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.


In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

Updated 04 December 2020

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

BAJET KANDALA CAMP, Iraq: For half a decade, Zedan suffered recurring nightmares about militants overrunning his hometown in northern Iraq. The 21-year-old Yazidi was just starting to recover when COVID-19 revived his trauma.
Zedan had lost several relatives when Daesh stormed into Sinjar, the rugged heartland of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq’s northwest.
The militants killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.
Zedan and the surviving members of his family fled, finding refuge in the Bajet Kandala camp near the Syrian border where they still live today.
“We used to be farmers living a good life. Then IS (Daesh) came,” he said, wringing his hands.
In a pre-fabricated building hosting the camp’s mental health clinic, Zedan shared his traumas with Bayda Othman, a psychologist for international NGO Premiere Urgence. Zedan refers to the violence of 2014 vaguely as “the events.”
The UN says they may constitute something much more serious: Genocide.
“I started having nightmares every night. I would see men in black coming to kill us,” Zedan said, telling Othman that he had attempted suicide several times. He has been seeing her for years, learning how to cope with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through breathing exercises that she taught him.
Earlier this year, his nightly panic attacks stopped. Finally, he could sleep again. But only for a few months.
In March, Iraq declared a nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of Covid-19. Zedan broke down.
“I fear that my family could catch the virus or give it to me,” he said. “It obsesses me.”
As lockdown dragged on, Zedan’s brother lost his job at a stationery shop on the edge of the camp.
“There’s no more money coming into the family now. Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack,” he said.
“The nightmares returned, and so did my desire to die.”
Out of Iraq’s 40 million citizens, one in four is mentally vulnerable, the World Health Organization says.
But the country is in dire shortage of mental health specialists, with only three per 1 million people.

HIGHLIGHT

The Daesh extremists killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.

Speaking about trauma or psychological problems is widely considered taboo, and patients who spoke to AFP agreed to do so on the condition that only their first names would be used.
In camps across Iraq, which still host some 200,000 people displaced by violence, the pandemic has pushed many people with psychological problems into remission, Othman said.
“We noticed a resurgence of PTSD cases, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts,” she told AFP.
In October, there were three attempted suicides in Bajet Kandala alone by displaced people, who said their movements outside the camp were restricted by the lockdown, or whose economic situation had deteriorated even further.
A tissue factory who fired people en masse, a potato farm that shut down, a haberdashery in growing debt: Unemployment is a common thread among Othman’s patients.
“It leads to financial problems, but also a loss of self-confidence, which rekindles trauma,” she said.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about a quarter of Iraqis who were employed prior to lockdown have been permanently laid off.
Youth were particularly hard hit: 36 percent of 18-24 years old who had been employed were dismissed, the ILO said.
A new patient in her forties walked toward the clinic, her hair covered in a sky-blue veil.
Once settled in a faux-leather chair, Jamila revealed that she, too, feels destabilized by the pandemic.
The Yazidi survivor lives in a one-room tent with her son and four daughters. But she doesn’t feel at home.
“I have totally abandoned my children. I feel all alone even though they’re always at home. I hit them during my panic attacks — I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
Othman tried to soothe Jamila, telling her: “Hatred is the result of untreated sadness. We take it out on relatives, especially when we feel devalued — men prey on women, and women on children.”
But the trauma is not just an issue for the displaced, specialists warn.
“With the isolation and lack of access to care, children who have lived a genocide develop difficulties as they become adults,” said Lina Villa, the head of the mental health unit at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in northern Iraq.
“We fear suicide rates will go up in the years to come.”