Paris — French President Emmanuel Macron assailed Hezbollah and the entire Lebanese political class Sunday, and warned of a new civil war if they can’t set aside personal and religious interests to unlock international aid and save Lebanon from economic collapse.
But Macron said France wouldn’t impose sanctions on anyone in its former protectorate — for now. And he clung to his proposed road map to break Lebanon’s political stalemate despite Saturday’s resignation of its prime minister-designate, which throws Macron’s plan into question.
“I’m ashamed of the Lebanese political leaders. Ashamed,” Macron repeated in a news conference Sunday in which he gave a brutal assessment of Lebanon’s power brokers.
He accused them of “collective betrayal” and choosing “to favor their partisan and individual interests to the general detriment of the country.”
Lebanon’s two main Shiite parties, Hezbollah and its ally Amal, led by parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, had insisted on retaining the foreign ministry in the new government and on naming all the Shiite Cabinet ministers. Prime minister-designate Moustapha Adib rejected those conditions and stepped down Saturday, throwing the country into further uncertainty and further delaying foreign aid.
Macron didn’t propose any concrete steps that France might take if Lebanon’s Central Bank reserves dry up and the government is no longer be able to subsidize basic goods such as fuel, medicine and wheat.
Macron has been pressing Lebanese politicians to form a Cabinet made up of non-partisan specialists that can work on urgent reforms to extract Lebanon from a financial crisis worsened by the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut port. Macron has travelled twice to Beirut since then and has made it a personal mission to try to repair the damaged country, raising resentment from some who see it as a neo-colonial foray.
Macron warned that lack of progress would lead to “a crisis that would not only be a political crisis but that would lead to the risk of a civil war.”
Many in Lebanon think sanctions are the only effective way to deal with politicians who are putting their self-interest and greed ahead of the country’s interests. But that would put France in confrontation with the entire political class just as Macron is trying to broker a solution.
“Sanctions do not seem to me the best tool — at this stage,” he said. He didn’t rule out imposing them later, but said it would be done in coordination with other countries.
Macron criticized the decision to divvy up certain ministries among Lebanon’s various religious groups, “as if competence was linked to religious confession.”
He reserved his toughest words for Hezbollah, demanding that it clarify whether it’s a democratic political force, anti-Israel militia or a tool of Iran — but also criticized Lebanese political leaders from all camps.
“The failure is theirs. I won’t take it on myself. I did the maximum I could,” he said.
He reiterated plans for an international conference by the end of October to mobilize more aid to go to U.N. agencies and non-governmental aid groups working to rebuild Beirut after the explosions — but not to the Lebanese government.