In an eye-popping display of neo-colonialism, France’s president flies into Beirut to team up with Fairouz, an elderly, much-loved singing icon, and orders political parties to stand aside and let him set up a new government.
While colonialism brought democracy and modernity to many nations, there is nothing more embarrassing than a former colonial power that doesn’t know when it’s time to let go.
The colonist is like a drunken ex-lover who turns up at the home of his one-time mistress, banging on the door and pledging undying love through the letterbox while his old flame, who has moved on, tries to explain the situation as her new husband informs the interloper, “You’re no longer wanted here!”
That spurned lover is the president of France, Emmanuel Macron. His former mistress is Lebanon.
But nothing can deter L’empereur. Having cosied up nice and tight with Germany, so that the Franco-German axis now definitely runs the show in the European Union, Macron has moved his attention to the trouble-torn Middle East.
Lebanon, which enjoyed the fruits of having France as its colonial power for around 23 years, before winning independence in 1943, is in a mess.
The country’s entire governing cabinet resigned after the recent and catastrophic bomb blast at the Beirut port, blamed on a store of ammonium nitrate left for years in a warehouse, and it needs to get back on its feet quickly.
But would you really look to Monsieur Le President at a time like this?
Traditionally, forming a government in Lebanon is a tricky proposition because of its complex religious make-up, taking into account Christian, Shiite, Sunni, and Druze, alongside other considerations. The president is chosen from one faction, the prime minister from another and the speaker from yet another.
A multitude of parties therefore comprise the government and the mind-numbing negotiations involved often take months following any general election before a government is formed.
But for Macron, ce n’est pas difficile!
Announcing the French President’s trip to Lebanon next week, his spokesman told Reuters that the visiting head of state will simply ask the political parties to step aside while he coerces local politicians into forming what he considers to be the right sort of government for the job ahead.
Knowing he’s going to need a local partner, Macron has already chosen someone he thinks can make people sit up and pay attention.
Who could that be? Maybe a leading light from Shiite Hezbollah, the domestic, Iran-backed outfit embedded in Lebanese politics? Or maybe someone like the late John Hume, who brought peace to a divided and troubled Northern Ireland?
No. Nobody like that. After all, the EU considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Macron has chosen to hook up with Fairouz, an 85-year-old reclusive Lebanese chanteuse loved by everyone across the country for her songs extolling the beauty of her troubled nation. He’s hoping she will be able to sell whatever deal he tries to concoct. What could go wrong?
So next week, while the Beirut political heavyweights meet in a parliamentary consultation to start mulling over who will take over from premier Hassan Diab, Macron, the former investment banker at Rothschild and the youngest ever president of France, will arrive on his second visit in a month wanting to do things his way in a country where since 1944, a visiting French citizen is just like any other tourist.
Would you believe some people, including his wife, consider Macron to be arrogant?
Unwelcome by some he may be, but, the president’s spokesman said, “The president has said he will not give up. He made a commitment to do what needs to be done and to apply the necessary pressure to put this programme in place.”
Would you believe some people also consider Macron to be stubborn?
It’s not as if this is Macron’s first post-explosion visit to Beirut. He turned up earlier this month talking about a “French solution” to the Lebanese problems that involved a “new political order.” He quickly set up a video conference with world leaders and managed to extract pledges for more than €250 million (nearly $300 million) to help rebuild the bomb-damaged city.
Of course, money always goes down well and maybe, just maybe, the leaders of Lebanon will grant him the courtesy of hearing him out while they work out what to spend that money on. But there is trouble ahead.
One Middle East expert, Elie Abouaoun, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programs at the USIP peace research institute, is dubious of Macron’s plan.
He told the German news outlet DW: “I don’t see France really embracing the demands of the majority of the population, which are to basically get rid of the corrupt political establishment.”
He said French ties with the corrupt leaders that the general population wanted out would undermine any efforts to become a major influencer in the region. If that is correct, then with the US, Iran and the EU also looking to offer assistance –no doubt a mutual exchange– Lebanon could well be spoilt for choice as it plans its next steps.
While Beirut will enjoy spending the money that Macron helped raise, like that jilted lover with booze on his breath and lust on his mind, once all the cash has gone, the attraction he offered to his young conquest fades almost instantaneously.
Like that lover, Lebanon will move on. Maybe Fairouz can sing a touching lament about it.