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28.08.2020 Europe

Macron to revisit Lebanon amid volatile political transition

By Jan van der Made with RFI
REUTERS/Hannah McKay
LISTEN AUG 28, 2020
REUTERS/Hannah McKay

In his second visit to Lebanon following the tragic blasts in Beirut's port earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron will meet iconic singer Fairuz and members of Lebanon's political leadership. Macron returns to the country in quest of serious reform, the Elysee said Friday.

Macron will be in Lebanon on Monday and Tuesday for his second visit in less than a month after the August 4 blast at the Beirut port that killed 181 people and revived calls for radical change in the country.

On 6 August, Macron was the first world leader to visit Lebanon after the blast.

One of his first meetings after arriving next Monday will be with Fairuz, one of the rare figures in Lebanon who is admired across the multi-confessional country, the Elysee said.

Fairuz, 85, is famously private and rarely seen in public but throughout her career has roused fans with her songs about love and in praise of the beauty of her nation.

Karim Emile Bitar, a political science professor in France and Lebanon, tweeted Friday it was an "excellent decision" by Macron to meet Fairuz, describing her as "arguably the most iconic, dignified and consensual Lebanese figure."

Macron will meet political leaders at the palace of President Michel Aoun on Tuesday with the aim of encouraging movement in a political process already mired in a stalemate.

Macron's arrival Monday will coincide with the start of parliamentary consultations on the choice of a new prime minister.

On August 9, Macron chaired a video conference that saw world leaders pledge more than 250 million euros for Lebanon.

But France has made clear its patience is far from limitless.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned Thursday that Lebanon risked 'disappearing' as a country unless serious reforms are undertaken.

Long involvement
France has had a long involvement in Lebanon's history, which helps explaining Paris' current interest in the country.

In 1920, after the Ottoman Empire was divided at the end of the first World War, the region which is now Lebanon was administered by France as the “Mandate for Syria and Lebanon.”

During WW 2, Lebanon's administration fell into the hands of the Free French, who conquered the region from the Vichy regime. The French became actively involved in trying to create a coherent government in a region that is divided between Shia and Sunni Muslims, Druze, Maronite Christians and other religious minorities.

In 1944, Lebanon was granted independence, but France's influence remained strong: during the Lebanese civil war in the late 1970s and 1980s, Paris was active in creating the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.  

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