The recent visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Lebanon has forced political leaders there to increase their efforts to select a new prime minister following the resignation of former PM Hassan Diab.
The aftermath of the Beirut explosion has triggered demands for a radical overhaul of Lebanon’s political system as many of the country’s citizens blame political elites for failing to prevent the event from happening.
Parliamentary consultations at the presidential palace took place on Monday morning, with most politicians settling on a diplomat called Mustapha Adib, who previously served as Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany.
Adib Has an Unenviable Task Awaiting Him
The task that awaits Adib is a daunting one, as he must lead his country through one of the worst political crises that Lebanon has ever faced.
The French President called for “deep change” when he visited Beirut on August 6, and stressed that he would monitor Lebanon’s progress during his visit this week to mark the centenary of Greater Lebanon.
Like with any other political appointment, Adib’s represents an opportunity for change in Lebanon. The new Prime Minister has Macron’s support and the French leader will continue to monitor events in the former French colony closely. Yet the two politicians also face enormous obstacles if they hope to implement meaningful changes in the country.
Macron is Provoking Rouhani by Intervening in Lebanon
The more the French President intervenes in Lebanese politics, the more likely he is to provoke Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Tehran has already pleaded with the international community not to interfere in Lebanon’s political process and has urged Washington to start lifting its sanctions there.
Iran is one of the main sponsors of Hezbollah, a Shi’ite Islamist party and militant group which has influence over the Lebanese Government, a radio and a satellite station, and social services. They have been described as a “state within a state.” The Washington Institute discovered that the Iranian Government provides the terrorist group with $100 million per year.
Macron Cannot Have His Cake and Eat it too
If relations between France and Iran deteriorate as a result of the Lebanese crisis, it will be difficult for Macron to persuade US President Donald Trump and the Iranian President to draft a new nuclear deal after he almost persuaded Rouhani and Trump to do so last year. He cannot have it both ways in the Middle East and at some stage he must decide to prioritize reform in Lebanon or peace between the US and Iran.
Politico reports that the French leader has been consulting both Rouhani and Trump over his plans for Lebanon, but as the Council on Foreign Relations’ Amir Asmar suggests, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) were instrumental in defeating ISIS and it is one of the few institutions that Lebanon’s citizens have a positive view of. If they are not involved in reforming Lebanon’s political structure, there is little chance they can act as a restraining force against Hezbollah, which is intent on maintaining its stranglehold over the country.
Real Reform Won’t happen in Lebanon Until Iran’s Grip is Loosened
Macron told reporters in Paris at a Q&A with the Presidential Press Association on Friday that he will ‘finalize something,’ but how can he persuade Lebanon’s political leaders to transform a system that they have profited from for the last three decades and change their political identities at the same time? So far, they have only committed to forming a new cabinet.
Hassan Sinno, a member of the Massirat Watan opposition group, claims there is little time to initiate change, but he will be judged on his actions as opposed to his words after Macron’s visit, as will the rest of Lebanon’s political elite.
Adib may enjoy Macron’s support, but he cannot realistically expect things to change until Iran’s grip over Lebanon is truly broken. The French President should prioritize reaching an accord with Rouhani before asking Lebanon’s political elite to embark on an impossible task.