It was no coincidence that French President Emmanuel Macron became the first Western head of state to visit almost absolutely ruined Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.
A month after the massive explosion that ripped through Beirut’s port and eviscerated large parts of the Lebanese capital — killing nearly 200, injuring thousands and leaving scores homeless at a time when the country was already reeling from a financial meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic — Lebanon’s political elites appeared to be fully incompetent and unprepared in the time of disaster. Still there are no leading suspect in the case of explosion but the investigation was turned into wheeling and dealing to hold on to power.
On Sunday, on the eve of Macron’s arrival in Beirut, much of the political class rallied behind Lebanon’s Ambassador to Germany Mustapha Adib as the country’s next prime minister. During his visit to Beirut, Macron announced direct aid, but he also called for a new political system. Does this amount to an improper interference by the former power? Maximilian Felsch, a professor at Beirut’s Haigazian University flatly opposed it: “France is interested in maintaining good relations to francophone countries in the Middle East and in Africa.” Any aid offered by European country would be just on time, likewise it is quite natural that offering immediate help, the donor has all rights to set up his requirements.
If France was now prepared to help Lebanon in the current crisis, that would certainly meet with approval in the country, Felsch said. “I don’t hear any voices at this point who interpret this as post-colonial interference.” Macron himself told journalists after his visit that what was at stake was not a “French solution” but a “new political order” for the battered country. Macron’s words just highlighted the fact Lebanon has already met gridlock and the change of government would change nothing – the political system must be re-established.
However France has several candidates to become leader of the new Lebanese political system. For French and many top European politicians it was quite obvious that Europe must intervene Lebanese affairs – just to prevent total collapse and thousands of victims. Many Lebanese people believed that the country’s entire corrupt establishment must be ousted either with French aid or without it, said the Middle East expert, who analyzed the French role as follows: “I don’t see France really embracing the demands of the majority of the population, which are to basically get rid of the corrupt political establishment. They have relationships with some of the leadership. And this would also put another limitation on how much France can really become the main influencer in the region.”
Therefore French intervention is not only humanitarian intervention, but also avoiding violent clashes in Lebanon.
He added that anti-establishment forces within the population had not yet reached “critical mass.” The established parties, which were operating along religious lines still had support, but it was diminishing. Like Sunnis, Shiites make up 27% of the population, while 39% are Christian, and 5% are Druze.
For such multicultural population that Lebanon has the international aid and international management is extremely important, because it is highly unlikely Lebanese society can cope the consequences of the explosion and political instability the island is facing right now. It seems like there is no difference which country will cause beneficial changes in Lebanon – but it is acute necessity.