Will Macron use the tragedy in Beirut to restore French rule over Lebanon?

Will Macron use the tragedy in Beirut to restore French rule over Lebanon?

A hypocritical spectacle

The dust from the devastating blast, which caused enormous damage to Beirut and resulted in numerous human casualties had not yet dissipated before French President Emmanuelle Macron landed in the capital of Lebanon.

Macron was the first foreign head of state to visit Beirut after a monstrous blast that killed almost 200 people and wounded 5,000.

However, the French leader’s visit was hardly about offering his condolences. Instead of humbly expressing his sympathies to the victims and offering the Lebanese leadership help in a difficult situation, Macron posed in front of cameras and promised the Lebanese people changes in the leadership of the country.

Upon arrival, Macron first went to the streets damaged by the explosion. There standing in front of the people screaming “Revolution!” Macron promised the Lebanese that he would insist on “a new political pact” and achieve reforms in their country.

After his spectacular appearance in the streets of Beirut, Macron held talks with Lebanese leaders – President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Speaker Nabih Berri was also invited.

As the negotiations ended, the President of France went back to the cameras and said that France would soon organize a conference with the countries of the Near East, the United States and Europe to help Lebanon.

However, the assistance, he said, will depend on the specific political actions of the Lebanese leadership. According to him, France will not give “blank checks to a system that no longer has the trust of its people.” Macron also called for the creation of a “new political order” in Lebanon, adding however, that he did not intend to impose the French rule over Lebanon.

De facto, Macron gave Lebanon an ultimatum, demanding to obey the will of foreign powers, and blackmailing  leadership with revolution (his visit coincided with the rise of protest activity).

Macron’s ultimatum

“What is also needed here is political change. This explosion should be the start of a new era,” said the French leader in Beirut.

According to him, international aid will be directly distributed to the Lebanese population, bypassing the government. The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the UN should play an important role in this process, he said. Macron also called for an international investigation into the explosion at the port of Beirut.

At the same time Macron called on the Shiite party Hezbollah to stop “serving” the interests of Iran.

European media are now actively covering the fact that a petition for the return of Lebanon to French control has gained 50,000 signatures in 24 hours.

The French mandate for Lebanon was in force from 1920 to 1943. At that time Lebanon was in fact a French colony, which divided the Middle Eastern territories of the Ottoman Empire with Great Britain after World War I.

Macron is essentially attempting to return Paris to its former role as a colonial center.

This was not overlooked by commentators from the region, who accused Macron of trying to return to colonial times and impose a pro-Western regime on Lebanon by taking advantage of the country’s tragedy.

In particular, the French leader’s statement that he would “take political responsibility” over Lebanon, if Lebanese authorities could not sign a new political pact, caused a great deal of anger.

In an interview with the French TV channel BFM, Macron explained his attitude towards Lebanon, saying it is also driven by geopolitical competition. According to him, while France ” is a power that believes in multilateralism and believes in the interests of the Lebanese people, other powers may interfere whether it is Iran, Saudi Arabia or Turkey”.

Internal reaction

For the French President, the developments in Lebanon are important both in terms of foreign and domestic policy. In a year and a half, France will hold presidential elections, and Macron has little to boast about in terms of domestic politics: the country is constantly shaken by protests: trade unions, “yellow vests”, etc., people are dissatisfied with Macron’s economic reforms and the reform of labor laws against workers.

That is likely a large part of why the French president is trying to get political points by other means, such as using ecological rhetoric and promising to insert climate change passengers into the French Constitution. Macron also tries to present himself as an effective diplomat, promoting the role of France in the world arena.

The New French Ecocracy: How capitalist ‘ecology’ dictates European policy

But the French opposition believes that if Paris really wants to help Beirut, it should act differently.

“The reestablishment of Lebanon also the return of 1.5M Syrian refugees.

For this, France must re-establish dialogue with the legal Gvt of #Syria and demand the end of the sanctions that hit the entire population hard. So #Macron’s journey will be really worth it” National Rally Party deputy Thierry Mariani said on Twitter.

“Showing solidarity with #Lebanon is a good initiative.

But interfering in the national politics of a sovereign state is particularly awkward,” the MP also noted.

The leader of the left-wing ” La France insoumise” (“Untamed France”) party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, warned against meddling in Lebanese politics. “Lebanon is not a French protectorate,” he recalled.

But Bernard-Henri Lévy, an ideologist of French foreign policy in the Middle East close to President Macron, criticized supporters of Lebanese sovereignty. According to Lévy, sovereignty has no meaning “if to come to the aid of a brotherly people”.

Inefficient system

The protests in Lebanon since last year have been caused by corruption and poor governance.

According to UN criteria, at least 29% of the population in Lebanon already live in poverty. According to Prime Minister Hassan Diyab, 40% of the country’s population will fall below the poverty line as a result of the coronavirus pandemics. Lebanon ranks third in the world in terms of credit (in terms of debt to GDP of 150%). The national currency is quickly depreciating.

Lebanon’s governance system is based on an ethno-confessional balance, in which the highest positions in the State can be held by a certain community: the President is always a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni, the Speaker of Parliament a Shiite. This system has been in place for almost 75 years.

This system was supposed to preserve peace and state unity of the country through a balance between ethnic and religious communities. However, the same system has led to the usurpation of power by the same groups of politicians.

Corruption and clan irreplaceability in Lebanon are enshrined in law. This is what leads to the erosion of power; but it was the French who created this system during the protectorate. It was France that created the current Lebanese State and defined its structure, dividing all the government posts among the various religious communities.

According to commentators, it was the West that supported the corrupt authorities in Lebanon, especially the Saad Hariri government, whose inefficiency led to the start of demonstrations last year.

Significantly, in spite of the Lebanese leadership’s calls for peace, Saad Hariri blamed the Hezbollah Shia Party for the Beirut explosion and called for protests and the resignation of the current Government.

Thus, the fight against corruption and the new political pact for Lebanon are just a pretext for French intervention in the country’s internal affairs.

Possible consequences

“The massacre can be used to promote regime change in Lebanon – a maneuver fueled by foreigners for months, of which sanctions are a factor – that is, to create a new leadership that disarms Hezbollah,” said the Italian edition of Piccolenote.

Habibollah Malakooti, Deputy Manager in Parliamentary Issues of Foreign Affairs Ministry in Iran, wrote on Twitter that “disarming Hezbollah” “is the most dangerous plan” that Macron “is bringing to this ravaged country and hints at predetermined plans for Lebanon”.

Over the past year, Western countries led by the US have been increasing pressure on Lebanon, tightening the economic and political blockade of Lebanon to disarm Hezbollah, severing relations with Iran and stop cooperation with Syria.

Lebanon has essentially received an ultimatum from Macron. However, interference in Lebanese sovereign affairs or  change in the complex system of power distribution and attempts to impose direct Western rule on Lebanon could result in new conflicts and civil war with dire consequences.

United World International

Independent analytical center where political scientists and experts in international relations from various countries exchange their opinions and views.

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December 2022