“France supports Sleiman Frangieh’s candidacy [for president] to serve its common interests with Hezbollah,” said the Lebanese Forces (LF) Leader Samir Geagea, in an interview with the Al-Jadeed TV channel on Sunday.
According to Geagea, this is because France has interests linked to the ports of Beirut and Tripoli and “other affairs” that he did not detail.
The LF leader’s positions align with his categorical opposition to the election of his historical rival, Marada leader Sleiman Frangieh. Frangieh who is the preferred candidate of the Amal movement and Hezbollah faces the opposition of most Christian parties, including the LF, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Kataeb.
This is the first time since the beginning of the presidential elections season in September 2022 that the Christian leader has directly lambasted France, which is closely involved in the issue.
With this comment, Geagea has joined several leading figures of the anti-Hezbollah camp in their displeasure with France’s approach to the Lebanese presidential elections.
France is being accused of backing Frangieh’s election to the presidency in exchange for the designation of Nawaf Salam — former Lebanese ambassador to the UN and current judge at the International Court of Justice — as prime minister.
Kataeb leader Sami Gemayel and Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Joumblatt continue to call for the election of a consensus candidate. It is likely that the widespread Lebanese disapproval of Frangieh pushed the French Foreign Affairs Ministry to affirm on Thursday that “France has no candidate for the [Lebanese] presidential elections.”
‘I am sad for France’
“What France is doing today will get us nowhere,” said Geagea.
“The [French] ambassador [in Beirut], Anne Grillo, told me clearly that her country believes that the solution [to the political crisis] is to elect Sleiman Frangieh and I told her that we do not support this proposal,” he continued.
“France is among the few friends who are still interested in Lebanon. Today, I am sad for it, because the fact that France’s name is linked to Hezbollah’s candidate does not reflect its true identity as a country that protects democracy and human rights,” said Geagea in a dig at Paris, of which he is an ally.
“If France supports a particular candidate, have him run for the French presidency,” said Geagea sarcastically.
The message was clear: no to any figure supported by Hezbollah, even if it has the blessing of great powers involved in the Lebanese dossier.
“We do not see any valid reason for France to support the candidate of the moumanaa [pro-Iranian axis in Lebanon], unless there are dubious motives,” LF spokesperson Charles Jabbour told L’Orient-Le Jour.
Jabbour recalled that the local balance of power prevents the election of Frangieh, who is vetoed by the major Christian parties. It appears that the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not addressed the concerns of the parties that are hostile to Hezbollah.
“France has no candidate in Lebanon,” said the spokeswoman of the French Foreign Ministry, Anne-Claire Legendre, at a press briefing on Thursday.
“It is up to the Lebanese actors to take their responsibilities and break the political deadlock to quickly elect a new president,” added the French official.
These remarks were reduced by some as a move aimed at preserving France's image.
“Mr. Macron is following a policy that will lead us to lose Lebanon,” said MP Ghayath Yazbeck (LF\ Batroun).
Legendre’s comments are the first to mark the official French position on the Lebanese presidential elections. Her remarks came a few weeks after a meeting was held between Frangieh and Patrick Durel, adviser to the French president on North Africa and the Middle East, on March 31. The meeting was an opportunity for Frangieh to present what he would offer if he were to win the election.
“There is no schism within the French administration. The remarks of Ms. Legendre are only the traditional language of French diplomacy,” a diplomat who requested anonymity told L’Orient-Le Jour.
“The French have opted for realpolitik. Aware that Hezbollah is key in Lebanon, they thought they would support its candidate for the presidency, believing that this would speed up the election,” said the diplomat.
Samir Geagea and Sami Gemayel are particularly displeased with the idea that France could endorse Frangieh
Gemayel, who also met with Durel, told the press that he made it clear that any support for Frangieh is equivalent to submission to the will of Hezbollah.
Durel also met with MP Simon Abi Ramia (FPM\ Jbeil).
There were also contacts between Geagea and the French presidency about ten days ago, said Jabbour, without specifying who the LF leader spoke with. Geagea “explained his party’s position and the impossibility of voting for Mr. Frangieh under any circumstances,” said Jabbour.
The Hezbollah equation
Taking advantage of the latest regional developments, including the Iranian-Saudi rapprochement and the Arab opening towards Syria, Hezbollah retorted. “There are two candidates: one is serious and the other is the vacuum,” tweetedHezbollah’s deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem, on Sunday, recalling that the Marada leader has “a significant number of votes” while the opposing camp can’t even agree on a candidate.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.