Macron can’t be expected to achieve anything on his own in Lebanon. But Brussels should play a much more hands-on role.
Is Emmanuel Macron really up to the job of saving Lebanon? His critics quickly point to his track record in Libya to answer that particular question as, already, he seems to have made a number of strange moves in the region recently.
When on the ground in Beirut he told a heckler that he was about to create a new political system there, which smacked of delusion at best or woeful ignorance at worst.
Within hours of him leaving Beirut the feel-good factor evaporated swiftly when reports of him holding meetings with President Michel Aoun's son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, emerged. That a world leader who wants to rebuild the politics of a country so ravaged by corruption feels compelled to go to the corrupt elite is a clear indication of Lebanon's dire situation.
Trying to draft a blueprint of a new government and going to Gebran Bassil with it is akin to accepting advice on dental health from a man with no teeth.
Bassil’s only real achievement in his brief political career is twofold: he is known as being one of the most corrupt political figures the country has; and has become rich through the same system which he entered in 2014, with the help of his father-in-law, who made little secret of the fact that he was hoping that Bassil could “inherit” the presidency from him in 2022. Not much chance of that now.
But Macron’s plan is simple. Wipe the slate clean and bring in a new government made up of genuine technocrats who have no political background to pave the way for early elections, which in turn, opens up the sluices for aid to flow to Lebanon.
In one sense, one could argue that it is not dissimilar to the ruse of Saad Hariri, who stepped down as prime minister soon after the protest movement took off in October last year.
Hariri's departure from government, along with a Christian far-right group which pulled its minister out of the cabinet at the same time, was a brazen move to jump off a boat which was rapidly taking water. It’s hardly a secret that Hariri will aim to come back as PM but under circumstances which favour his leanings towards a non-political cabinet made up of technocratic ministers.
And Hariri, who could forget, is of course close to Macron. So there is some cohesion there in the thinking.
But where Macron’s plan fails, is that it fails to engage with Iran or Hezbollah and so it’s hard to see how the Lebanese Shia movement will support it, when the fruits of its labour are not apparent.
Selling it to Hezbollah along the lines of “this will help Lebanon get back on its feet as aid will eventually flow” might not be enough, when sanctions against the group are increasing by the day from Washington.
If the new paradigm is based on the Iranian-backed group losing seats in a new government – and key seats – there will have to be other salient concessions elsewhere on the landscape, not necessarily even in Lebanon. Can Macron take on such a monumental task?
So far, the smartest thing to have done – to have involved the European Union as a political broker – he has shied away from, surprising some, given his grandiose vision of the 27-member bloc. And it is, after all, one of the more positive attributes Brussels claims to have – negotiating peace deals.
But this is Macron’s calling card. To give bold, inspiring, Blair-ite speeches about his vision for a ‘new Europe’ which in effect is a federalist, power hungry United States of Europe which will punch above its weight against Washington and even have its own army, but then fails to follow through by using its channels in Brussels at all.
How could the prestigious foreign affairs committee of MEPs in the European parliament not be engaged in the Lebanon process, for example?
The Macron Complex
The truth is, like Tony Blair, Macron is just obsessed with himself and how history writes up his travails and conquests. The problem is, he keeps on biting off more than he can chew.
Recently, the French president announced that he would send French warships to the Eastern Mediterranean in an attempt to vex Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as Turkey’s oil and gas exploration in the region challenges the so-called hegemony of the EU – which has spectacularly failed in Libya, where it supports the UAE-Saudi-Egypt-Russia-Wagner backed warlord Khalifa Haftar.
If we cast our minds back to the early days of Macron’s entry into the Elysee, we remember how he invited both Haftar and Sarraj to Paris among much media hullabaloo which painted Macron as the peace broker. What a total sham those articles in the international legacy press were though.
Macron’s legacy in the region of conflict resolution is farcical.
In recent days we have seen that his efforts collectively raised a paltry $300 million – barely a drop in the ocean of what Lebanon needs to rebuild now after the Beirut blast, which some estimate to be around $15 billion.
Why so little? A number of factors. The EU, for its part, which sent around $72 million, wants to humour Macron – one of its greatest supporters – that he is the big man making history as a peace broker.
But there are other factors as well. Macron doesn’t have the support around the world that he thinks he has. He’s no Tony Blair.
Macron’s political capital and public speaking wouldn’t earn him a job as a Middle East peace broker after creating a war in the Middle East based on faked intel, like it has Blair. He just doesn’t cut it. And this explains why the figure he raised was so low.
Corruption in Lebanon has just got so out of hand, that it’s beginning to be hard to fathom it and put it into context. The dream that the corrupt elite have, is that they stay in power with their call-centre accountants who they install as ministers and MPs, while the international community holds conferences with them to discuss a way forward.
What is critical for Lebanon is to take advantage of the global media attention to prepare an entirely new generation of MPs in the next parliamentary elections who can be the new brokers with the Macrons of this world.
Macron’s real problem in Lebanon is that the system is so corrupted by years of nepotism and kinship, that there are literally no good guys in white hats to talk to. He is forced to deal with Bassil, who among an inexhaustible list of corruption allegations, is accused by his adversaries of taking money from those who wish to become MPs – so as to get on a candidates list.
An opposition in waiting is there in Lebanon if you want to look for it. Macron chose not to though, which speaks volumes about what his master plan is for Lebanon.
Isn’t it remarkable how EU leaders preach from the pulpit of democracy but when they visit countries like Lebanon, rush to ingratiate themselves with a slew of corrupt individuals who present themselves as actors rushing to a great director when he calls?
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