Copy of 2023-09-26T131516Z_718207202_RC28O1ASUIA3_RTRMADP_3_LEBANON-CRISIS-FRANCE-1695737312881
Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati meets with former French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Beirut, Lebanon June 22, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron’s special envoy urged Lebanese factions to find a “third way” for electing a new president, warning that France and its allies were losing patience after almost a year of deadlock and now reviewing their financial aid.

“The life of the Lebanese state itself is at risk,” Jean-Yves Le Drian, a former foreign minister, told AFP in an interview.

Lebanon has been without a president for almost a year after ex-head of state Michel Aoun’s mandate expired, with its feuding factions repeatedly failing in parliament to elect a new leader as an unprecedented economic crisis escalates in the multi-confessional former French colony.

Both sides have put forward their own candidate - the former minister Sleiman Frangieh for the pro-Hezbollah faction and the economist Jihad Azour for their opponents - but Le Drian said neither man had any chance of breaking the deadlock.

“Neither side can prevail. Neither solution can work,” Le Drian said.

“It is important that political actors put an end to this unbearable crisis for the Lebanese and try to find a compromise solution through a third way,” he added.

‘Denial of reality’

Le Drian said he planned to go to Lebanon in the next weeks to urge the Lebanese parties to get together for an intense week of talks and then hold votes in parliament and find a new president.

Lebanon’s president is elected by parliament, where neither side has a majority, rather than by universal suffrage.

The situation is further complicated by that in the wake of the accords that ended the civil war, Lebanon’s president is always a Christian, the premier a Sunni Muslim and the speaker a Shiite Muslim.

Parliament has now failed 12 times to elect a president over the last year.

Faced with what he described as a “denial of reality” from Lebanese officials, France and its allies the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, are losing patience and could review their financial support for Beirut, he said.

The five countries, whose representatives met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week in New York, “are totally united, deeply irritated and questioning the sustainability of their funding to Lebanon while political leaders take pleasure in irresponsibility,” Le Drian fumed.

‘Turnaround possible’

Despite the country’s economic bankruptcy, inflation at more than 200 percent and rampant unemployment, “political leaders are in denial, which leads them to pursue tactical games at the expense of the country’s interests,” he said.

Le Drian, who was named by Macron as his special envoy in early June, has made two visits to the country in his capacity, in June and July. But he has so far failed to make any inroads in breaking the deadlock.

Macron won praise from observers for heading to the Lebanese capital in the immediate aftermath of the August 2020 Beirut port explosion to push Lebanon’s leaders into radical reform. But he now faces pressure to follow up on these promises.

Le Drian declined to put forward any name for a candidate who could break the deadlock, saying that he is only a “mediator” and that it is up to the Lebanese to identify a compromise, which he considers possible.

“I carried out a consultation which shows that the priorities of the actors can easily be forged into a consensus,” he said.

Sanctions against those who block a compromise also remain a possible weapon. “It’s obviously an idea,” he said, while insisting “a turnaround is possible”.