French President Emmanuel Macron accuses Lebanese leaders of 'treason'

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday accused Lebanon's leaders of betrayal after political bickering blocked the formation of a reform-minded government to encourage international assistance to flow into the crisis-stricken country.

Lebanon's leaders had committed "collective treason" by failing to form a government, Mr Macron said in an address from the Elysee Palace on Sunday evening, a day after Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Adib stepped down.

"I am ashamed of Lebanon's political leaders," Mr Macron said. "The leaders did not want, clearly and resolutely, to respect the commitments made to France and the international community. They decided to betray this commitment."

The French government has been deeply involved in helping Lebanon alongside the international community after a deadly blast on August 4 at Beirut port killed nearly 200 people and devastated the capital.

On his second visit to Beirut in less than one month, Mr Macron announced on September 1 that Lebanese politicians promised him that a new government would be formed within 15 days in a country where it can take several months to a year.

But Mr Adib, who was appointed on August 31, gave up on Saturday after political parties refused his proposal of an independent government to tackle the country’s multiple crises. A few days before his resignation, Lebanon’s Shiite party, Amal, an ally of Iran-backed Hezbollah, insisted on keeping control on the Finance Ministry, which it has headed since 2014.

Mr Macron directly blamed Amal and Hezbollah for the failure to form a government, saying "they did not respect what they told me around the table, eye to eye, when they said that yes, there would be a mission government".

France considers Lebanon, a former French protectorate with a sizable francophone population, a strategic regional ally and has organised several donor conferences in the past decades to help prop up its economy.

French President Emmanuel Macron consoles a victim of the August 4 Beirut blast  during a visit to Lebanon on September 1, 2020. AFP

But France, as well as other donor countries and institutions, put conditions on their financial support for the first time at Lebanon’s last donor conference in 2018 by asking local leaders to strengthen transparency and accountability. This would weaken the power of traditional political parties on the Lebanese state, which is widely viewed as corrupt and is one of the most indebted in the world.

Lebanese leaders failed to deliver on promises of reform and the nearly $11 billion in low-interest loans and grants pledged in April 2018 in Paris were never unlocked. In October 2019, Lebanon’s worst-ever economic crisis caused massive social unrest, with hundreds of thousands of Lebanese taking to the street to demand the resignation of their leaders, who for the most part represent former militias that fought during the 1975-1990 civil war.

Speaking to journalists in Beirut on August 6, Mr Macron said that if Lebanese politicians failed to deliver on their promises once again, “we will have to say that we cannot help Lebanon. We will tell the Lebanese that we were ready to help but your politicians were not.”

But on Sunday, Mr Macron said he would not give up on the initiative to save Lebanon from collapse, and would increase pressure on the country's leaders to change course.

"If we give up [on Lebanon] ... there will be either a return to civil war or to a government of profiteers," he said.

Lebanese political analyst Imad Salamey told The National that he expected Mr Macron to reiterate France’s support to the small Mediterranean country.

“I don’t think that France is about to let go, especially now that the alternative will be the collapse of Lebanon and eventually that will drive out Western positions in this country in favour of Iran,” he said.

“I think they will keep the pressure on the [Lebanese] political elite to concede reforms, let independent voices emerge and diminish Hezbollah’s control of the government to some extent,” he said.

Hezbollah, the only Lebanese political party that also operates an armed militia, is represented both in parliament and in government, but is labelled a terrorist organisation by several western countries and their allies.

Updated: September 27, 2020 09:42 PM

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