By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai
The French initiative President Emmanuel Macron has taken towards Lebanon is not expected to succeed, now or in the coming weeks unless new elements are introduced. The French President is far from finding a solid foothold in Lebanon or uniting the Lebanese and has not even convinced the Europeans to join his initiative and inject sums of money into the crumbling Lebanese economy. Macron has friends in Lebanon who do not mind preserving a good relationship with France as long as it can offer solutions to solve this intractable Lebanese crisis. As for blaming others, not admitting his mistakes, and not realising the pitfalls of Lebanese politics, this is evidence that the master of the Elysée is not yet ready to learn the lessons from his previous mistakes and does not possess other solutions following his initial plan, which was just not realistic. But why is it that France will not succeed in its initiative in Lebanon? The reasons are numerous.
Without a doubt, President Macron is more knowledgeable about the details of Lebanese politics than any other western President. However, this knowledge is not sufficient to accurately predict the reactions of well-established politicians, their fears, and the lack of trust between them.
When Macron delved into the details of the financial situation and how Lebanon reached the size of its current debt and its causes (corruption, theft of public funds and the lack of an infrastructure plan whose money went into the pockets of politicians), as a former banker, he was able to explain more than 30 years of financial engineering that failed due to corruption in less than two minutes. Lebanon is not in a position to reconstruct international and domestic financial trust when its production belies its expenditure and the foreign investment in the infrastructure is ending up in the pockets of local warlords.
As for when Macron tacked a possible political solution, he appeared weak and did not hold to a robust road map which would have had chances of success. During his first meeting with the politicians,he asked for their participation in the forthcoming government. Then he returned to Lebanon to request a consensual government. In both cases, he did not clarify what sort of government he was hoping to see and for the international community to collaborate with. It was not until his last press conference a few days ago that he clarified some of his wishes, only to confirm his confusion.
Macron made it clear that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri made a mistake when selecting ministers based on confessional choice only to confirm that Hariri, the leader of a political party, was dictating his wishes to the designate Prime Minister Mustafa Adeeb. How can Macron ask Lebanese politicians – who disagree and distrust each other – to accept that the “club of former Prime Ministers” loyal to Saudi Arabia and the US run the Prime Minister Adeeb and suggest the new cabinet members? This “club” is formed by former PMs Fouad Siniora who is extremely hostile to the majority Christians led by former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and to Hezbollah. Its second member is Najeeb Miqati, a Sunni billionaire close to Saudi Arabia with a substantial interest in the USA. Its third member is Saad Hariri who holds Saudi nationality, and a declared enemy of Bassil, whose family lives in Riyadh, who seeks the Saudi blessing even if Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has rejected him. Hariri has 17 MPs in parliament while Bassil has 20 and the duo Shia groups (Amal and Hezbollah) have 34 MPs.
President Macron says that politicians have to choose between “the politics of the worst,” which means a civil war, as he said, or democracy. Macron did not explain how the concept of democracy would work in this case, which, if applied, governs the parliamentary majority and not the club of former presidents who represent the minority of the deputies. This indicates confusion in Macron’s message.
The French President seems to be destroying the bridges he created with Hezbollah during his two visits to Lebanon when he accused the organisation of being responsible for obstructing the formation of the government that Macron adopted (Adeeb’s government). The French President did not say at any time in his successive visits to Lebanon that the parliamentary minority represented by the Club of former MPs must manage the naming and selection of the new cabinet and draw the road map for the resigning Prime Minister, Mostafa Adeeb.
Had Macron formulated his road map, he would undoubtedly have faced face a total rejection by the majority of the politicians. At no moment has the French President said – as MP Walid Jumblatt revealed– that Macron wanted a government that does not represent the Lebanese political leaders. Also, why would PM Adeeb refuse to meet the leaders of the MPs and limit his consultation with the Sunni club of PMs? Furthermore, notwithstanding the nomination of Adeeb, the Christian leader Samir Geagea (who represents 15 MPs) refused to give confidence to Macron’s candidate from the very beginning. Geagea is known to be totally pro Saudi Arabia and the US.
The duo Shia groups Amal and Hezbollah insisted on nominating the Finance Minister. In fact, for the first time, Hezbollah insisted more than the Speaker Nabih Berri (head of Amal). It held a firm position on the constitutional right to choose the Shia representative in the cabinet. The Finance Minister has the power to agree and release the budget of any cabinet project or payment to any official institution. The firm position of the Shia came after the designation of the US to the duo-Shia allies of two ministers on the sanctions list and after being ignored by PM Adeeb as suggested to him by the anti-Hezbollah advisers, the Sunni “Club of former Prime Ministers”.
Moreover, the insistent position of the duo Shia on nominating the Finance Minister saved President Aoun and the Christian majority party. Each religion has the right to be consulted on the names of the future cabinet members when the selection of all Ministers is carried out by the Sunni PM and the Sunni former PMs. It is worth mentioning that in around three weeks, between the designation and the day the Prime Minister resigned, Adeeb never presented a list of the names of his ministers to the President for approval or opinion.
During his last press conference, the French President offered a second chance for another 4-6 weeks. The six-week period coincides with the US Presidential election planned for 3rd November. However, the US election results won’t be available immediately but rather weeks afterwards. Moreover, the fate of the US is uncertain if Donald Trump is not re-elected. The “New York Times” columnist Thomas Friedman is said to be terrified by the possibility of covering a potential civil war in the US if Trump is not returned to the White House.
It seems evident that the US did not give France the green light and did not leave the Lebanese stage free for Macron to draw his road map. Indeed, following each visit of the French President, a US envoy landed in Lebanon just days after Macron’s departure. Moreover, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered harsh overt criticism following Macron’s meetings with Hezbollah in Lebanon. To give another hit to the French initiative, the US imposed sanctions on Lebanese personalities that Emmanuel Macron explicitly said he does not agree with, though he can neither stop nor control their timing.
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Proofread by: Maurice Brasher and C.G.B