France’s Wish List for Lebanon
French President Emanuel Macron comforts a Lebanese girl on Aug. 6, 2020 during a solidarity visit to Beirut. (AFP via Getty Images)

France’s Wish List for Lebanon

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, August 28

Does French President Emmanuel Macron have a plan to help Lebanon get over its current crisis? Sources close to the French president claim that he does. The plan is to mobilize international support for a fund aimed at rebuilding the shattered Beirut port and modernizing the country’s dilapidated infrastructure. In return, the plan requires the Lebanese leadership to reach a national consensus that transcends sectarian divides without completely ignoring them. If you think that all of this sounds like a fanciful wish list, you are absolutely right. In fact, the special interest taken by the French president in Lebanon is unsurprising. France is not only a victim of the romanticized version of Lebanon as “a daughter of France” and a “bastion of Francophilia,” it also holds many interests in Lebanon. France’s Lebanese community is large, estimated at some 300,000 people, many of whom hold French citizenship. Moreover, Lebanese political, cultural and business elites deal with France as their main point of contact with the wider world. When you wander through the most luxurious neighborhoods of Paris, you will inevitably be amazed by the number of luxurious homes and apartments owned by the Lebanese elite of various sects. Further, France has a lot of Lebanese money that can buy political influence if necessary. In addition to that, many French businesses and banks in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America rely on Lebanese institutions as partners or collaborators. On the flip side, Lebanon has more than 25,000 French citizens. This provides for unique commercial, cultural and human links between the two countries. Accordingly, Macron is right to treat Lebanon as a foreign policy priority that deserves his special attention. However, special attention alone is insufficient in providing Lebanon with a strategy to lift itself out of the dangerous impasse it is experiencing today. In my opinion, the first shortcoming of Macron’s plan lies in his handling of what Lebanon is facing as a humanitarian catastrophe, similar to what major earthquakes or tsunamis do, and not as a man-made tragedy that was planned abroad and carried out by elements within the Lebanese political system. French politicians often talk about the need to root out corruption in Lebanon in order to salvage the country. But the truth of the matter is that corruption has always existed in the Lebanese political arena, and in some ways it can be seen as a normal part of life, not an anomaly. Furthermore, the French leadership refuses to call out Iran’s role in Lebanon’s turmoil. French policymakers often dismiss this criticism with a calming, “Yes, but Iran will always be there!” I agree with them on that. Even before the mullahs seized power in Tehran, Iran exercised some influence over Lebanon, and it is likely that it will continue to have significant influence there even if the mullah regime collapses. However, while Iran will always be there, it is a mistake to assume that the Islamic Republic will always be there. The Lebanese crisis has a geopolitical aspect that cannot be overlooked, and Macron would be wise to address that as well. – Amir Taheri (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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