Wed 31 May 2023 10:16 am - Jerusalem Time
Macron calls for the election of a president for Lebanon "without delay"
French President Emmanuel Macron affirmed, on Tuesday, during his reception at the Elysee Palace, the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi, his support for the "efforts" made by the head of the Maronite Church to get Lebanon out of the "political deadlock", calling on all forces in the country mired in crises to elect a president for the republic "without delay."
The French presidency said in a statement that Macron and Al-Rahi “expressed their deep concerns about the crisis” afflicting Lebanon and “the paralysis of institutions, which was exacerbated by the vacancy of the presidency more than seven months ago.”
The Elysee added in its statement that the French president and the Maronite patriarch "agreed on the need to elect a president without delay."
The statement quoted Macron stressing the “necessity” for Lebanon’s Christians to remain “at the heart of the sectarian and institutional balance of the Lebanese state.”
Al-Rahi's visit to Paris comes at a time when several political forces are trying to agree on supporting a presidential candidate to block the arrival of former minister Suleiman Franjieh, who enjoys major support from Hezbollah, the most prominent political and military force in the country.
Lebanese officials, some of whom visited Paris recently, criticize France for supporting, according to them and several reports, Franjieh's accession to the presidency, which is denied by French diplomats. France, the former mandate power in Lebanon, has always enjoyed a privileged position in the country. Some Lebanese, especially the Christians, refer to her as the "compassionate mother", given that she supported Lebanon in several stages of its history.
Al-Rahi arrived in Paris from the Vatican, where he met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
And the shepherd, who heads the largest Christian denomination in Lebanon, discussed with Macron during their hour-long meeting "means of bringing opinions together," according to what the patriarch's circles reported.
According to the French presidency, Macron stressed that the current "blockage" in Lebanon represents an "obstacle" to reforms "without which there can be no permanent advancement and stability for Lebanon."
The Elysee statement stated, "The President of the Republic expressed his support for the efforts made by Patriarch Al-Rahi, and called for concerted efforts by all political forces to end the current political impasse without delay."
For months, Paris has been leading a movement to urge the Lebanese to expedite the election of a president for the country and carry out urgent reforms to obtain international financial support to get their country out of its worsening economic crisis since the fall of 2019.
Representatives of five countries concerned with Lebanese affairs, including France, the United States and Saudi Arabia, held a meeting in Paris in February to discuss the situation in Lebanon, without achieving any progress.
Hezbollah and its allies support Franjieh's accession to the presidency, while Hezbollah's opponents, most notably the Christian Lebanese Forces and Kataeb parties, oppose his arrival. He is also opposed by the Christian Free Patriotic Movement headed by Gebran Bassil, an ally of Hezbollah, who considers himself a "natural candidate" for the presidency.
No party has a parliamentary majority that enables it to field its candidate. There is a bloc of independents in parliament that is also not inclined to elect Franjieh.
Among the names of the presidential candidates are opposition MP Michel Moawad and former minister Jihad Azour, who currently runs the Middle East and Central Asia department at the International Monetary Fund.
The three Christian parties seek to agree on Azour.
In a sermon he delivered on Sunday, Patriarch Al-Rahi said, referring to Azour without naming him, "We would like to thank God for what we hear about reaching some consensus between the parliamentary blocs about the personality of the next president, so that he does not constitute a challenge to anyone, and at the same time he has a personality." It responds to the needs of Lebanon today and inspires internal and external confidence.