Emmanuel Macron’s great challenge in Beirut

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On Sunday, on the eve of Macron’s arrival in Beirut, a large part of the political class rallied behind Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany Mustapha Adib as the country’s next prime minister. His appointment is almost certain to be accepted by other political actors but has been decried by some in civil society as lacking in credibility and as yet another attempt by the ruling class to avoid real change.

Adib served as chief of staff to former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is seen as part of a ruling class accused of corruption and mismanagement.

The French president returned to Beirut on Monday evening, nearly a month after his last visit, to chart a path forward based on reforms in return for bailout funds and to mark the centenary of the creation of modern Lebanon under mandate French.

The plan is to give birth to a political agreement leading to a “credible” government capable of carrying out the long-standing reforms demanded by a significant part of the Lebanese population and international lenders who would provide a bailout. This new government would also be responsible for organizing elections within a year.

“The president is not going to Beirut to approve an agreement between the parties, he will obtain from them clear operational commitments under the new contract he established during his last visit,” an official said on Sunday evening. of the Elysée after the appointment of the Adib. has been announced. “He will demand that these commitments be implemented in such a way that the aspirations that the Lebanese have expressed to him are reflected. “

But, through their appointment of Adib, some believe that the Lebanese political parties are maneuvering to throw the can farther down the road.

“The political class has chosen an individual who will not threaten their interests and in no way represent the kind of political change or inflection necessary,” said Emile Hokayem, senior researcher for Middle East security at the Institute. international strategic studies.

“This appointment shows the limits of French politics and leverage in the absence of an organized opposition with electoral legitimacy. Macron’s hands are now tied: by going to Lebanon, he will be seen as the foreign godfather of a cabinet that will probably not do what. is necessary, ”Hokayem said.

Beyond France’s historical links and the evils of Lebanon, caused by systemic corruption and an entrenched sectarian political system – the foundations of which were laid by France on the very date of Macron’s commemoration on Tuesday -, the country is a microcosm of many global hot spots. This explains, at least in part, Macron’s involvement, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.

Lebanon has the highest concentration of refugees per capita in the world and its potential collapse threatens to reignite a migration crisis in Europe. It is an important anchor point in the eastern Mediterranean. One of its main political groups, Hezbollah, regularly engages in armed conflicts with Israel and is a listed terrorist organization in some European countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as in the United States. . And the standoff between the United States and Iran has strong ties to Lebanon, given Iran’s umbilical connection to Hezbollah.

We do not know what the level of American support for the French initiative is. The two have profoundly different approaches to Hezbollah, with the United States applying a policy of maximum pressure against the group.

“The French initiative concerns only the French,” US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea told a Lebanese newspaper on Saturday. But the attributes of the desired government she presented are similar to what the French are looking for.

France has historically taken the European lead over Lebanon and continues to do so. On Tuesday, when Macron travels to the ravaged port to meet with NGOs, he will be joined by ambassadors from a few other European countries.

Macron’s last visit, two days after the explosion in the port of Beirut, refocused international attention on Lebanon and unlocked aid. France also has a unique position with the country’s three major religious groups, without which no solution can be found.

The current Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, requested asylum in France at the end of the civil war. Macron played a central role in rescuing former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, when he was detained by Saudi Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman at the end of 2017. And Macron is the only Western leader in be in contact with a high level Hezbollah. official, the head of the parliamentary bloc of the group. The armed group has become the main protector of the current political system.

To take advantage of these benefits, Macron and his team have spent countless hours working over the phone with various Lebanese stakeholders, as well as with major international players such as US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

On this trip, Macron intends to use his preferred foreign policy method: mano a mano negotiations – he will bring together the various Lebanese political leaders three times in the space of 24 hours.

“I’m going to spend time trying to finalize something,” Macron told reporters Friday night in Paris during a question-and-answer session with the Presidential Press Association.

But many in Lebanon doubt that Macron’s initiative could lead to real change, given the involvement of besieged political parties, accused of corruption and violent repression of protests.

Still, Macron says his efforts have already started to pay off.

“The launch of [compulsory parliamentary] consultations [to name a prime minister] by President Aoun after my discussions with him, as well as the decisions of former Prime Minister Hariri [not to be considered for the premiership] are a signal that something is happening, ”Macron said on Friday.

Before consultations were triggered and Adib’s name came up, rumors circulated in Lebanon that Macron was forced to postpone his trip because Lebanese politicians were not ready to negotiate. The French presidency suspects that these lines have been spun by parties which resist the changes requested of them.

In essence, what Macron is asking Lebanese political leaders to do is nothing less than suicide: that they change their very DNA, the way politics and government have been run in the country for three decades, and whose leaders have reaped great personal profit. That is why they are fighting such a fight.

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