The French president Emmanuel Macron visits Lebanon for the second time in a short time. Shortly after the explosion in the port of Beirut, he was there as well. But why is the French president so involved in the situation in Lebanon?
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the French and British divided the Middle East. The area where Lebanon is located was assigned to the French, who eventually created the Lebanese state. The country got its own constitution and French became the official language.
It was only at the end of the Second World War that Lebanon became independent and Arabic became the official language. After independence, the two countries – and especially the elite – remained closely linked. Some of them still speak French. Today, there are also tens of thousands of Lebanese or people of Lebanese origin living in large French cities. Conversely, thousands of French people also live in Beirut.
The fact that the French president Macron visited the disaster area two days after the explosion in Beirut seems logical in that sense. Between the destroyed buildings he was accosted by an angry, desperate crowd that shouted that Macron was ‘their only hope’. He organised an international donor conference and promised that the country would not fall into corrupt hands. The French president seemed to be the saviour in distress.
Here’s Macron’s first visit to the disaster area:
But many also question Macron’s intentions and do not believe that his involvement has anything to do with old ties between France and Lebanon. So did 39-year-old Mohamad Najem from Beirut. He works for an NGO working for digital rights in the Middle East. His house was damaged by the explosion and Najem is sceptical about Macron’s motive: “When he passed by just after the explosion people were traumatised. They saw him as their salvation from the corrupt politicians. But he’s not, he has his own plans.”
“Macron is here with a political motive,” says 34-year-old Ibrahim from Beirut. He prefers to be called by his first name only. His house was also damaged by the explosion. “We only live 15 minutes away from the explosion. When Macron came, people were very emotional. We needed a shoulder to cry on. So at first we were positive about his visit.”
According to Najem, Macron is maintaining the current political system: “He says he wants to repair our broken political system, but it can’t be repaired. That’s why we want a whole new political standard so we can move forward. But Macron keeps the same criminals who have been running our country for years in power.”
Yesterday Mustapha Adib was appointed the new Prime Minister of Lebanon. Adib has been Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany since 2013. The opposition is not happy with him and sees him as an enforcer of the existing order.
“We know Macron has had an influence on who the new Prime Minister will be,” Najem continues. “We don’t want to give the establishment any more chances, we want them to leave. But Macron is now making sure they stay in power.”
Najem believes that Macron is mainly in Lebanon for his own country. “He wants to keep power in this region.” Ibrahim also thinks that Macron looks at Lebanon with a geopolitical view: “Our country has always been a game board for different world powers. You now have the US on one side and Iran on the other. Macron also wants influence because it’s always good to have an ally in the region”
“Yet Macron is also sincerely involved,” says correspondent Frank Renout. “Of course, the balance of power in the Middle East plays a major role. But he also found it really terrible what happened there. And because of the old ties, Macron also felt he had to show support.”
Moreover, according to Renout, the French president has given Lebanon’s problems a world stage: “He has expressed the dissatisfaction of the Lebanese people to the world and thus perhaps helped. The question is whether this dissatisfaction would have had such an international resonance if Macron had not come”
Ibrahim agrees: “The situation in Lebanon is getting a lot of attention now, that’s good. Maybe it will help to improve the situation.”