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Foreign Policy

Lebanon’s failure is partly as a result of Macron’s fault

Almost a year after French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut and launched a French initiative to free his country’s former colony from its countless crises, nothing has been achieved. Food prices continue to skyrocket, fuel queues stretch for miles, and the Lebanese army – which not only guards some of the world’s most sensitive borders but also maintains peace of mind in a deeply divided society – has been ringing the alarm bells for it to be could be about to collapse because of the financial pressure on the soldiers.

Iranian interference and clashes with the United States over how to deal with Hezbollah – an armed militia and a political party – contributed to the early demise of the French initiative. The central problem, however, was that the success of the French plan rested on the same political class that were primarily blamed for the disasters in the country. Your refusal to introduce reforms is undoubtedly the main reason for the failure of the French plan. France’s reluctance to impose harsh sanctions and impose a price on the political elite, rather than just begging them to do the right thing, was utterly naive – and ultimately destructive.

Almost a year after French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut and launched a French initiative to free his country’s former colony from its countless crises, nothing has been achieved. Food prices continue to skyrocket, fuel queues stretch for miles, and the Lebanese army – which not only guards some of the world’s most sensitive borders but also maintains peace of mind in a deeply divided society – has been ringing the alarm bells for it to be could be about to collapse because of the financial pressure on the soldiers.

Iranian interference and clashes with the United States over how to deal with Hezbollah – an armed militia and a political party – contributed to the early demise of the French initiative. The central problem, however, was that the success of the French plan rested on the same political class that were primarily blamed for the disasters in the country. Your refusal to introduce reforms is undoubtedly the main reason for the failure of the French plan. France’s reluctance to impose harsh sanctions and impose a price on the political elite, rather than just begging them to do the right thing, was utterly naive – and ultimately destructive.

In the beginning there was hope. Macron became the first foreign leader to visit the country in August 2020 after it was devastated by a massive explosion in the port of Beirut that killed 200 people, injured thousands of people and made hundreds of thousands homeless overnight. While inspecting Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael, two of the worst hit Lebanese neighborhoods near the port, he was surrounded by the Lebanese and inundated with grief. Many waded through the security chain and walked through the rubble to cry on his shoulder, while some just wanted a hug or held his hand while their own politicians hid to avoid public anger. His visit made the Lebanese hope that France would come to their aid and end their problems.

Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael are Christian-dominated neighborhoods with pubs, cafes and historic buildings where many see themselves as culturally linked to France. Others, out there, certainly chastised Macron as New Age colonialists. Lebanon was under a French mandate until 1943, and the French stood up for the Maronite Christians, not the Muslims. Since the end of the Lebanese civil war, France has mainly played the role of a Western mediator between Lebanon and the international community in raising funds for Lebanon’s economic revival.

However, the protest movement that broke out in Lebanon in October 2019 warned the international community not to pump money that would only have saved their politicians. They called for political and economic reforms. When Macron returned for his second visit a month later, in September 2020, he called the politicians over and presented the French roadmap for seeking international aid – but made it conditional on reforms. “No blank checks,” said Macron. The French roadmap therefore called for the formation of a new technocratic government within 15 days, early elections and reforms at least in the electricity sector, which devoured 1.6 to 2 billion US dollars in public funds annually, but could not provide the people with sufficient electricity.

Forget about accountability and early elections. Lebanese politicians even stopped the formation of an interim government, which was urgently needed to discuss a bailout with the International Monetary Fund. They fought over cabinet posts that should be handed over to their deputies so that they can continue to be in charge outside the government.

Then-Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned a week after the explosion, but is still the acting Prime Minister. Saad Hariri was due to take over as prime minister in October last year, but was prevented from forming a government. First, Hariri had to give in to Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, and leave the all-important finance ministry to a Shiite. But in recent months, Hariri has been running to the Baabda Presidential Palace on Mount Lebanon, the residence of the country’s president, to get his signature on the cabinet draft – a formality required by the constitution. Behind the delaying tactics of Lebanese President Michel Aoun is the pressure of his son-in-law and former Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil, who wants a blocking veto in the cabinet and insists that his acolytes receive a third plus one post in the cabinet.

Bassil was one of the most despised politicians during the Lebanese protests and was sanctioned by the United States under the Magnitsky Act, which was designed to punish corruption. According to Lebanese analysts, Bassil has nothing to lose by ignoring the French and is desperate to be politically rehabilitated. He wants to replace an aging aoun as president and his political survival is clearly more important to him than that of his country, said several angry Lebanese analysts and citizens.

Even fellow politicians find it difficult to swallow such indulgence.

Yassine Jaber, a Lebanese parliamentarian, said the president’s love for his heir cost the country dearly. “The president firmly believes that his son-in-law plays an important role in government,” said Jaber. “No sane prime minister would approve of a government in which a party has blocking power. This topic went in circles and all mediations failed. “

Nizar Ghanem, research director and co-founder of a think tank called Triangle Consulting, said it was ironic that the community that the French have historically protected and experienced massive burglaries is sabotaging their initiative. “The French could have used their links with the Maronite Patriarch to put pressure on Maronite President Aoun, but they didn’t,” Ghanem said. “Instead, the French intervention only bought time for the political elite to kill the momentum that the protest movement had gained after the explosion. Now people are still suffering and the French want to help so they are going to throw some money into the problem and that money will go to the same politicians. We are in a vicious circle. “

It is a nervous battle between Lebanese and French politicians, with the former determined to wait until conditions are so bad that the West feels morally obliged to help.

Earlier this month, Macron said he was trying to raise international aid to provide basic supplies to the Lebanese people and called for funds from his partners on behalf of the Lebanese army. “What should we do? Shall we let people die because their own politicians don’t care?” A French diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity, asked rhetorically and seemed confused about the inaction of the political class. “We can not let people bear the full cost of the crisis. We can’t do that. ” He added that the deliberations on what basic services the French might require from the international community were still in the early stages, but France had already helped the army with food rations, medicines and some equipment needed to maintain security. The standard of living of nearly 80,000 Lebanese soldiers has declined in line with the local currency as their earnings fell from $ 800 to less than $ 100 a month.

The diplomat admitted that France’s politics had limits and that there was only so much that Paris could do. He put the responsibility for a change of government on the Lebanese people. “The Lebanese want us to solve all their problems, but they also have to stand up for themselves,” said the diplomat.

Ghanem admitted that if civil society activists and independent political candidates had teamed up, France would have a local ally, but the movement is leaderless and divided. “France has no horse to back it up. That’s a problem too, ”said Ghanem.

Makram Rabah, a lecturer in history at the American University of Beirut, said Bassil is being encouraged not to give in by Hezbollah, his ally. He said Lebanon was Iran’s bargaining chip in the ongoing negotiations to reopen the nuclear deal with the United States. and if Hezbollah wanted a government to be formed, Bassil could not resist. “Hezbollah doesn’t want a government until the Vienna talks are clear,” said Makram.

Other Lebanese analysts claimed France is soft on Hezbollah and allowing Iran’s expansionism to protect its business interests. They said former US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear pact jeopardized billions of dollars in aircraft and auto parts that France signed with Iran. The French diplomatic source scoffed at the allegations, but admitted that the United States’ parallel plan to pursue its own agenda through sanctions thwarted its efforts.

Two months ago France finally imposed its own sanctions on some Lebanese who were either involved in corruption or blocked the formation of a government. But it kept the names hidden. The sanctions are of the lightest kind – just a travel ban to France. “Why don’t the sanctions list the names of those against whom they are directed?” Asked Sami Nader, a Lebanese political scientist. “Are the French trying to punish the political elite or are they still engaging them? Half-measures are not measures. ”Most Lebanese experts and activists believe that nothing will change without harsh sanctions against the political class. France is now discussing a sanctions regime with the European Union in Brussels.

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