Last updated: 24 November, 2014

Lebanon’s “chameleon” Jumblatt captivates local Twitterati

Storied Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt, long famed for his blunt manner and role as the country's kingmaker, has become an instant must-follow after launching a new Twitter account.

Jumblatt is the most senior member of Lebanon’s Druze minority and has often been dubbed a “chameleon” or “weathervane” for his shifting political alliances.

But it’s his tendency to pronounce frankly on everything from his beloved dog Oscar to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has won him nearly 30,000 followers in the three weeks since he joined Twitter.

His tone is familiar, and he has no qualms about sharing details of where he is eating or what he is doing.

“Now it is becoming late, I do not want to miss (television programme) Hercule Poirot. Good night,” he informed his followers one evening.

Many of his tweets share his reflections on more serious matters, including the situation in Syria, where more than 195,000 people have been killed since conflict erupted in March 2011.

“The Syrian people will be freed from tyranny sooner or later,” wrote Jumblatt, a fierce opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But he also revels in direct and freewheeling interactions with followers from around the world, tweeting in English, French and Arabic, including directly at US President Barack Obama and philanthropist Bill Gates.

In one tweet he advises a follower fed up with the country’s deadlocked politics: “You cannot abandon Lebanon. Nobody is allowed to despair.”

In another, he responds to question about his favourite breakfast: “A French croissant with butter.”

And in a third, he is asked for his views on reincarnation.

“I will answer by tweet once reincarnated,” he replied, alongside a smiling face emoji.

Twitter has been popular among Lebanese politicians for years, but Jumblatt’s plainspoken interactions set him apart from his colleagues.

He tweeted directly to former prime minister Najib Mikati, urging him to do more for the northern port city of Tripoli after a recent bout of fighting.

“Welcome to Twitter!… We are doing our best but duties are many and the responsibility is national,” responded Mikati, a Tripoli native.

“Sorry, you can do more. Tripoli deserves it,” Jumblatt replied, in typically blunt fashion.

A tall, thin, mustachioed figure who prefers jeans and leather jackets to suits, Jumblatt has cultivated an outsider status in Lebanese politics.

He is reputed for his love of motorcycles and is known as a well-read intellectual, frequently offering his visitors books.

Jumblatt told AFP he devotes about an hour a day to his new-found medium, but expressed irritation at the attention his account has drawn.

“I do many more important things than use Twitter,” he said.

Lebanon’s fractured political system means Jumblatt and his minority Druze bloc have considerable influence and are often able to award victory to one alliance or another.