French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian held high-level meetings in Beirut on Thursday aimed at increasing pressure on Lebanese leaders to break its political paralysis.
He also met with opposition parties, suggesting increased interest in alternatives to a ruling class that failed to form a government for nine months despite the country’s economic stagnation.
“Firm against those who block the formation of a government: we have taken national measures and this is only the beginning,” said Le Drian Wednesday evening.
France announced last week that it had started restricting access to French territory to Lebanese figures it did not name.
Le Drian said at the time that other measures could be coordinated with other countries.
He met with President Michel Aoun and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri but did not hold a joint press conference and apparently did not meet some of Lebanon’s other political heavyweights.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon twice last year following a deadly explosion in the port of Beirut that shocked the world and was largely blamed on corruption and the incompetence of the government.
He warned that international support for the country, whose economy is in freefall, would depend on far-reaching reform.
Yet Lebanon’s vilified political elite have failed to respond to Macron’s demands and still have not agreed to a new cabinet makeup, following the government’s resignation last August.
– ‘Political alternatives’ –
Le Drian visited several French-supported health, education and heritage projects, but he also met with a group of opposition members.
“The representatives of the parties opposed to the current political class spoke as one,” said Naji Abou Khalil, member of the executive committee of the National Bloc.
He said the main demands put forward by the opposition were for the formation of an independent government of experts to deal with the crisis and for the organization of elections in the spring of 2022.
The parties represented at Thursday’s meeting struggled to overcome their differences and present a united front to pose a serious challenge to Lebanon’s hereditary political barons.
Abu Khalil argued that the meeting was a sign that the international community was taking them more seriously as a political alternative and not just as representatives of civil society.
“A year and a half ago, the international community was still reluctant to demand the withdrawal of the ruling class for fear that this would create instability,” he told AFP.
“Now he is beginning to understand that the continued presence of this political class is the source of danger for Lebanon and not of its withdrawal,” he said.
“For the opposition, this visit opens a door to more international legitimacy. “
© 2021 AFP