The French President Emanuel Macron said last week that the French proposal was “still on the table” because there were “no other solutions available.” He also said that he would visit Lebanon for the third time after particular actions were taken.
“We will do everything to help form a new government in Lebanon,” even if it does not meet all the criteria, he added.
Since the Beirut Blast of August 4, 2020, and the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government, current political leaders have failed to form a new government or tackle the economic and health crises. For Macron, a new government is the first step in a long roadmap that entails reforms and political change, which would eventually generate billions of dollars of international aid to fix Lebanon’s economy.
Local and International Context
Macron’s diplomatic efforts to form a government in Lebanon still depends on the current political elite, who still refuse to make concessions, such as changing the electoral law or implementing economic reforms. Macron’s vision cannot be a breakthrough if the current unscrupulous political leadership stays in control of the next government, but at the same time, there can be no government as long as they are in power. It is a vicious circle that cannot be broken by yet another visit by Macron. Coming back to compromise there is no push for change. His visit will only give the same leaders legitimacy, and enable their corruption.
Macron will revisit Lebanon in the aftermath of Lokman Slim's assassination, an intellectual and activist long known for his political views against Hezbollah. The horrific crime has Hezbollah’s previous actions written all over it, with the killing sending a clear message from the terrorist group to its opponents and critics.
This adds a complicated layer to the dynamics of the French initiative and the international context of Macron’s visit, linked mainly to the new Biden administration in Washington. One day after Slim’s assassination, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price condemned the crime, and urged the Lebanese officials to hold those responsible accountable, without mentioning Hezbollah, his work, or the mounting threats he received.
As both Macron and Hezbollah believe - from different perspectives - the Biden administration could move with the nuclear negotiations with Iran forward, and in so doing will preserve Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon. Blinkin’s statement could have held more sway.
Recommendations to Break the Vicious Circle
With every new change in the political scene in the West, and mainly from the US, Hezbollah and Iran tend to test the water by pushing the older lines. With the view that Hezbollah did kill Slim, while offering no compromises on the new government formation or any reforms, the terrorist group is testing the new US administration, and in turn, Macron’s willingness to compromise. Redlines need drawn.
First, Macron should either cancel his trip to Lebanon, until Hezbollah accepts compromise, and if he still has a reason to go, he should refuse to meet with their officials and allies, including President Aoun and his son-in law. Instead, he should meet with the victims of the Beirut Blast, their families, and with Slim’s family and friends.
Second, the French and the Biden administration should push for an independent, international investigation covering both the Beirut Blast and Slim’s assassination. The local authorities, and the judicial system in Lebanon cannot be trusted. Asking Hezbollah to investigate itself is preposterous.
Third, refuse to make compromises. Hezbollah is still powerful politically and militarily, but they lack a socio-economic vision for Lebanon, and one that would fix its current crisis. They need the international community, and the potential aid available.
Without aid and an eventual bail-out of the state’s economy, Hezbollah will face social unrest and major Shia discontent. Military power cannot quell these facts.
Fourth, the US and EU should support a vigorous initiative for Lebanon through the Macron, and one that guarantees economic, judicial, and political reforms. Only then will freedom of expression, a civil society empowerment and proper representation be in the Lebanese people’s hands.
Otherwise, Macron’s initiative will fail in both the short and long-term. Forming a government doesn’t change anything in Lebanon. On the contrary, it would legitimize the current political elite while sending a negative message to the Lebanese people.