Lebanese Druze MP Walid Jumblat held his first public meeting on Sunday (4/30) with a delegation from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, at his residence in the Chouf mountain town of Mukhtara.
Newspapers said Jumblat held parallel telephone conversations with the group's deputy leaders Farouq Tayfour and Adnan Saadeddine, as well the party's public relations official Muhammad Tayfour, and Abdel Qader Zahran who is in charge of foreign relations. (Arabic. Al-Mustaqbal, 5/1/06).
Jumblat had earlier called for meetings between Lebanese and Syrian groups opposing the Assad regime. He has also come out in support of the National Salvation Front and the Damascus Declaration, and has encouraged Syria's Druze community not to fear the MB.
Obaida Nahas, director of the Levant Institute in London, who is close to the MB's leader Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, told UPI that the visit was "to congratulate Jumblat on the one year anniversary of the liberation of Lebanon from the Syrian regime's military presence." He added that the meeting was "part of the Syrian opposition's efforts to rectify the mistakes of the Syrian regimes in the relations with Lebanon, which should be based on the mutual respect of the two countries' sovereignty and non-interferce in each other's domestic affairs." (Arabic. Levant News, 5/3/06).
He was quick to note that the meeting "does not mean that the group is seeking a new alliance with Jumblat," adding, "the MB had already declared their support for the position of the March 14th [coalition] which calls for the ending of Syrian interference and Syrian security hegemony in Lebanon, so their rapprochement with Jumblat is natural." He further noted that Jumblat was united with them in his opposition to the Asad regime.
For his part, Jumblat said the MB presented him with a petition to revoke Syria's Law 49, which bans membership in the MB on penalty of death (Arabic. AFP via Ahrar Syria, 5/6/06). Jumblat lent his signature to the petition, saying he was helping "the Syrian citizen seeking freedom." He reiterated his support for the Syrian opposition in whatever they decide for the future of Syria: "I tell the opposition that if it sees that I could serve its objectives in order to establish a democratic and free Syria, I am ready, if they want me to help."
Jumblat, who is facing a lawsuit in Syria for incitement against the regime, said his ties to the opposition were no secret, noting his recent public meeting with former VP Abdel Halim Khaddam in Paris. This came after Syrian officials as well as pro-Asad figures in Lebanon attacked Jumblat for receiving the MB. (Arabic. Elaph, 5/5/06). For his part, Lebanese MP Saad Hariri rejected these attacks saying, "Syria meets daily with members of the Lebanese opposition." (Arabic. Levant News, 5/6/06).
Similarly, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni expressed his own surprise at the commotion revealing that this was not the first such visit of the MB or meeting with Lebanese political figures. He called the visit "normal," but also characterized it as a success (Arabic. AFP via "Free Syria," 5/4/06). He did note however that it was Jumblat who leaked the news about the last visit, and that the MB would have preferred to have kept it out of the spotlight. Bayanouni added, "our position has always been clear that we refuse the domination of the Syrian security services and armed forces over Lebanon, as is the case in Syria where we continue to live the nightmare of repression, emergency laws, and exceptional laws." "We want relations with the Lebanese based on brotherhood, cooperation, equality and respect for the will of the Lebanese people," he said.