The French president's effort to help Lebanon is admirable, but he remains tone-deaf and out of touch with most Lebanese.
In one of the most devastating incidents in the last few decades, Beirut, Lebanon's capital city has been hit by more than just an eruption on the ground but one in the very core of the state itself.
The explosion that took place on August 4th at 6:07 PM, at the Beirut docks has claimed the lives of some 157 people and wounded over 5,000 amid a very real health pandemic and the worst economic recession to hit the country in recent history. The explosion displaced an estimated 300,000 people and took out a wheat silo – critical to a state on even the best of her days.
An investigation into the cause of the explosion is underway and is already quite suspicious. However, the working explanation is that the incumbent/incompetent government knowingly housed 2750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate (an explosive substance used in both weaponry and crop fertilisation) and that something ignited this causing the detonation that destroyed the lives of thousands.
The aftermath, however, showed an incredible citizen initiative that immediately began coordinating everything from search parties to sweeping glass off the streets, even now being able to recycle this debris through grass-roots organisations. The government has been painfully distasteful, rather than support this it seems security forces are of no help and have only been a hindrance.
Rather than the government's resignation, which is what people have called for since October, all bodies have called on the responsible 'party' to be punished. This ignores the fact that the public blames the entire government.
In light of the French President Emmanuel Macron's proactive position in aiding the Lebanese people – a petition requesting Lebanon to return to its status as a French mandate for ten years was signed by over 55,000 people – is it desperation or further sectarianism?
There is so much distrust in Lebanon that organisations have called on individuals and governments alike to donate directly through them for fear of politicians lining their pockets. Global distrust of Lebanon's ruling elite was made obvious when governments began sending aid that could not be directly pilfered, such as medical teams and equipment, food, medicine and other provisions instead of cash.
Besides, pledges have been made by governments, such as Australia, to donate directly to local and international organisations. Macron, as the first high level-foreign official, heard this first hand from a Lebanese woman in front of a destroyed pharmacy when she asked the French President not to give aid money to the corrupt government.
Another clip from an interview with a rescue worker, finds him distraught but grateful, thanking the French leader and its people, and oddly claiming Lebanon to be France's son.
The area that was predominantly affected by the hangar explosions is majority Christian areas with many old churches and religious schools. It is considered a traditionally francophone area as well.
However, in the last few decades, it became a collection of the diverse youth of the city as well as the elderly. This may be why the French President has had this engaged response and spoke such kind, yet cruel, words before returning to France last night.
Importantly, he will be heading a funding campaign in Europe and elsewhere to provide some much-needed relief to households in Lebanon. He signalled the creation of some sort of transparency board to monitor where the money is spent and also pledged direct donations, responding to the calls from the people. He has already begun to arrange a European conference and has stated he will be Lebanon's champion in the face of agencies such as the UN and the IMF.
But it is critical to note that, ultimately, aside from promising transparency, he reinforces a decades-old policy between the two states.
Culturally lost, Macron spoke about the shared histories and cultures of the two nations – one can only assume he was referring to the French colonisation of Lebanon and Syria. He also, rather arrogantly and ignorantly, spoke of the liberty of the Lebanese people and culture compared to their "backwards" neighbours (Syrians and Palestinians, Lebanon's neighbours, make up a sizeable portion of the Lebanese population).
He spoke with pride on the importance of freedom, and the freedom to learn and stated a prior pledge of 15 million Euros to francophone schools (he pledged 2 million to local private education). He also spoke of new immediate funds to be made available to these schools specifically and creating scholarship programs for Lebanese to get educated abroad, to "learn to love freedom," rather than investing in existing, promising Lebanese academic institutions.
The insistence that a quality education can only be obtained outside Lebanon makes you question whether he genuinely believes the Lebanese are like their neighbours. He goes on to emphasise the importance of freedom of expression, something not comparatively, an issue in Lebanon at the moment or in general.
Politically, he tells the Lebanese people; first, you are a sovereign state, refuting any re-mandate initiatives, second, he says, you voted for this government. This strange, 'I can't save you from your decisions,' comes after promising a new political pact in the morning.
Although he did heavily chastise the current regime, highlighting the deep corruption that is now plain for even the world to see, and he did edge them into a very public corner, he still re-affirms their place. He still insists, that "they have to rebuild trust, confidence and hope, and that won't happen overnight."
The Lebanese people have been shouting, sir, that this won't happen ever – the freedom of expression has been used, and citizens and residents have exhausted themselves expressing this for nearly a year.
Macron ultimately called for reforms rather than pushing for the popular demand of their resignations. He restated his confidence in the current leaders who let this happen and an abundance of other catastrophes to befall Lebanon's citizens and residents alike.
While he has been free to implement dramatic policy shifts by force majeure in other sovereign nations, he stopped short for the Lebanese – the only population vocally asking him to do something, and something drastic.
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