Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hollande in Lebanon, what to expect

When things are not going on as expected on the home affairs front, the foreign policy can help. At least when it comes to such a special relationship as the one between France and Lebanon.
French president, Francois Hollande is expected in Beirut the 16th of April for a working visit, part of a tour in the region between 16-18 April which includes also Egypt - state visit -and Jordan - meeting with King Abdullah II regarding the regional partnership and the fight against terrorism.

The current situation in Lebanon

Since the end of the mandate of the previous president Michel Suleiman in September 2014, the presidency of Lebanon is vacant. Compared to other situations when the various factions haven't reach an agreement for the next presidential candidate that lead to open conflicts, this time things seem to be less explosive. Hollande is supposed to express during his visit the support for coexistence and proper functioning of the local institutions, including the presidency.
The country was also affected by the Syrian civil war, with refugee camps in the country. France kept a very low profile in the issue of refugees, compared to the German EU partner and the French president is interested in helping the country with intelligence and financial support for diminishing the war repercurssions.
In most situations to be addressed, the French president is expected to offer commitment towards stability without offering concrete solutions. Another surprising fact is that during the war in Syria, the country remained stable.
In the post-war Syria, France would prefer a minimal influence of both hungry for more regional power actors Iran and Turkey, a trend which on long term can positively influence the internal situation in Lebanon too.
However, under the curtains, France keeps a permanent contact with Iran, an important player in the country with high interests through the support for the terrorist organization Hezbollah. The influence of France in this case is however limited, a major influencer being rather Russia, with good relations on both sides. In an interview with Al Mayadeen TV on March 21, the secretary general of the terrorist organisation, Hassan Nassrallah, noticed the 'common goals' between Hezbollah, Iran and Russia. It is the usual terrorist propaganda for the consumption of the Arab public, as an experienced diplomat as Lavrov sees much further than this. As for now, Russia can help the settlemet of an agreement for the election of a new president. For example.
Another important aspect of the French-Lebanese agenda is the delivery of French weapons, part of a $3 billion grant by Saudi Arabia, the highest ever given to the military sector. France also encourages Saudi Arabia's influence in the country, as a counter-balance to the Iranians. 

French-Lebanese strong connections

Out of the many others former French colonies, Lebanon always remains a special partner. Besides the interest of so many wealthy countries to get involved in the local affairs, not only for a good cause, France remains the main source of foreign direct investment. Thanks to France, Lebanon is one of the main Mediterranean beneficiaries of financial and technical assistance from the EU. Again, the friends for benefits from the region do not hurry up to support the economy, only the croonies from Hezbollah.
In addition, thousands of French-Lebanese citizens live and work in Lebanon, and around 250,000 people of Lebanese origin live in France. 
France continues to be influential but not the predominant power in the region. The effects of this visit, scheduled for last year but delayed for security reasons, are not to be seen immediately, but France keeps playing hard games in the Middle East and given the comptitors, it is preferably to many, if not most of them. 

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