Persistence key to Lebanese desire for change
French President Emmanuel Macron’s follow-up visit to Lebanon last week created a backlash from those who, like me, oppose Hezbollah and the Iranian influence in the region. The declarations made by French diplomatic teams giving legitimacy to this group were a mistake and, for some, a betrayal. The reason is simple: We see this group in its current form as a danger to the future of Lebanon; something that contributes to the erosion of the sovereignty of the country. Likewise, Iran plays a nefarious and expansionist role throughout the Middle East.
Like me, many French people of Lebanese origin hope and dream of a free Lebanon that is close to France and prospers despite the situation in the Middle East. We hope that President Macron understands this.
Macron’s visit to Lebanon was followed by a visit to Iraq, and we owed it to him to listen to his message there. Indeed, during his visit to Iraq, Macron clearly opposed any interference in the country’s affairs, insisting on France’s support for the sovereignty of the Iraqi state. Iraq, with its new Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, may have the capacity to rebalance its relations with its Iranian neighbor, even though the task will be difficult. French and American efforts seem to be aimed in this direction. The same principle applies in Lebanon, but perhaps no Lebanese person or political group is able to bring about this change today.
On the other hand, we must also listen to Macron’s message about the Mediterranean because it is a message of prosperity and stability. Speaking of the principle of “Pax Mediterranea,” he clearly opposes Turkish imperialist action and its methods of intimidation, which all Mediterranean countries refuse. This is again a more complete vision to which Lebanon subscribes and which can be positive for this country. Some Sunni Lebanese groups seem to be calling on Turkey to intervene to oppose Hezbollah, but this would be a mistake that could plunge the country into even more conflict.
Macron’s mission is much more difficult in Lebanon because the country is complicated and symbolic of an overall vision for the wider region of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. For Lebanon, the chaos is already there and the risks are well known.
Macron can only help Lebanon if the Lebanese help him do it — and help themselves first.
Khaled Abou Zahr
It should also be noted that no one has come to try and help Lebanon except Macron. He had a clear message to the ruling political class about the sovereignty of the country. There are, in fact, two realities in the country and all the signs currently seem to be in favor of the regime that is in place, which is that of Hezbollah.
For these reasons and despite the opposition to the transformation of Lebanon into either an Iranian or an Ottoman state, it is important to give the French president time before judging his actions. The Lebanese have little to lose. It is also important for the Lebanese political forces attached to sovereignty to remain active and to show that they have real weight on the local political scene. Any change or rebalancing can only be done with persistence and consistency, and without alienating international support. Macron can only help Lebanon if the Lebanese help him do it — and help themselves first.
Macron’s efforts might perhaps be successful in securing an Iranian deal with a transition for Hezbollah’s political role. The odds are slim, but inactivity on the local scene while opposing the actions of the French president is helping to push the country in the wrong direction. What are the political actions that can accompany Macron’s efforts and allow for change in Lebanon to begin is the question that needs to be asked. One thing is certain: We cannot wait for the initiatives to succeed without having action on the ground to support them.
It is also important to note that, for now, the US appears to support France’s actions in Lebanon and this will hold true after the presidential election in November. However, disagreements still seem to exist on the policies vis-a-vis Iran and Turkey. It is, therefore, also necessary to align Lebanese action in the direction of these files by giving the necessary advice. It is important to make people understand that, in a region like the Middle East, a policy of appeasement is not always best and that some threats are not perceived as such or are considered weak.
A greater understanding between the US and France could have an incredibly positive role in the region and help achieve the goals Macron has set for himself. As far as Lebanon is concerned, neither the state nor any political force can disarm Hezbollah or reduce its control over key points of the state. The only way to get there is either a deal with Iran or a war. However, if nothing is feasible on armaments at this time, the accompaniment of Macron’s efforts may make it possible to reduce Hezbollah’s control over the state, mainly with regard to key security-related positions that undermine the state’s legitimacy.
The Lebanese should, therefore, not remain as spectators to the international efforts of the French president because it is up to them to create the change. We must work on acceptable solutions and not underestimate the strength of the people who want change. Every crisis is also an opportunity. It is not about shouting a slogan but about building a new Lebanon. As the saying goes, the drop of water breaks the stone not by force, but by falling often. Persistence will make the difference.
It is also important to succeed in changing Iran’s actions so that this country deals with the Lebanese state and not a single group, even though it has a religion in common with this group. The Lebanese can perhaps learn from the Cold War history of Finland, which managed to chart an independent foreign policy course by being close to the US and European countries and benefiting from their support, while also remaining neutral and communicating with the Soviet Union.
- Khaled Abou Zahr is the CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.