Macron’s draft proposal could make France the final arbiter over Lebanese politics for an undefined period.
Rabat – French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a draft plan for reform in Lebanon that reflects public demands but could set a new precedent of conditional aid. A French leader is once again yielding power of the country’s destiny, one century after the French established greater Lebanon in 1920.
Macron presented a detailed proposal for reforms in the crisis-stricken nation on Monday during his two-day trip to Beirut. Small delegations of Lebanese politicians met separately with the French in the colonial-era palatial mansion of the French embassy. The location of the negotiations provided a striking image of France regaining control over Lebanese affairs.
“I will spend time to try to finalize something,” Macron told reporters ahead of his trip. As details emerged of his reform program on September 2, the finality of his demands rang true. Macron presented himself as the true representative of the Lebanese people as he issued an ultimatum to Lebanese lawmakers.
The French are using much-needed international aid as a “carrot” and punitive sanctions as the “stick.” If Lebanon’s politicians fulfill the demands of Macron’s reform plan, they would receive the $25 billion the country has requested. If they do not, France threatens to further plunge the country into economic ruin with sanctions and by blocking international aid.
Much of the proposed plan aligns with the key demands of Lebanese citizens but the location of the event provided problematic colonial optics. Macron discussed the French ultimatum from the palatial embassy where Francois Georges-Picot lived as he and British diplomat Mark Sykes divided the Middle East in 1916.
Aid as an incentive
With the colonial-era French embassy as the backdrop, Macron used the threat of economic collapse, COVID-19, and the aftermath of the August 4 Beirut explosions to pressure Lebanese politicians. What he demanded amounted to the dissolution of patronage networks that have kept Lebanese politicians in power since independence.
The absence of public criticism of Macron’s reform plan by lawmakers in Lebanon was notable as it appears the French president delivered the ultimatum in no uncertain terms. The Lebanese parliament would have to submit to much of the international demands that they have resisted so far.
Macron’s reform plan called for ending regional foreign meddling in Lebanon. However, it appears it will merely replace Iranian, Syrian, and Saudi influence with French power instead. Saudi Arabia did not appreciate the French initiative. “The Kingdom does not consider it to have any relationship with the future Lebanese government,” Lebanese newspaper Annahar wrote on Thursday.
Macron’s reform ultimatum appears to have presented a “Sword of Damocles” that could dislodge much of Lebanon’s existing power structures, if it could be realized.
Many of Macron’s reform demands require a radical transformation of the political scene in Lebanon.
Within weeks, a technocratic government would have to be established. Within a month, a capital control law would have to be finalized, which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will first have to “approve.” Lebanon will also have to invite a foreign institution like the World Bank to evaluate Lebanon’s public administration.
In the same month, parliament will have to approve a public procurement reform bill and fully fund and staff the “Higher Council for Privatization” that plans and implements privatization programs. Furthermore, the government will have to finally reveal the true state of the country’s finances through a “corrective finance bill.”
These demands present a daunting task for Lebanon’s entrenched political scene. They could become a mission impossible simply through the administration’s inefficiency. In the case it does, Macron will likely blame Lebanese politics and implement sanctions that could be the final blow for its economy.
Macron has been eager to be photographed hugging Lebanese people, but if parliament fails to meet his demands, he could soon choke the last remaining breath out of Lebanon’s economy. Ensnared in multiple crises, Lebanon appears to once again be at the mercy of the French.