By Kit Roberts
WHEN Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon in the wake of the catastrophe in the Beirut’s port, critics on the left attacked him as attempting to usher in a new wave of imperialism and paternalism.
Why then was Macron’s visit punctuated by such a rapturous reception from civilians in Beirut?
Relations between France and Lebanon have historically been fairly solid, with the two countries ostensibly working together to fight corruption and establish the rule of law.
Macron’s visit may well have been a tentative step towards a more interventionist approach.
Since the disastrous Iraq War, western military intervention has been directed towards paramilitaries and terrorist groups, rather than states. This is as much about maintaining support bases at home as it is about promoting peace and stability in the region.
Any politician who sees the hatred directed towards Tony Blair would justifiably shrink away from the prospect of a significant intervention.
The problem is that as conditions in the region have deteriorated many governments, most notoriously Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, have pushed boundaries further and further back, to the point where chemical attacks on civilians do not merit a response beyond the geopolitical equivalent of a strongly worded letter.
Lebanon meanwhile is swamped by decades of corruption that has created an enormous divide between an upper class that controls government, media, and business, and everyone else.
Different sects of society must legally have a certain number of ministers in any government. Palestinian and Syrian refugees and immigrants, who make up a quarter of the population, have no representation whatsoever.
It would be naive to say that sectarianism is not still a powerful force in Lebanon, but the unity of purpose in the protests has given a strong indication that it is only exacerbated by the political classes.
Quotas in government representation certainly do not help. An elected official should be expected to represent all of their electorate, regardless of what sect they or their voters belong to.
To say 2020 has been cruel to Lebanon would be an understatement. The year has seen economic collapse, protests, violence, and the Beirut Explosion. As I type these words, an enormous fire is raging in the port of Beirut near to ground zero.
Whilst it spews toxic chemicals into the air over the city, those who still have windows don’t know if they should open or close them, for fear of another blast.
The aftermath of the explosion saw the Lebanese state more or less completely absent from any cleanup operation. The only state agencies out in any force as the cleanup began were the police and army, who fired tear gas and live rounds at protestors.
Every day I read more and more testaments from people in Beirut, most angry, some resigned. All are exhausted, all are heartbroken.
Is it any wonder then, that the sight of leadership was welcomed?
Nonetheless, Macron may need to do more than lean on the Lebanese government if he is serious about affecting change. Demanding the formation of a new government does not do anything to resolve the enormous structural issues facing Lebanon.
The previous change in government did little, if anything, to actually improve the lives of people living in Lebanon. It was different faces from the same group of political and business dynasties.
The people of Lebanon have made it clear that if their lives, including Lebanese civilians, Palestinians, Syrians, and migrant workers, are to improve, nothing short of tearing out the corruption, cronyism, and kleptocracy by the root will suffice.
Macron’s intervention is encouraging, but forming a new government is just rearranging the political debris.
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