Is France helping Lebanon, or trying to reconquer it?

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during a press conference in Beirut on Thursday, two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital. (AFP)
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Updated 09 August 2020

Is France helping Lebanon, or trying to reconquer it?

  • A surprising online petition emerged this week asking France to temporarily restore its mandate, saying Lebanon’s leaders have shown “total inability to secure and manage the country”

PARIS: It was almost as if Emmanuel Macron forgot that Lebanon is no longer a French protectorate.
Visiting explosion-ravaged Beirut this week, France’s leader comforted distraught crowds, promised to rebuild the city and claimed that the blast pierced France’s own heart. “France will never let Lebanon go,” Macron said. “The heart of the French people still beats to the pulse of Beirut.”
His critics denounced the overtures as a neocolonialist foray by a European leader seeking to restore sway over a troubled Middle Eastern land — and distract from mounting problems at home. A meme circulating online dubbed him Macron Bonaparte, a 21st century Emperor Napoleon.
But Macron’s defenders — including desperate Beirut residents who called him “our only hope” — praised him for visiting gutted neighborhoods where Lebanese leaders fear to tread, and for trying to hold Lebanon’s politicians accountable for the corruption and mismanagement blamed for Tuesday’s deadly blast.
Macron’s visit exposed France’s central challenge as it prepares to host an international donors conference for Lebanon on Sunday: How to help a country in crisis, where French economic ties run deep, without interfering in its internal affairs.
“We are walking on the edge of a precipice. We have to aid, support and encourage the Lebanese people, but at the same time not give the impression that we want to establish a new protectorate, which would be completely stupid,” said Jack Lang, a former French government minister who now heads the Arab World Institute in Paris. “We must find new, intelligent solutions to aid the Lebanese.”
France’s ties with Lebanon reach back at least to the 16th century, when the French monarchy negotiated with Ottoman rulers to protect Christians — and secure influence — in the region. By the time of the 1920-1946 French mandate, Lebanon already had a network of French schools and French speakers that survives to this day — along with France’s cozy relationships with Lebanon’s power brokers, including some accused of fueling its political and economic crisis.

HIGHLIGHT

Macron’s defenders — including desperate Beirut residents who called him ‘our only hope’ — praised him for visiting gutted neighborhoods where Lebanese leaders fear to tread

A surprising online petition emerged this week asking France to temporarily restore its mandate, saying Lebanon’s leaders have shown “total inability to secure and manage the country.”
It is widely seen as an absurd idea — Macron himself told Beirut residents on Wednesday that “it’s up to you to write your history” — but 60,000 people have signed it, including members of France’s 250,000-strong Lebanese diaspora and people in Lebanon who said it is a way to express their desperation and distrust of the political class.
Aside from a show of much-needed international support, many in Lebanon viewed Macron’s visit as a way to secure financial assistance for a country wracked with debt.
The French leader also managed to bring the divided political class together, if briefly. In a rare scene, the heads of Lebanon’s political factions — some of them still bitter enemies from the 1975-1990 civil war — appeared together at the Palais des Pins, the French Embassy headquarters in Beirut, and filed out after meeting Macron.
But to many, the visit was seen as patronizing. Some lashed out at the petition and those celebrating “France, the tender mother.”
One writer, Samer Frangieh, said Macron gathered the politicians as “schoolchildren,” reprimanding them for failing to carry out their duties.
There were other, more subtle jabs against France’s show of influence. While Macron was touring neighborhoods torn apart by the explosion, the health minister in the Hezbollah-backed government toured field hospitals donated by Iran and Russia, major power players in the region.
“I get the people who want the mandate. They have no hope,” said Leah, an engineering student in Beirut who did not want her last name published out of concern for political repercussions. She spoke out strongly against the idea, and against those who see Macron as Lebanon’s “savior.”
She said that risks worsening Lebanon’s divisions, as Maronite Christians and French-educated Muslims embrace Macron while others lean away. “He hasn’t resolved his issues with his country, with his people. How is he giving advice to us?” she asked.
In Paris, Macron’s domestic political opponents from the far left to the far right warned the centrist leader against creeping neocolonialism, and extracting political concessions from Lebanon in exchange for aid. “Solidarity with Lebanon should be unconditional,” tweeted Julien Bayou, head of the popular Greens party.
Macron himself firmly rejected the idea of reviving the French mandate.
“You can’t ask me to substitute for your leaders. It’s not possible,” he said. “There is no French solution.”
But he made a point of noting that he plans to return to Lebanon to verify that promised reforms are being undertaken on Sept. 1, the 100th anniversary of the declaration of Greater Lebanon — and the beginning of French rule.


Chelsea FC owner funded Israeli settler organization: BBC

In this May 24, 2015 file photo Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, center, applauds after Chelsea were presented with the Premier League trophy after the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge stadium in London. (AP)
Updated 13 min 52 sec ago

Chelsea FC owner funded Israeli settler organization: BBC

  • Abramovich gave over $100m to Elad, which operates in illegally annexed East Jerusalem, over roughly 15 years
  • Russian oligrach’s money used to fund evictions of Palestinians from their homes

LONDON: Companies controlled by Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, have donated over $100 million to an Israeli settler organization carrying out activity illegal under international law in occupied East Jerusalem, according to a BBC News Arabic investigation.

The Russian oligarch donated the money to Elad, which also runs a tourism business in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, through offshore companies held in the British Virgin Islands.

Shahar Shilo, Elad’s former marketing director, said its strategy is using tourism “to create a different political reality” in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood.

The information emerged as a result of Buzzfeed’s Fincen Files leak, which released a deluge of secret financial information held by banks about many companies.

The leaked documents show that donations from four companies held in the British Virgin Islands made up nearly half of Elad’s entire donations from 2005 to 2018.

Abramovich was listed as the owner of three of those companies, and had a controlling stake in the fourth. This makes him the largest donor to Elad in the last 15 years.

A spokesman for Abramovich told the BBC that the oligarch “is a committed and generous supporter of Israeli and Jewish civil society, and over the past 20 years he has donated over $500 million to support health care, science, education and Jewish communities in Israel and around the world.”

Abramovich’s funds were used by Elad to purchase Palestinian homes in Silwan and strengthen the presence of Jewish settlers there.

The BBC also found that his donations were used to fund and campaign for the eviction of Palestinian families in the neighborhood.

One such family is the Sumarins, who live in a home adjacent to Elad’s visitor center. They have been fighting a long-running legal battle with a Zionist group that is trying to take over their home.

Elad pays all the group’s legal costs associated with the case, which will go to Israel’s Supreme Court in April 2021.

Mohammed Dahle, the Sumarin family’s lawyer for 10 years, said: “The probability of the survival of a Palestinian property, after it’s been declared that it’s a Jewish or Israeli property ... is most likely zero.”