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Mideast Notebook

A house to die for Add to ...

Moukhtara, the Chouf Mountains residence of Walid Jumblatt, godfather of Lebanon's Druze, may be the home I covet more than any place I've ever seen.

It's a series of square stone buildings built onto the side of a rather steep mountain sometime in the late 19th century. There are patios with formal chairs, fountains, and one landing has a large stone sarcophagus on display.

Stone stairways, some beneath arches, run between the buildings, linking them in all sorts of ways - a perfect place for kids to play hide-and-seek.

Several of the two and three-storey buildings have small balconies built out from the upper floors with panoramic views of the Chouf valley below and mountains so close you'd swear you could shoot across to them (some have tried), but take more than an hour to reach by car.

Through the whole compound, in a concrete and stone channel, runs a bountiful and fast-moving spring, its rushing water adds a soothing natural sound to the place, like camping beside rapids in a stream..

I've only been in two of the six or seven main buildings, but what I've seen is a classic Ottoman layout, with high-ceiling rooms, generous hallways, dark, private corners.

Mr. Jumblatt's office, with a large round table in the middle, houses a superb collection of antique pottery in glass cases.

All the public rooms contain large oil paintings depicting Jumblatt ancestors, rugged landscapes of the Chouf, and Druze battle scenes.

On Saturday mornings, Mr. Jumblatt holds an open house, a diwan, for his people, and a couple dozen show up, many dressed in traditional Druze costume. They wait their turn, are ushered into the presence of the "godfather" by a wonderful private secretary named Nasser, and convey whatever greeting or request they have come to make.

Considerately, Mr. Jumblatt invites a visiting journalist or two to come by as well and they are ushered in ahead of all but the most distinguished of the Druze visitors.

Back in time?

Jumblatt, Hariri, Aoun, Geagea … if the names of Lebanon's political leaders have a familiar ring, and make you think you've gone back in time, you're not alone. The principal characters in Lebanese politics have either been around for a long time, or have inherited the mantle from their fathers.

Walid Jumblatt has been the chief leader of Lebanon's Druze, and head of the Progressive Socialist Party, since 1977. His father Kamal Jumblatt ruled as godfather to his people and party leader until he was assassinated that year.

The Jumblatts, leaders of a minority in Lebanon, have always been versatile in choosing their political partners. That's the only way to survive in these parts, acknowledges Mr. Jumblatt, by making yourself useful, if not indispensible to the ruling power.

Saad Hariri, leader of the governing Future Movement (or party) which has a lot at stake in this weekend's election, is the son of Rafik Hariri, a two-time prime minister of Lebanon, who was assassinated by a bomb in February 2005.

The blast shocked the Lebanese people and its aftershocks led to the departure of Syrian forces in the country, and to the election of Mr. Hariri junior, and his allies.

Michel Aoun, is the same Aoun who was head of Lebanon's military in the 1980s and who tried to take over the government in 1989. He set himself up in the president's residence and declared an alternative government to that of prime minister Salim el-Hoss.

Eventually defeated by the Syrians, he was forced into exile where he remained until 2005, returning only after the Syrians left the country.

Since then, he has embarked on a major, legal campaign to run the country, allied himself unexpectedly with Hezbollah, and stands to gain the most this weekend if the opposition coalition, dubbed March 8, wins.

Samir Geagea, is the same man who ran a Christian militia called the Lebanese forces in the 1980s. Convicted of war crimes committed in the 1975-90 civil war, he served 11 years in solitary confinement until freed by an act of the Saad Hariri-led government to which he then pledged his political party.

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