In Focus | France’s historical role and its future in Lebanon after the Beirut explosion
France has always considered Lebanon its foothold in the Middle East, given its position as a refuge for the Christians of the East. Throughout Lebanon’s history, France has played a key role as it provided protection to the Maronite Church in the mid-seventeenth century and support for the establishment of the Mutasarrifate of Lebanon in the mid-nineteenth century, to then support the declaration of the establishment of the state of Greater Lebanon in 1920.
France was forced to withdraw from Syria and Lebanon in the forties of the last century, as a result of the consequences of the Second World War, but it continued to interfere in Lebanon’s affairs to protect its interests which deepened social discrimination and prejudice and actively contributed to the outbreak of the civil war in 1974.
The Taif Agreement signed in 1989 ended France’s ambitions to restore its previous presence in Lebanon, while its policies after this date focused on preserving its interests and establishing a gradual return for its role through the following:
1. Mediation diplomacy that contributed to reaching the 1996 understanding between Israel, Lebanon and Syria.
2. Personal diplomacy and protection policies aimed at the Christians maintaining a balanced relationship with other sects, namely the Druze, Sunnis and Shiites, as expressed by their embrace of the Saint-Cloud conference in 2007.
3. Aid diplomacy that began with the Paris 1 and 2 conferences in 2001 and Paris 3 in 2007, to support Lebanon economically and prevent its collapse. Despite Lebanon's access to funds from donors, it failed to implement the stipulated reforms, prompting France to sponsor the CEDRE conference in 2018 with the aim of addressing the reform process.
4. The strategy of joint action, especially with the United States of America, that insists on implementing reforms to liberalize aid and support Lebanon economically although France has repeatedly failed to ensure the implementation of reforms through its diplomatic and political activities.
It seems that the Beirut Port explosion in August 2020 represented a new opportunity for France to activate the strategy of joint action with the United States of America and aid diplomacy as manifest through the international conference organized via video technology.
It is believed that France will work in the coming period to lead the Western mobilization in Lebanon, which will aim to reshape the political scene in Lebanon and prevent the collapse of the government structure under the weight of economic pressure, while accounting for the USA and Israeli’s reservations, especially with regard to the role of Hezbollah.
Unit of Analysis and Thinking - Jusoor for Studies
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