Implementation of the French road map is essential to attracting international aid and averting Lebanon’s economic collapse, French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday in his latest plea to Lebanese leaders to act to quickly form a new government to enact reforms.
In a message to President Michel Aoun congratulating him on the 77th anniversary of Lebanon’s independence from France, Macron vowed that his country would stand by the side of the Lebanese people as the country was facing its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975-90 Civil War which has been exacerbated by the August deadly explosion that devastated Beirut Port and damaged large areas in the capital.
Macron, whose country has emerged as the main power broker in Lebanon since the port blast, urged Aoun to call on all political factions to put aside their sectarian interests for the sake of the country.
“I am extremely worried as a result of the current situation in your country. I am aware of the increasing difficulties faced by the Lebanese in their daily lives. They can count on France’s support to fulfill their urgent needs in the fields of food, health, education and accommodation,” Macron said in his message, which was carried by the state-run National News Agency. “We are working in cooperation with the United Nations and our partners in order to hold an international conference to support the Lebanese people.”
Reuters later reported that France would host a video conference on Dec. 2 with international partners to discuss humanitarian aid for Lebanon.
Quoting three sources aware of the matter, Reuters said the meeting, in conjunction with the United Nations, would aim to have the highest-level representation possible with the objective of soliciting aid for the country.
Macron stressed that his country’s support for Lebanon alone was not enough to overcome its crisis.
“The multifaceted crisis that Lebanon is going through on various economic, financial, social and political levels calls for taking strong measures. Solutions are known: They lie in the need to put into effect the road map to which all Lebanese political parties committed on Sept. 1,” Macron said.
Declaring that the French road map would meet the requirements of Lebanon’s friends to assist it, as well as the demands of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who staged a nationwide popular uprising against the entrenched political elite in October last year calling for an overhaul of the country’s sectarian-based ruling system, he said: “Putting this road map into effect will guarantee the mobilization of the international community that is necessary to avoid the country’s collapse and help it enact the inevitable reforms in order for it to rise again.”
Macron emphasized that the urgency of the situation in Lebanon called for the formation of a government made up of “qualified and trustworthy persons capable of implementing all these measures.”
Macron’s plea comes as Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’ s attempts to form an 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to deliver reforms, outlined in the French initiative and deemed essential to unlocking promised international aid to the crises-ridden country, remained at a standstill due to differences with Aoun over the shape and makeup of the government and who would name the Christian ministers. The Cabinet formation process has also been stalled by rival factions’ jockeying for key ministerial seats.
Referring to last year’s popular uprising during which anti-government protesters called for sweeping political and economic reforms and the ouster of the ruling elite they accused of corruption and mismanagement, Macron said: “What the Lebanese people demanded nearly a year ago in their uprising is still achievable. It is your duty as head of state to respond to them and to call strongly on all political forces to put aside their personal, sectarian and factional interests in order to achieve the supreme interest of Lebanon and the interest of the Lebanese people.”
Macron affirmed France’s continued support to Lebanon, saying “You can rest assured that France stands today, as at all times, by the side of Lebanon and the Lebanese people.”
Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc called for the swift formation of a new government, while renewing its support for a forensic audit of the Central Bank’s accounts.
“The bloc sees that a delay in the Cabinet formation will cause enormous damage to the country at all levels. Therefore, the bloc stresses the need for quick moves in this direction, and to benefit from any initiative to overcome obstacles,” said a statement issued after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by MP Mohammad Raad. “The bloc underlined the need to conduct the forensic audit [of the Central Bank].”
Hariri’s Cabinet formation efforts have been further complicated by the sudden emergence of two divisive issues that have heightened political and sectarian tensions in the country that is wrestling with multiple crises, including an economic meltdown and an alarming surge in coronavirus infections.
Political and sectarian tensions rose Wednesday among parliamentary blocs during a meeting of the joint parliamentary committees that discussed proposals for a new electoral law, a highly divisive issue.
MPs from the two leading and rival Christian parties, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces, teamed up to reject a controversial proposal for a new electoral law presented by Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary Development and Liberation bloc that calls for declaring Lebanon a single electoral district. LF leader Samir Geagea called the proposed law a “conspiracy” against the Christian community. Under a single electoral district, Christian parties fear losing a large portion of their grip on power.
The negative response to its electoral proposal drew a swift rebuke from Berri’s bloc, which implicitly accused Christian blocs of staging “sectarian and confessional mobilization.”
Parliament is also set for another confrontation Friday between Muslim and Christian blocs during a general parliamentary session to discuss Aoun’s letter to the legislature in which he stressed the importance of a forensic audit of the Central Bank’s books to prevent Lebanon from being viewed as a “rogue or failed” country by the international community.
Similarly, the FPM and the LF have joined ranks by calling for pressing ahead with carrying out a forensic audit of Banque du Liban’s accounts, a key demand of international donors, days after the restructuring consultancy firm Alvarez & Marsal pulled out of the audit because BDL refused to provide it with all the information and documents required to carry out the task, citing a banking secrecy law.
The FPM and the LF have launched a campaign against Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh, accusing him of obstructing the audit. They also accuse Berri and the Future Movement of seeking to obstruct the BDL’s audit, media reports said.
But a Future Movement MP said his bloc supported a forensic audit of all state institutions, not only the BDL’s accounts.
Asked about the Future bloc’s expectations from Friday’s Parliament session, MP Mohammad Hajjar told The Daily Star: “We will attend the session to discuss the president’s letter and declare our position on this matter. Our position is known: We support an audit of the accounts of all state institutions, not merely the Central Bank. We support conducting an audit in all ministries and public institutions.”