Sunday, June 11, 2006


A vast plateau region of the central Arabian Peninsula. It was the nucleus for the modern state of Saudi Arabia.
What about the Druze - nejd

By NIBRAS KAZIMIMay 16, 2006

Senator Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, recently suggested a plan for fixing Iraq by breaking it apart. He says he wants to give the various ethnic and religious components of Iraq "some breathing space." But what about everyone else in the Middle East who is gasping for air? Fragmenting a country as focal as Iraq sets an intriguing precedent for the entire region: it is an admission that the post-World War I security arrangement arrived at by former colonial bureaucrats while dismembering the Ottoman Empire has failed, and that a radical reappraisal in the direction of matching borders to strongly held identities should be made.
Mr. Biden is running for president, and there's an element of political showmanship in his plan. However, it is a fresh look at a seemingly intractable problem. I like this approach, and have been considering it myself for a while, but what applies to Iraq has to apply to the Middle East, for Iraq today is the incubator of general fixes for the wider region. Superficially, the plan works great, but only to a certain point - for I am always stumped by the question, "What about the Druze?"
A thousand years ago, a Fatimid caliph by the name of Al-Hakim went crazy in Cairo, and as a result, we have between 400,000 to 800,000 people calling themselves Muwahhidoon in the Middle East today. They are better known as the Druze. Al-Hakim decided that he was more supreme in divinity than Allah. Apart from the renovated grand mosque bearing Al-Hakim's name in Cairo, very little of his legacy remains in our day, except that, somewhere near Aleppo and the hills west of Mount Hermon, some people took his proselytizers at their word, and converted.
Today, they are divided over four countries - Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel - where they should constitute no more than numerical blips in the crowded field of idiosyncratic local identities. But no one can mention Lebanese politics without taking note of one their top chieftains, Walid Jumblatt. The first prime minister of an independent Jordan was a Druze, and the Druze had the gall to attempt to seize power through a military coup in the turbulent 1960s roiling Syria. Several of their equal modern-day numbers in the Israeli army have reached the rank of general.
During the Lebanese civil war, Jumblatt tried some ethnic cleansing of his own in the hope of breaking off with a chunk of territory and calling it a principality. But his problem was that the Druze lived in two separate lobes on Lebanese territory, and that uniting these areas would entail far more bloodshed that he could set in motion. And that did not solve the issue of hooking up with the much larger Druze population center of the Horan highlands, where the French, in a Biden-like strategy, had tried to establish an independent state for the Druze in the early mandate years.
The survival of the Druze, and their political importance, are just one of a multitude of things about the Middle East that don't fit into a rational framework. Politicians such as Mr. Biden can leisurely contemplate drawing neat lines on the map, just like the colonial bureaucrats did, but will it translate into security?
Iraq can be broken up in three stand-alone states. Syria into four. Iran looks less menacing as five separate entities, with a few city-states, such as Isfahan, going their own way. Saudi Arabia makes much more sense in five parts, with the Wahhabis isolated in the energy-poor desolation of Nejd, where they began 80 years ago. Kurdish guerillas have fought Turkish, Iraqi, Syrian, and Iranian troops for decades in pursuit of the dream of independence, and under the Biden Plan, they would finally get their Kurdistan. Egypt is a little trickier because of communal overlap, so maybe the best solution is to carve out a national home for the Copts, somewhere in the fertile Delta, and ideally on the Suez Canal. Maybe something similar can be done for the Alevis of Turkey. Is cutting and pasting the Middle East so bad of a prospect?