Macron accuses Lebanese politicians of ‘collective betrayal’

French president asks if Hezbollah is “really a political party or does it proceed just in a logic dictated by Iran, and its terrorist forces?”
Sunday 27/09/2020
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference on the political situation in Lebanon in Paris, France, September 27. (REUTERS)
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference on the political situation in Lebanon in Paris, France, September 27. (REUTERS)

PARIS--French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday upped the pressure on Lebanon’s leaders to form a government in the wake of the Beirut port blast, saying their lack of progress represented a “collective betrayal”.

Lebanon remains mired in political economic crisis with no end in sight after its premier-designate stepped down on Saturday following the failure of talks to form a government, despite intense international scrutiny.

At a news conference devoted to Lebanon, Macron launched an extraordinary diatribe against a Lebanese political elite who he said had looked to their own selfish interests rather than those of their country.

“They have decided to betray this commitment (to form a government),” Macron told reporters, declaring he was “ashamed” of the country’s leaders.

“I see that the Lebanese authorities and political forces chose to favour their partisan and individual interests to the detriment of the general interest of the country,” he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses Lebanese journalists during a virtual press conference broadcast at the official residence of the French ambassador, in the capital Beirut September 27. (AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron addresses Lebanese journalists during a virtual press conference broadcast at the official residence of the French ambassador, in the capital Beirut September 27. (AFP)

Mustapha Adib’s resignation on Saturday ended efforts to hammer out a reformist government in the wake of a colossal August 4 explosion in Beirut that killed 190 people, injured thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.

Political parties had pledged in early September, during a visit to Lebanon by Macron, to form within two weeks a cabinet of independent ministers tasked with ending the country’s economic malaise.

Macron has visited Lebanon twice since the blast, meeting during his last trip Hezbollah representatives as he sought to bring all political sides behind a roadmap to lift the country out of crisis.

In August, he chaired a video conference that saw world leaders pledge more than 250 million euros ($295 million) for the country.

‘Worst case scenario’ 

Macron said none of the leaders of Lebanon — where in the wake of the 1975-1990 civil war power is traditionally shared between Shias, Sunnis and Christians — had been up to the task.

“All of them bet on the worst case scenario for the sake of saving themselves, the interests of their family or their clan,” he seethed.

“I therefore have decided to take note of this collective betrayal and the refusal of Lebanese officials to engage in good faith.”

Under the Lebanese constitution, the president must now hold further talks to nominate another prime minister to form a government, but it is a process that risks dragging out and even failing.

Adib’s efforts were hampered by the claims of the two Shia formations, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, and its ally Amal, led by parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who demanded the finance portfolio.

According to observers, the Shia allies dug in their heels after recent US sanctions were imposed on a minister of the Amal party and two companies affiliated with Hezbollah.

For the first time, Macron also specifically questioned the role of the heavily armed Hezbollah and the influence of Iran, saying that the group needed to lift its ambiguity on the political arena.

Macron criticised both parties for blocking efforts to form a government by a mid-September deadline. But he specifically singled out Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah can’t be at the same time an army at war with Israel, an unrestrained militia against civilians in Syria and a respectable party in Lebanon,” Macron said.

“Is it really a political party or does it proceed just in a logic dictated by Iran, and its terrorist forces? I want us to see if in the next few weeks something is possible. I’m not naive.”

In a warning to Hezbollah, Macron said the group should “not think it is more powerful than it is”.

“It must show that it respects all the Lebanese. And in recent days days, it has clearly shown the opposite,” said Macron.

The French leader said political leaders had chosen “to deliver Lebanon to the game of foreign powers”, destabilising the region further.

UN’s dismay

The French president said that the roadmap for political and economic reform set out on his last visit to Beirut on September 1 was still on the table but time was running out.

“It is now up to Lebanese officials to seize this last chance themselves,” he said.

The UN envoy to Lebanon, Jan Kubis, on Saturday had reacted with disbelief to the failure to form a government: “Politicians, have you really scuppered this unique chance created by France?”

Even before the devastating Beirut port blast, the country was already mired in its worst economic crisis in decades, and its entrenched political class was dealing with widespread popular discontent.

After the country for the first time defaulted on its sovereign debt in March, it launched talks with the International Monetary Fund towards lifting the country out of crisis, but those discussions soon stalled.

An anti-government protester attends a demonstration against deteriorating economic conditions in the town of Jal el-Dib, north of Beirut, Lebanon, September 27. (AP)
An anti-government protester attends a demonstration against deteriorating economic conditions in the town of Jal el-Dib, north of Beirut, Lebanon, September 27. (AP)

Many are worried the country is headed from bad to worse, with daily novel coronavirus infection figures on the rise and increasing security incidents reported in recent weeks.

Patriarch’s warning 

Lebanon’s top Christian cleric said on Sunday the nation faced “multiple dangers” that would be hard to weather without a government.

Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, leader of the Maronite church, Lebanon’s biggest Christian community, said Adib’s resignation had “disappointed citizens, especially the youth, who were betting on the start of change in the political class”.

Rai said Lebanon now had to navigate “multiple dangers” without a government at the helm.