Macron pushes hard for corruption-free Lebanese government

French leader is seeking a coalition of international support for his ambitious attempt

French President Emmanuel Macron waves as he visits a devastated street of Beirut, Lebanon August 6, 2020. Thibault Camus/Pool via REUTERS - RC2C8I90KFWG
Powered by automated translation

French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing Lebanon's political leaders to install an interim government able to enact reforms, win back public confidence and persuade donors to release billions of dollars in aid.

A Lebanese government source told Reuters that he wants two-time former prime minister Saad Hariri to head this government.

The cost of rebuilding Beirut is estimated at up to $30 billion, money Lebanon does not have. Mr Macron wants to use this as leverage for his reforms.

The French president made his zeal for change clear when he visited Beirut in the aftermath of the devastating port explosions in early August.

“We must today proceed with reforms to change the system to stop the division of Lebanon, to fight against corruption, to have transparency and truth. This explosion is the consequence of negligence," he said.

Mr Macron is seeking a coalition of international support for his mediation, and has already spoken to Russia and Iran – which both have ties to armed Shiite group Hezbollah.

American support will also be crucial, both at a geopolitical level and within the International Monetary Fund. Lebanon entered talks with the IMF in May after defaulting on foreign currency debt but the negotiations stalled in the absence of reforms.

Obstacles in the path of regime change

Moves by the French leader to intercede in the divided country will be welcomed by the supporters who mobbed Mr Macron on his visit to Beirut – with one man telling him: “We don't want the [aid money] to go to our government." But the task won’t be straightforward.

Suspicions Mr Macron is seeking undue influence prevail, and a senior Lebanese politician source told Reuters that the French head of state is acting as a de facto president.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun and the country's Christian parties are said to oppose Macron's proposal, according to the source.

If Lebanon's factions won't eventually bend to donors' demands, French lawmaker Loic Kervran, who chairs the France-Lebanon committee, said sanctions could be imposed, including asset freezes or travel bans on the elite, some of whom own upmarket property in Paris.

"Lebanese politicians travel a lot, and they travel a lot to Paris," Mr Kervran said. "It's an important pressure tool."