By Nasser Kandil
The French conformity to the ceilings imposed by the Americans on Lebanon, after the failure of the thesis put forth by the French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, which called for the separation of efforts directed towards Lebanon’s recuperation from Washington’s confrontation with Tehran, was precisely and clearly evident throughout French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s visit to Beirut. Any talk about reform conditions to open the gateway to aid to Lebanon is a cover-up for France’s compliance with the American prohibitions.
Le Maire’s plan, which also included reform conditions, but different from those proposed by Le Drian, reflected a seriousness of intent rather than the political hypocrisy presented today. Le Maire had called for a special session for CEDRE and Donors to identify economic sectors in need of support, and create international conditions for reform and for financing for each of those sectors. There is no doubt that the Lebanese Government would have immediately agreed to such a course of action, and committed to the reform conditions particular to each sector. Le Drian’s method, however, practically creates a pretext, the use of which will be utilized for years to come, namely that of “You have not made sufficient reforms to merit aid, and that is the American ceiling.” So, what did Le Drian do?
France has accepted the role of Agent for American pressures, and gave up her role as an independent partner. Her Foreign Minister came to say that the crisis will endure for a long time, and funds will be late in coming. This implies that in the interim, Lebanon and its national institutions will weaken as funds dwindle. Their influence on energizing life and the economy in Lebanon will recede, and the effectiveness of its service-oriented institutions, particularly its Security and Military establishments, will diminish.
Le Drian opens the door for a counter-proposal, that of Sectarian Aid. He tells the Lebanese: “We will not leave you to starvation. Each country will aid its corresponding religious sect in Lebanon. France had committed to give aid to the Maronites and Catholics in Lebanon. Russia should commit to aid the Orthodox, and Britain the Evangelicals. A few days before, Turkey announced distribution of aid in Akkar and its intention to expand its involvement, and Saudi Arabia might get involved in the building of schools and hospitals on a Sectarian module, and naturally, Iran will then likewise will be involved in the institutions belonging to a different religious sect. All this of course will not be limited to schools, but will expand to hospitals and other institutions, while corresponding Lebanese national ones contract and lose their ability to provide equivalent services.
The aim of the course Le Drian seeks to open and its consequences could go unnoticed. If it succeeds in being imposed as a way of shrinking the role of the Lebanese State, and the expansion of sectarian institutions relying on foreign support rooted in the distribution of spheres of influence of foreign countries in Lebanon, and having sectarian identity gradually replacing the Lebanese State, Le Drian’s appeal for support for the Patriarch Beshara al Rahi’s call for “neutrality” becomes crystal clear.
Under such plan, each Sectarian network will be linked to a different foreign Capital along with its financial and foreign policies. In that light, the call for “neutrality” is not directed at the Lebanese under the illusion that it could be adopted as a policy by the Lebanese State. Rather, it is a call directed to the foreign power which will become the real guardian of that religious sect and its foreign policy, in exchange for financial support which will allow the institutions belonging to that sect to flourish.
Alongside this call to neutrality, we can expect to see calls for “Arabhood” from the portals of the Gulf in exchange for financial support and revitalization of educational and health institutions such as “Al Makasid,” and for a Eurasian policy for the Orthodox in exchange for support for the University of Balamand and Roum Hospital, and to see “Al Mukawama’s” politics confined to the Shias. Based on such framework, any political entity within a religious sect or outside of it, not adopted by a foreign entity, will be threatened to fall behind due to limited resources and the inability to fulfill needs, and its bet on the importance of the State will lose its spark in the eyes of the Lebanese who are in need.
We will be witnessing a great deal of these attempts to dismantle the State and to bring us back to the mid nineteenth century rule- of- consuls era, unless the Lebanese take on the project of Statehood as a united and independent response to challenges they are facing, requiring any foreign participation to go through mandatory State channels. Needless to say, such undertaking will be contingent upon the State possessing the courage to go ahead with making choices and decisions which fulfill its need and the needs of its citizens, and to leave behind the role of the good student who is awaiting foreign approval, lest China apologizes and revokes its offers because Lebanon has no Buddhist or Confucian Sect she can adopt.