Macron vows support to Lebanon, calls for reforms

“If these reforms are not made, Lebanon will continue to suffer,” Macron said after being met by his Lebanese counterpart Michel Aoun at Beirut airport.
Thursday 06/08/2020
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival at the airport in Beirut, Lebanon August 6. (REUTERS)
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival at the airport in Beirut, Lebanon August 6. (REUTERS)

PARIS –French President Emmanuel Macron called for urgent support for Lebanon where he arrived on Thursday, two days after a massive explosion tore through the capital earlier this week.

Upon his arrival in the country, the French president said he wanted to coordinate international assistance to Lebanon.

“I want to organise European cooperation and, more broadly, international cooperation,” he said in the Lebanese capital, where he will stay just a few hours to survey the site of the explosion and meet the country’s top officials.

A video grab shows French President Emmanuel Macron (L) speaking with a member of a French rescue team which arrived overnight to support relief efforts in Beirut, on August 6. (AFP)
A video grab shows French President Emmanuel Macron (L) speaking with a member of a French rescue team which arrived overnight to support relief efforts in Beirut, on August 6. (AFP)

Macron, making the first visit by a foreign leader since the explosion, said the Lebanese government must implement economic reforms and crack down on corruption.

“If these reforms are not made, Lebanon will continue to suffer,” Macron said after being met by his Lebanese counterpart Michel Aoun at Beirut airport.

Macron was speaking to reporters in Beirut after his plane touched down at the start of his official visit. He was greeted on the tarmac by Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

France and other countries have sent emergency aid and search-and-rescue teams to Lebanon.

But the country, which was already reeling from a severe economic crisis, will need substantial international support to rebuild.

The blast killed at least 135 people, wounded thousands and obliterated Beirut’s port.

In Lebanon, Macron is planning to “meet all political actors,” according to a statement by the Elysee Palace office.

“The fact that Emmanuel Macron has so rapidly taken the bull by the horns and is coming to Beirut is being warmly welcomed in Lebanon,” said Karim Emile Bitar, professor of international relations at Saint Joseph University in Beirut.

A video grab shows French President Emmanuel Macron (C) inspecting the damages at the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, on August 6. (AFP)
A video grab shows French President Emmanuel Macron (C) inspecting the damages at the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, on August 6. (AFP)

He said the visit recalled that of the trip made by former President Jacques Chirac in the wake of the assassination of tycoon and former premier Rafik Hariri in Beirut in 2005.

Both sides will be hoping it goes more smoothly than a trip last month by France’s top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian, who scolded Lebanon’s political elite for being too “passive” in the face of an economic crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the aftermath of that visit, Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti resigned in protest at his government’s lack of crisis management.

Le Drian had reaffirmed the message from his own Beirut trip that reforms were essential for Lebanon to move on.

“The country has the necessary strength to recover — what is needed is that a certain number of reforms are put in place,” he said.

Bitar said the visit should not in anyway serve as a “lifeline” for Lebanon’s political class but continue the pressure for reform from unprecedented protests last year.

“Aid needs to be made conditional on structural reform and reform of the Lebanese political system so that a new political class emerges,” he said.

Analysts say the sheer fact that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were left unsecured in a warehouse close to the city centre demands immediate answers from those ruling Lebanon.

Valerie Levallois, vice-president of the Institute of Research on the Mediterranean and Middle East (IREMMO), said France knew that Lebanon’s political system was “running out of breath.”

But she expressed concern Macron would not give a “clear message” on the visit and instead “continue this fiction that there is a Lebanese state when there is not one.

“If there was a functioning state, this explosion would never have happened,” she added.