The French leader on Sunday repeated his call for introducing political and economic reforms in Lebanon in a flagrant interference in the Arab country’s domestic affairs, claiming that the so-called reform packages “would allow the international community to act effectively side by side with Lebanon for the reconstruction.”
On Tuesday afternoon, a catastrophic explosion rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut, killing at least 158 people and wounding about 6,000 others.
Some 60 people are still missing, and an estimated 300,000 people have been displaced as a result of the blast, which leveled the whole port and a large section of central Beirut and turned successive apartment blocks into masses of debris and twisted metal.
A large supply of confiscated explosive material that had been stored in a warehouse at the city’s port for the past six years is suspected to have caused the massive explosion, the biggest ever to hit the Middle East.
Two days after the disaster, the French president visited disaster-hit Beirut and in a clear intervention in the internal affairs of Lebanon proposed a political pact for the small Mediterranean country, whose debt-laden economy was already mired in crisis and reeling from the coronavirus pandemic before the port explosion.
Macron, whose country witnessed months-long and nationwide anti-government protests by Yellow Vests for economic justice in 2018 and 2019, also claimed in Beirut that transparent governance would be put in place to ensure all international aid “is directly channeled to the people, to NGOs, to the teams in the field who need it, without any possible opacity or diversion.”
His opportunistic and populist campaign brings back to memory the French colonial past in Lebanon and is viewed by many as a provocative act that threatens the Arab country’s sovereignty.
Macron’s remarks sparked a swift backlash, with many Twitter users denouncing what they deemed as interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs, which gained independence from the French colonial rule more than seven decades ago.
The United Nations has already drafted an emergency response framework, which said $66.3 million was needed for immediate humanitarian aid in Lebanon. Phase II of the plan will require $50.6 million to reconstruct public infrastructure, rehabilitate private homes and prevent disease outbreaks.
However, rebuilding Beirut will likely run into billions of dollars, and economists forecast the colossal explosion, whose mushroom-shaped cloud has drawn comparisons with the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago, could wipe up to 25 percent off of the country’s GDP.
The French president, who practically sees himself as the self-proclaimed leader of Lebanon, said he would return to the Arab country on September 1 to check progress.
Elsewhere in his remarks on Sunday, Macron, who hosted an emergency aid video conference, claimed that the world powers must put aside their differences and support the Lebanese.
“Despite differences in view, everyone must come to the help of Lebanon and its people,” he said from his summer residence on the French Riviera. “Our task today is to act swiftly and efficiently.”
Persian Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were represented, as were Britain, China, Jordan and Egypt.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who said on Saturday that he would call for early elections, has pledged that those responsible for the massive blast in Beirut would be held to account, calling for international assistance to help the country, which is already staggering from economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus cases.