Emmanuel Macron toured the devastated streets of Beirut as crowds expressed their anger over government mismanagement and corruption.
Rabat – French President Emmanuel Macron has made a visit to Beirut, the first foreign leader to do so. He witnessed the aftermath of the explosion that destroyed much of Beirut’s port on Tuesday, August 4. As Macron walked the dust-covered streets of Beirut he interacted repeatedly with Lebanese people who expressed frustration over perpetual government mismanagement and corruption.
With no yellow vests in sight and surrounded by security personnel, Macron appeared prepared to address angry crowds. “I see the emotion on your face, the sadness, the pain. This is why I’m here,” Macron told a crowd standing in the rubble of the devastating blast’s aftermath. “But what is also needed here is political change. This explosion should be the start of a new era,” Macron said according to reporting by Reuters.
Macron’s visit to Beirut was marked by displays of emotion by those who came to see his tour of the city. Some in the Beirut crowds appealed to the French for support in the face of multiple crises. Lebanon’s woes have resulted in a spiraling economy with little hope for effective public policy to steer the country back on a positive course.
Macron, who has faced repeated national protests at home for gutting French social protections and subsidies, seemed much more confident among the Lebanese. Like a colonial governor of days past, he lamented local governance with little sense of irony in regard to the opposition he faces at home.
Some asked Macron to oppose Hezbollah. Others called on direct intervention by Lebanon’s former colonial overlord as citizens searched for a deserving target for their frustration and anger. Macron clearly came prepared, addressing public frustrations with a call for action wrapped in lofty rhetoric but offering few specifics.
“I will propose to them a new political pact this afternoon,” Macron said, according to the Associated Press. “I will be back on the first of September and if they can’t do it, I will keep my responsibility toward you.” What responsibility Macron deems to have over former French colonial subjects remains to be seen.
Fears of corruption
Throughout Macron’s visit to Beirut, Lebanese people highlighted fears that aid for Beirut could become a boon for corrupt officials. Macron made repeated comments that aid funds “will not go into the hands of the corrupt,” while calling his visit to Beirut “an opportunity to have a frank and challenging dialogue with the Lebanese political powers and institutions.”
While Macron is no stranger to political protests at home, he appeared in his element in Beirut as he walked the streets in a black tie to honor the country’s state of mourning. “There is a political, moral, economic and financial crisis that has lasted several months, several years. This implies strong political responsibility,” Macron said about Lebanon’s concurrent crises.
With countries around the world pledging millions of dollars in aid, including direct medical and humanitarian aid from Morocco, fears exist that corrupt officials could end up misappropriating funds.
Al Jazeera reported Macron as saying, “I came here to show the support of the French nation for the Lebanese people,” putting special emphasis on the word “people.” Whether the Lebanese people would actually support the neoliberal policies regularly proposed by Macron at home remains to be seen, as Lebanon’s public has roundly rejected similar reforms.