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Lebanon and the French Variant

Lebanon and the French Variant

Friday, 9 July, 2021 - 10:30

The French ambassador in Beirut put an end to the false accusations levied by resigned Prime Minister Hassan Diab before a group of heads of diplomatic missions in Beirut. Ms. Anne Grillo could not contain herself, responding forcefully to Diab’s nonsense and falsehoods.

She publicly set things straight and put an end to the Lebanese officials’ game of evading responsibility for the economic and living conditions in which the country is mired today. The ambassador raised her “red card” and silenced the man in the Grand Serail, responding that Lebanon’s collapse is the result of years of deliberate mismanagement and inaction, not of an external blockade, saying: “It is the result of your own responsibilities, all of you, for years, of the political class.”

Ambassador Grillo’s statements about the Lebanese political class, in which she held it directly responsible for years of government mismanagement, cannot be viewed in isolation from statements made at the joint press conference of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian with his American counterpart Antony Blinken in Paris on June 25. During that press conference, the two confirmed that their respective countries will move together to put pressure on the political class responsible for the current crisis and that “we (i.e., Paris and Washington) know who they are.”

At this moment, when the French foreign minister, supported by his American counterpart, says that their visions of the tragic situation in Lebanon are identical and accuses the ruling political class of inability to face challenges, then we can see that an international “variant” in dealing with Lebanon is in the making. Moreover, Le Drian went as far as to expose officials and say that they did not make the slightest effort to improve the country’s state of affairs.

This shift is evident in the tripartite meeting that brought together Saudi Foreign Ministers Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Blinken and Le Drian on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Italy, where the Lebanese crisis was discussed. The most prominent development following the meeting was the announcement of the two ambassadors in Beirut, Dorothy Shea and Anne Grillo, that they would visit Riyadh to discuss Lebanon’s situation with Saudi officials.

The visit indicates that Paris and Washington are prepared to listen to the Saudi perspective, especially after having failed to achieve any breakthrough in dealing with the Lebanese political class, as well as the failure of the initiative launched by French President Emmanuel Macron that nearly re-validate this class after the crime of the Beirut port blast. These failures have driven internal and external fears of an Iranian-American compromise in Lebanon within the context of the Vienna nuclear negotiations, with Lebanese confidence in French and American diplomacy at its lowest levels.

Perhaps during this visit, the two parties - the French and the Americans - can break the silence regarding Lebanon. Riyadh has, in recent years, preferred to monitor the Lebanese situation, especially after it became evident that the political class showed that it was not serious about implementing internal reforms or in doing what was necessary to limit the threats posed by some parties to regional stability and Arab collective security.

While Blinken has expressed “the need for Lebanon’s political leaders to show real leadership by implementing long-awaited reforms to stabilize the economy and provide much-needed relief to the Lebanese people,” Gulf states remain unprepared to be stung twice by the Lebanese political class, while at the same time distinguishing between the Lebanese people from that ruling class in their assessments.

Returning to the earliest point, France is the only international party with real interests in Lebanon, as reported by French officials and after the position taken by the ambassador at the Grand Serail meeting and the words of the Foreign Minister on his last visit to Beirut and his address to representatives of civil society as political opposition. Paris adheres to what it describes as “constitutional mechanisms” as necessary paths towards change. This will place France as a target of the people’s accusations that it does not mind reviving the Lebanese political class and that it is giving it a new opportunity to reproduce and reconsolidate itself.

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