French President Macron arrived in Beirut just hours after under-fire leaders designated a new prime minister, Mustapha Adib, to tackle the country's deep political and economic crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron has begun his trip to Beirut by visiting Fairouz, one of the Arab world's most famous singers whose haunting voice has been Lebanon's soundtrack from its glamorous heyday through its conflicts and latest trauma.
Anger at Lebanon's political elite over an economic meltdown and this month's devastating port blast was evident on Monday as Macron arrived at the home of the 85-year old artist, feted as a national treasure and symbol of peace, transcending factional and sectarian divides in Lebanon and beyond.
Protesters were seen in live television broadcasts gathered outside, carrying placards reading "No cabinet by, or with, the murderers" and "Don't be on the wrong side of history!".
Before stepping inside, Macron acknowledged them with a slight bow. Some were screaming "Adib No", referring to new prime minister Mustapha Adib who was named by Lebanese leaders under French pressure.
Macron's visit coincides with Lebanon's centenary.
Macron to press for reforms
Speaking upon his arrival at Beirut airport, Macron said a new line-up should be agreed upon "as soon as possible" to rescue the country, which is reeling from the deadly August 4 port explosion and the effects of an economic collapse.
Macron added he would press for reforms aimed at dragging Lebanon out of a financial abyss.
Macron is visiting Beirut for the second time in less than a month to press for a new government made up of experts untainted by corruption and capable of rooting out corruption, waste and negligence as well as rebuilding after the August 4 explosion that wrecked swathes of Beirut, killing 190 people.
Consensus on Adib
Macron landed at the airport just hours after leaders designated a new prime minister, diplomat Mustapha Adib, to tackle the country's deep political and economic crisis.
Macron made a series of phone calls to Lebanese leaders at the weekend that were vital to securing consensus on Adib.
"It was the pressure of his calls to everyone, the pressure of his coming to Lebanon, the pressure of everyone not wanting to upset him," a senior Lebanese politician said.
Immediately after his nomination, Adib, 48, gave a televised speech acknowledging the "need to form a government in record time and to begin implementing reforms immediately".
He vowed to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund for assistance as Lebanon faces its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and has been left traumatised by the August 4 explosion.
"I want your trust," an AFP correspondent heard Adib tell a resident of the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood, badly hit by the port blast.
President Michel Aoun and his political ally, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, on Sunday both expressed willingness to change the way Lebanon is governed.
Bienvenue au Président et à l’ami du Liban qui promet et tient ses promesses !@EmmanuelMacron— General Michel Aoun (@General_Aoun) August 31, 2020
Macron, who toured the same area on August 6, arrived in Lebanon to check on progress as he returned for Lebanon's centenary, expected to be a glum commemoration.
French mandate authorities on September 1, 1920, proclaimed the creation of Greater Lebanon incorporating mainly Muslim former Ottoman regions.
On the eve of the centenary, many citizens were planning to leave the country and asked whether Lebanon would live to be 101.
French President Emmanuel Macron arrives at the home of iconic Lebanese singer Fairuz.— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) August 31, 2020
Protesters gathered chant: “Lebanon will remain free” and “Adib won’t pass,” in reference to the new PM-designate who was picked with French approval. pic.twitter.com/FjMEely5jW
Symbol of national unity
Macron kicked off his two-day trip by calling on 85-year-old Fairuz, the Arab world's last living singing legend and a rare symbol of national unity in the crisis-hit country.
Songs by Fairouz dedicated to Beirut played on loop by local broadcasters showing images of the blast and its aftermath.
Fairouz has drawn the admiration of other French presidents.
Francois Mitterrand awarded her the Order of Arts and Letters in 1988 and Jacques Chirac handed her the Legion of Honour in 1998.
Fairouz, born Nouhad Haddad, made her first European television appearance in 1975 on a French show. In 1979, her song "Paris, Oh Flower of Freedom" included the words "France, what do I tell you about my wounded country?"
An unwelcome 'cliche'
Macron's visit to Fairouz was received with mixed feelings, with some Lebanese activists praising it as a snub and a message for Lebanon’s leaders, while others described it as a meaningless gesture. Macron is also planning to plant a cedar tree marking 100 years of Lebanese nationhood.
"I honestly don’t see the point of the French president’s visit to Fairouz, nor the celebratory title of Lebanon’s 100th anniversary. Seriously, we have more pressuring issues to worry about and Lebanese really don’t want to be celebrating," wrote journalist Luna Safwan on Twitter.
Political satirist Nadim Koteich wrote that the Fairouz visit and the Cedar planting were an unwelcome "cliche."
Lebanese singer, Melhem Zein, told Reuters news agency that Macron's meeting with Fairouz would be a message that "this is the Lebanon we want".