Opinion

French President Macron’s visit touches a chord in shellshocked Beirut

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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the woman who asked him for help during his visit to Beirut’s devastated Gemmayzeh neighborhood. (AP)
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A video grab shows French President Emmmanuel Macron (C) inspecting the damage at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut, on August 6, 2020. (POOL / AFP)
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French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on Thursday, pledging support and urging change after massive explosions at the port devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury. (AFP)
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A handout picture shows Lebanon's President Michel Aoun (R) receiving French President Emmmanuel Macron at the airport near the capital Beirut, on August 6, 2020. (Dalati and Nohra photo)
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A video grab shows French President Emmmanuel Macron (L) speaking with a member of a French rescue team which arrived overnight to support relief efforts at the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut on August 6, 2020y. (POOL / AFP)
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French President Emmanuel Macron hugs a woman during his visit to Beirut’s devastated Gemmayzeh neighborhood. (AFP)
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Crowds calling for political change surround the French leader during a visit to the Beirut port area. (AFP)
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Updated 10 August 2020

French President Macron’s visit touches a chord in shellshocked Beirut

  • Emmanuel Macron was the first foreign leader to arrive in Lebanon after Tuesday’s devastating explosions
  • Mobbed by tearful Beirut crowds, French leader vowed that ‘a free Lebanon will rise again’

BEIRUT: French President Emmanuel Macron stood among the ruins of Beirut's shattered port yesterday and issued a harsh warning to Lebanese political leaders, saying that aid would not be delivered to “corrupt hands.”

“Lebanon needs political change,” the French leader said during his one-day visit on Thursday, adding that he is “not here to support the regime or the government.”

Macron set the tone for his visit on his arrival at Beirut airport, saying that he would meet with Lebanese officials “only as a matter of courtesy” and adding that “Lebanon’s crisis is a moral and political one.”

Later he was mobbed by large crowds while touring the shattered streets near Beirut port, listening to the tearful complaints of people left homeless by the massive explosion two days ago that killed more than 150 people and injured more than 5,000.

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People chanted and applauded as one woman cried in French: “Help us, Mr. President.”

A few young men said: “The people want to topple the regime,” while others said: “Down with Hezbollah.”


Confronted by a young woman who criticized him for meeting with corrupt officials, Macron pulled his face mask down and replied: “I can guarantee that this assistance will not be placed in the hands of the corrupt, and a free Lebanon will rise again.”

He held the hand of the woman who asked him for help.

Macron promised “unconditional” French assistance, but said: “We will organize international aid so that it directly reaches the Lebanese people under UN supervision. I am here to launch a new political initiative. I will propose a new political decade during my meetings and I will return on Sept. 1 to follow up on it.”

He added: “I understand the anger of Lebanon’s people toward the ruling class, and this anger is caused by corruption. This explosion is the result of neglect, and I will help you change things.”




French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on Thursday, pledging support and urging change after massive explosions at the port devastated the Lebanese capital in a disaster that has sparked grief and fury. (AFP)

As crowds pressed forward to voice their concerns, the French leader delayed his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun for over 30 minutes.

A young man said after Macron left: “The French president checked on the Lebanese in the Francophone country — where are our officials? Why did they not come down here like the French president?”

Macron was the first foreign leader to arrive in Lebanon after Tuesday’s disaster.

Ignoring his bodyguards, Macron broke from his timetable to walk along the devastated streets and wave at people who stood in the remnants of their balconies to salute France.

The French president insisted on inspecting the area devastated by the explosion before taking part in any political meetings. On his arrival in the capital, he tweeted: “Lebanon is not alone.”

With the country facing economic meltdown, a currency crisis and now the threat of food shortages, the massive blast has left the Lebanese people stunned and even more fearful for the future.

Macron said that he carried a “frank and strict message” to the authorities amid Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis.

“If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink,” he said.

The French delegation accompanying Macron included seven explosives specialists. They were later joined by 17 experts searching for people missing after the explosion or buried under rubble.

While Macron inspected the damage at the port, an officer from the French rescue team said that “there is still hope for survivors to be found.




Crowds calling for political change surround the French leader during a visit to the Beirut port area. (AFP) 

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Hassan Diab joined the meeting at the Baabda Palace, while Macron avoided shaking hands with any official.

After the meeting he told a joint press conference with Aoun: “We want to know the causes of the Beirut port explosion.”

A meeting at the Pine Residence, headquarters of the French ambassador to Lebanon, brought together political and party figures including loyalists and the opposition.

At the same time Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt called for “an international investigation committee” to investigate the explosion.

“We don’t believe in the government in any way; we do not trust it,” he said.

“There is a gross failure of the judiciary and the security services, and we have absolutely no confidence in this ruling gang.”

Jumblatt said that “without Arab and international support, we cannot continue as a country, and greater Lebanon will disappear.”

He also questioned the likely cause of the explosion, saying: “This huge amount of ammonium nitrate came to the port of Beirut and remained there for almost six years. It does not explode even if it is toxic or explosive by itself — it needs a detonator.”

He described Prime Minister Diab as “a wolf” and “nothing.”

As the site of the deadly blast was cordoned off by the Lebanese army, rescue teams continued to search for survivors or the dead.

According to Health Minister Hamad Hassan, 80 people are still missing.

On Wednesday night, 36 search and rescue experts, including firefighters accompanied by trained dogs, arrived from Czechia. Six bodies were recovered from inside the port and another three from the nearby ocean.


Lebanese Christian party offers idea to resolve dispute over new cabinet

Updated 19 September 2020

Lebanese Christian party offers idea to resolve dispute over new cabinet

  • The proposal, put forward on Saturday, involved handing major ministries to smaller sectarian groups in a country where power is shared between Muslims and Christians
  • A Sept. 15 deadline agreed with France to name a cabinet has passed

BEIRUT: A party founded by Lebanon’s Christian president made a proposal to end a dispute that has blocked the formation of a new cabinet and threatened a French drive to lift the country out of its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The proposal, put forward on Saturday, involved handing major ministries to smaller sectarian groups in a country where power is shared between Muslims and Christians.
There was no immediate comment from Shiite Muslim groups, which have insisted they choose who fills several posts. But a political source familiar with the thinking of dominant Shiite groups said the idea was unlikely to work.
Lebanon’s efforts to swiftly form a new government have run into the sand over how to pick ministers in a country where political loyalties mostly follow sectarian religious lines.
A Sept. 15 deadline agreed with France to name a cabinet has passed. Paris, which is leading an international push to haul Lebanon back from economic collapse, has voiced exasperation and told Beirut to act “without delay.”
The leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the party founded by President Michel Aoun and allied to Hezbollah, proposed “undertaking an experiment to distribute the so-called sovereign ministries to smaller sects, specifically to the Druze, Alawites, Armenians and Christian minorities.”
The statement was issued after Gebran Bassil, FPM head and son-in-law of the president, chaired a meeting of the party’s political leadership. Bassil is a Maronite, Lebanon’s largest Christian community.
Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni Muslim under Lebanon’s sectarian system of power sharing, wants to shake up the leadership of ministries, some of which have been controlled by the same factions for years.
Lebanon’s main Shiite groups — the Amal Movement and the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah — want to select the figures to fill a number of positions, including the finance minister, a top position often called a “sovereign” ministry.
An FPM official said the party had not discussed the idea about distributing ministries with Hezbollah or Amal. “We are proposing an exit strategy for those who are stuck up a tree without a ladder,” the official told Reuters.
With the nation buried under a mountain of debt and with its banks paralyzed, the finance minister will play a crucial role as Lebanon seeks to restart stalled talks with the International Monetary Fund, one of the first steps on France’s roadmap.