do it because it is the most profitable action for them to do.

  • He is one of Lebanon’s wealthiest men, a fortune that his grandfather started developing in 1957 with the help of the UAR (weapon trafficking) and in 1961 with the support of the Lebanese government (economical deals and a share in private yet state supported monopolies). A fortune that his father kept on developing as warlord (militia “taxation”, confiscation and redistribution of property…) and as one of Syria’s strongest allies in the 1990s (through his ties with Syrian politicians and Rafik Hariri).
  • He controls part of the state institutions through the massive appointments his grandfather and his father made (and he will undoubtedly do the same) within the public administration and even private institutions.
  • He controls local administrations in large parts of Aley, Baabda and the Chouf (municipalities, police forces, state university section, public schools, electricity and water company).
  • He enjoys the support of other political leaders who have the same ressources as he does. To understand how this works, one has to rephrase this last sentence. He enjoys the support of other political leaders with whom he shares the same ressources. The key word is obviously “share”. By it, we mean an informal mechanism that allows a group of politicians to divide amongst themselves the state ressources and any profitable private sector through the regulatory power of the state (that allows these politicians to reallocate licences and property). Keeping the oligarchy hereditary keeps the cost of the game rather low because no negotiation is needed to maintain it. And the profits are quite large. They are both economical and political. The oligarchs will also help each others maintain their hold on their constituencies. Walid Jumblatt helped Rafic Hariri conquer the Iqlim el-Kharoub in the 1990s, and now Saad Hariri ensures the election of Walid Jumblatt in the Chouf (the Sunnis have become the largest electorate there).

Interestingly enough, the oligarchy has decided to support “hereditary” politics amongst “junior” politicians and even encouraged one of its junior allies to play “hereditary politics” to the fullest, and that is Amin Gemayel. Here’s a politician who was co-opted by the oligarchy as a Za’im (to counter Michel Aoun on the “dialogue table”). Amin Gemayel (himself the son and the brother of a warlord) has chosen Selim Sayegh, the son of a former ally as Vice-President, he got his son (Sami) and his nephew (Nadim) on two “tickets” (receiving more votes from his allies than he gave them), and got the son of a former president of the Kataeb (Samer Saadeh) on a winning ticket in Tripoli.

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