| 17 April 2024, Wednesday |

Lebanese political forces stand their ground as French envoy arrives in Beirut

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French presidential envoy to Lebanon, arrived in Beirut on Wednesday to engage in discussions with leaders amidst the ongoing bitter divisions that continue to afflict the crisis-stricken nation.
Le Drian’s three-day visit comes a week after lawmakers failed for a 12th time to elect a new president, drawing condemnation from the international community.

Bitter divisions between the Iran-backed Hezbollah party and its opponents now risk miring Lebanon further in a protracted power vacuum.

The latest vote pitted Hezbollah’s candidate Suleiman Franjieh against former minister Jihad Azour, who has mainly been endorsed by the opposition and Free Patriotic Movement.

The French embassy did not disclose the agenda of Le Drian’s trip, adding that he would not hold a press conference.

The envoy kicked off his trip with separate meetings with influential parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Media sources said Le Drian is also scheduled to hold talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, officials from the FPM, Lebanese Forces, Progressive Socialist Party and independent and Change MPs.

Sources following the visit said Le Drian has not come with a complete initiative, but he will listen to stances and proposals from political powers on how to resolve the crisis and that he will relay to Paris.

The sources added that the envoy is not facing an easy task and the impasse still stands.

They told Asharq Al-Awsat that the political forces have not changed their positions, citing the support of the Shiite duo of Hezbollah and Berri’s Amal for Franjieh’s run for president.

The duo had called for dialogue to discuss the candidacy. The political forces on the other side of the divide – including the LF and FPM – have rejected the call.

The sources stressed that dialogue remains the only way to end the crisis, but it is still out of reach given the intransigence of the rivals.

After a regular meeting headed by MP Gebran Bassil, the FPM said the latest presidential elections session showed that sticking to Franjieh’s nomination “will lead to a dead end”.

The parliamentary forces must move on to a new phase to choose a candidate through consensus and agree on the broad strokes of his presidential agenda.

Hezbollah, however, remains insistent on backing Franjieh, while not dismissing other candidates.

Deputy party leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said dialogue was the best option, adding that no presidential nominee should be eliminated from the talks.

“All concerns should be on the table so that we can reach the desired result,” he stressed.

Democratic Gathering MP Marwan Hamadeh said Le Drian may visit declared and un-declared presidential candidates.

In remarks to local radio, he hoped the visit would kick off a new Arab, western and perhaps even Iranian-backed effort to resolve the presidential deadlock.

The Shiite duo’s unyielding stance to abandon support to Franjieh will “lead us on the same path that led to Aoun’s election in 2016,” he warned.

The last impasse over the presidency kept Lebanon without a head of state for two-and-half years. Aoun, who was backed by Hezbollah, was eventually elected after much political wrangling.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat