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Beirut blasts

"Help Us Oust the Ruling Class," Lebanese Appeal to Macron in Gemmayzeh


French President Emmanuel Macron hugs a resident as he visits a devastated street of Beirut, Lebanon August 6, 2020. Thibault Camus/Pool via REUTERS

Amid the debris of Gouraud Street, with its old gutted houses and its collapsed balconies, French President Emmanuel Macron took the side of the bereaved inhabitants of the devastat-ed Gemmayzeh neighborhood in Beirut, its desperate shopkeepers and its rebellious youth, still shocked by the double explosion that blew up on Tuesday a large part of the Lebanese capital. The French President arrived on the site, accompanied by French Ambassador Bruno Foucher and a large delegation. He came straight from the scene of the explosion at the port of Beirut with the intention to inspect the headquarters of the Lebanese Red Cross in Gemmayzeh, where the humanitarian aid workers were waiting for him, before heading to Baabda for meetings with the political leaders and then with members of the civil society.

Macron Facing a Huge Crowd

But the angry population decided otherwise. Alerted in the morning by the presence of sniffer dogs and members of the Republican Guard, they soon rushed to the area and invaded the nar-row alley as soon as the armored convoy arrived all sirens blaring. The crowd was immediately beefed up by a large number of October 17, 2019 protestors and thousands of young volun-teers, mobilized to take part in the clearance work. The visit was not announced. Spitting out their disgust at the political class that destroyed human lives and disfigured the city of Beirut by storing highly explosive materials in a residential area and shouting their suffering and despair, they did not hesitate to insult the President of the Republic Michel Aoun and to call on him once again to "leave."

The crowds reached the point of begging France to "not support this corrupt power" and ask for its help "to oust the ruling class," meaning all parties including Hezbollah. They also urged that "the exclusive use of force must be in the hands of the Lebanese army."

Macro did not hesitate. He ignored fears that some buildings may collapse, the impressive se-curity cordon and the risks associated with coronavirus, and quickly got out of the car. He found himself in the middle of a huge crowd and started inspecting behind his mask the colos-sal damage suffered by the old houses of this classified district, listening to the fed-up inhabit-ants, shaking their hands, distributing greetings and smiles, offering his sympathy to the mourn-ing population, and hugging a young woman in tears to console her.

"We are exhausted," shouted one angry lady from her balcony. "Look at the scale of the de-struction! Go and see our dead and wounded! We have never had a worse time. We are tired of this class in power. God punish them!" As Macron advanced to meet the protesters, the crowd grew in number and anger mounted. Much to the chagrin of members of the Republican Guard who pushed the protesters roughly. "Terrorist, terrorist, Michel Aoun is a terrorist," chanted the excited demonstrators, calling for a "revolution."

They kept calling for the "departure of the corrupt political class," "all without exception," but also of the "political system" that has plagued the state and caused the country's bankruptcy. Revolutionary songs were chanted, punctuated by the inevitable "helahela ho" directed to Aoun and his son-in-law and former foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, who had become for the pro-testers the symbol of nepotism. "Mr. President, bring us the guillotine," a protester also told Macron.

Aid Will not Go to the Corrupt

So in his own words, the French president acknowledged the "healthy anger" of the population and called on the protesters, who shouted their determination to bring down the political sys-tem, to "listen" to him. While he reassured that France will remain by Lebanon's side, "whatev-er happens," he promised above all that he would "propose a political pact to the Lebanese leaders and ask them to change the system, to end the divisions and to fight corruption." If the ruling class does not keep its commitments, he told a citizen who was trying to reach him, that he will return to Beirut on September 1. "I will carry my responsibility for you," he said. He pledged that France would not distribute humanitarian aid through public institutions and that "aid sent to the Lebanese would not go into the hands of the corrupt."

The crowd burst into applause. "Long live France!" shouted the protesters, who felt that finally someone is listening to them. “Thank you France!" a group of young women repeated in chorus, with a sign behind them. A few dissonant voices among the crowd tried to be heard, prompting scathing criticism from their angry compatriots. "Free Georges Abdallah," a handful of left-wing activists shouted, referring to Europe's oldest political prisoner for his involvement in a terrorist attack in France, among others.

The message reached both sides: That of the solidarity of France and Macron with the Lebanese people; and that of the anger of the Lebanese against a corrupt political class, unable to run the country. As the crowd continued to shout their rage at the authorities, the convoy carrying Macron headed for Baabda, skipping his visit to the disappointed Red Cross rescuers.


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 7th of August)



Amid the debris of Gouraud Street, with its old gutted houses and its collapsed balconies, French President Emmanuel Macron took the side of the bereaved inhabitants of the devastat-ed Gemmayzeh neighborhood in Beirut, its desperate shopkeepers and its rebellious youth, still shocked by the double explosion that blew up on Tuesday a large part of the Lebanese capital. The French President...