SUN 17 - 1 - 2021
Date: Aug 29, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Macron warns Lebanon risks 'civil war' if not helped
Agence France Presse
PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron warned Friday that, without help, Lebanon risks a return to "civil war."

The comments come as he prepares to push reforms during a visit to Lebanon next week, where he will meet iconic singer Fairouz and members of Lebanon's political leadership.

It is his second visit in less than a month after the Aug. 4 blast at Beirut Port that killed 181 people and revived calls for radical change in the country.

"If we let Lebanon go and if we somehow leave it in the hands of the depravity of regional powers, it will be "civil war" as well as "the defeat of what is the very identity of Lebanon," Macron said.

Paris is impatient over the lack of progress in forming a new government to undertake reform in the aftermath of the blast, which was blamed on a store of ammonium nitrate left for years in a warehouse.

The French leader alluded to the endemic corruption making political change so difficult. "What can be mildly described as vested interests" had led to "a situation where there is hardly any [political] renewal, and where there is, there is almost an impossibility of carrying out reforms."

He insisted that France would follow a policy of being "demanding without interfering" and awaited reforms like passing an anti-corruption law and reforming public contracts, the energy sector and the banking system.

"If we do not do this, the Lebanese economy will collapse" and "the only victim will be the Lebanese people ... who cannot go into exile", he warned.

Macron also spoke of the "constraints of a confessional system" in a country populated by Christians, Sunni Muslims and Shiites.

However, he extolled Lebanon's multi-confessional makeup, saying it "is perhaps one of the last existing forms" in the Middle East of the "peaceful possible coexistence of religions" and a pluralist system based on "education and culture."

To demonstrate this, one of Macron's first meetings after arriving in Lebanon next Monday will be with Fairouz, introduced by the Elysee as one of the rare figures in Lebanon admired across the multi-confessional country.

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 troubled nation.

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

An anonymous source at the Elysee insisted that Macron "won't let go."

"The purpose of his visit is clear: to push for the conditions to be met for the formation of a government that is capable of carrying out reconstruction and reforms," added the source.

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

On Aug. 9, Macron chaired a video conference that saw world leaders pledge more than 250 million euros ($295 million) 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.

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