France's FM says Lebanon can draw strength from its people

Jean-Yves Le Drian’s visit was considered a "make or break" moment for the political deadlock blighting the country since the last government resigned

  
French European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, wearing protective face masks, leave following the last weekly cabinet meeting before summer vacation break, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 29, 2020. Image used for illustrative purpose

French European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, wearing protective face masks, leave following the last weekly cabinet meeting before summer vacation break, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 29, 2020. Image used for illustrative purpose

REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

BEIRUT: France’s Foreign Minister sent a message of support to the Lebanese people while berating the political class for their failure to uphold their duties in comments Friday to round off his brief visit to Beirut.

Addressing the ruling class’ failure to ensure the security of the state, he said the future was instead being upheld by Lebanon’s rich and diverse society. “Lebanon needs a real renewal of its political and institutional practices ... For this, it can draw on the tradition of democratic pluralism which is the strength of this country.”

Le Drian praised the “vitality” and commitment of civil society groups he met, "who are mobilized to preserve the future of Lebanon, its model of society."

“This is what makes Lebanon unique and strong."

Jean-Yves Le Drian’s visit was considered a "make or break" moment for the political deadlock blighting the country since the last government resigned in the wake of the explosion in Beirut port last August.

France has been the lead international country in urging the country’s leaders for state reform and transparency to unlock desperately needed financial aid to save Lebanon’s collapsing economy.

But for nine months Cabinet formation efforts have been hampered by political infighting, which has only accelerated the country’s woes and caused the population immense instability.

Le Drian held talks Thursday with President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.

Calling on those responsible for forming a government he said, "To this day, my observation is that the political players have not lived up to their responsibilities and have still not seriously started working on the country's recovery."

"If they do not act now in a responsible surge of effort, they will face the consequences of this failure.”

Earlier Friday, AFP reported that Le Drian said France threatened more sanctions on politicians to prevent what he described as a "collective suicide" organized by members of Lebanon's ruling political class.

"It is indeed urgent to find a way out of the political deadlock.”

Le Drian, who last year had already compared Lebanon to "the Titanic minus the orchestra," accused those responsible for the deadlock of leading the country to its death.

"I am here precisely to prevent this kind of collective suicide organized by some," he said.

France announced late last month that it had started imposing entry restrictions on certain figures for their role in the political crisis and in corruption.

Le Drian refused to provide names but warned that the sanctions could be made tougher and extended to other politicians.

“They could also be supplemented by the pressure tools available to the European Union.”

"It is up to the Lebanese officials to decide whether they want to break out of the deadlock they have organized," he said.

Le Drian's official meetings Thursday were not followed by joint press conferences. His appointment with Hariri was short and kept under wraps until the last minute.

The French minister also held a meeting with representatives of opposition parties which was welcomed by their leaders as a sign that the international community was increasingly open to political alternatives.

Addressing next year’s general election he said, “The 2022 deadline must be the occasion for a real democratic debate on the future of Lebanon.”

Unprecedented cross-sectarian and nationwide protests erupted in Lebanon in October 2019 to demand the wholesale removal of the hereditary political barons who have ruled the country for decades.

The small political groups that carried some of the protest movement's demands have strived to close ranks in recent months and are launching a push ahead of a parliamentary election due in the spring of 2022.

Reform-minded groups fear that the political establishment will try to postpone the polls, which they hope will see the opposition secure an unprecedented share of seats in parliament.

"Respecting the democratic timetable in Lebanon is a must and any postponement attempt would not be accepted by the international community," Le Drian said.

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