White shirt sleeves rolled up, Emmanuel Macron waded through cheering crowds in the devastated streets of Beirut Thursday where disaster survivors pleaded with him to help get rid of their reviled ruling elite.
French President Emmanuel Macron greets people as he visits the Gemmayzeh Beirut neighborhood. (AFP)
Some welcomed Macron like a savior, while only a few heckled him, arguing that his mere presence in Lebanon would only serve to legitimize a political system they want to kick out wholesale.
“Help us, you are our only hope,” one well-wisher shouted as Macron stopped to meet residents, while neighbors applauded from flats with broken windows and crumbling balconies.
A woman wearing a face mask and heavy-duty gloves cut through the crowd to catch the attention of the French head of state before clenching his hands firmly to make an impassioned plea for help.
Under the nervous gaze of his suited bodyguards, Macron hugged her in a prolonged embrace that triggered wild cheers from the crowd.
‘I understand your anger’
Watch: During French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to Lebanon after the massive explosion, he tells a woman not to worry after she urges Macron not to give money to the Lebanese government. #BeirutExplosion #Lebanon https://t.co/tiKzo9PxE2 pic.twitter.com/fPBIGWi1tP— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) August 6, 2020
Macron, when pressed by residents -- some bearing the bandaged wounds of the cataclysmic explosion that disfigured their neighborhood -- vowed to be tough and push for reforms.
“I understand your anger. I am not here to endorse ... the regime,” Macron assured the crowd. “It is my duty to help you as a people, to bring you medicine and food.”
One woman implored Macron to keep French financial assistance out of the reach of Lebanese officials, accused by many Lebanese of rampant graft and greed.
“I guarantee you that this aid will not fall into corrupt hands,” Macron said.
He promised to pitch a “new political deal” to the country's leaders, and to press them to deliver sweeping change.
“I am going to talk to them ... I will hold them accountable,” Macron said before getting into a black limousine headed for the presidential palace.