French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced political sanctions against unnamed Lebanese officials and leaders on Thursday, April 29. He blamed certain individuals for blocking the necessary political reforms in the country and widespread corruption.
Though no names were mentioned, Drian said that “we have started to implement restrictions on access to French territory against personalities involved in the current political blockage or involved in corruption.” He also said that France reserves the “right to adopt additional measures” against said people.
France is also holding talks with the European Union to create a sanctions regime against Lebanon. It may include freezing of assets of individual politicians or authorities and include travel bans to the countries of the EU, according to Reuters.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, had been hinting of such sanctions since his visit to the country following last years’ warehouse blast in Beirut. He offered financial help and demanded political reforms in the country saying that certain politicians and officials have been blocking all political reforms in the country and indulging in corrupt practices.
The Beirut blast on August 4 last year killed close to 200 people and wounded hundreds, apart from creating massive material losses in the capital.
Economic and political crisis
Lebanon has been facing a political and economic crisis since 2019. The number of poor and unemployed in the country has increased massively in the last couple of years and prices of essential commodities, including food, rose beyond the reach of the poor due to the the weakening Lebanese currency. As per reports, it has lost 85% of its value to the dollar in the last few months. Several businesses closed and banks imposed informal restrictions on withdrawals.
In October 2019, popular protests broke out against the government’s failure to provide relief from the economic crisis which led to the resignation of the then prime minister, Saad Hariri. The country has not had a regular government since then and has mostly been run by caretaker prime ministers. Saad Hariri has been renominated to become prime minister after the resignation of Hasan Diab post the Beirut blast. However, he has failed to form a government due to disagreements between the parties in the country’s parliament.
The economic situation in the country has worsened after the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. Due to persistent lockdowns and fear of infection, the tourism industry has been affected badly. Remittances sent by Lebanese migrant workers, working in different parts of the world, including in the Gulf, have gone down further. The pandemic has also put increased pressure on the country’s health infrastructure. Lebanon is facing a second wave since February with daily new infections remaining above 1,000. So far, Lebanon, a country of merely 6.8 million, has reported a total of 526,000 infections and over 7,200 deaths.
The Lebanese government initiated a vaccination program in February this year and signed deals with other countries for vaccine delivery. It has also received, as yet, 33,600 doses of vaccine under WHO COVAX initiative. However, there have been several reports of mismanagement and corruption as well forcing, the World Bank to assign Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to monitor the vaccination programs.
Meanwhile, popular protests in the country have continued despite the lockdowns and restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 outbreak. Protesters, apart from demanding relief from the economic sufferings, are also demanding fundamental structural changes in the country’s political system and an end to corruption.
France — somewhat agreeing with the popular protests — has suggested a technocratic government in the country bypassing most of the political figures and parties. This suggestion has been rejected by the political forces in Lebanon. France has also promised financial help, provided the Lebanese ruling classes agree with the reforms proposed.
French intervention in Lebanon is seen by some as a colonial approach and an attempt to regain its political power in the region. However, there are voices in Lebanon which support the French action against what they think are corrupt politicians. Earlier this month, the French media published a letter signed by more than a hundred Lebanese civil society members and intellectuals asking the French government to intervene, Al Jazeera reported.
Lebanon was a French mandate between 1923 and 1946.