French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian ends his five-day visit to Lebanon

Le Drian
File: Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s special envoy for Lebanon

By : Nada Maucourant Atallah

French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday wrapped up his five-day visit to Lebanon, now entering its tenth month without a president, with small steps made towards resolving the issue amid persisting uncertainty.

Le Drian’s latest initiative followed several unsuccessful attempts to get the political parties in Lebanon’s deeply polarised parliament to agree on a presidential candidate.

The divide is mainly between the opposition bloc comprising the Christian-led Lebanese Forces – the biggest party in parliament – its allies and independent MPs, and the camp aligned with Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite militia and political entity backed by Iran.

France has been actively involved in Lebanon’s affairs in the years following the devastating Beirut port blast in 2020. President Emmanuel Macron’s visit was the first made by a foreign official to the devastated capital, beginning a “French initiative” for a technocratic government that has made little headway so far.

It has abandoned its previous approach, which favored Hezbollah’s candidate Suleiman Frangieh for president in exchange for a prime minister from the opposition camp – a solution the opposition has completely rejected.

“We have come to realize that the package deal approach is no longer viable; it’s about facilitating the process,” a French diplomatic source told The National before Le Drian’s latest visit.

Open-ended session

The first noteworthy development is that Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who along with his Hezbollah allies has been behind the obstruction of the presidential election for 12 sessions in a row, has said he is willing to convene an open-ended parliamentary session to select a president.

Berri, who is also the leader of the Amal movement, Hezbollah’s main ally, called last month for seven days of parliamentary discussions before proceeding to an open-ended electoral session.

In Lebanon, the election of a president typically results from behind-the-scenes negotiations to secure the two-thirds majority needed to elect a winner in the first round of voting, or, failing that, by a simple majority of the 128 Lebanese MPs in the second round.

In each of the 12 instances when the parliament has convened, Hezbollah and its allies have left before the second round, effectively preventing the quorum needed for a vote and obstructing the presidential session.

This means that the next session could result in a president being elected if Berri delivers on his promises

After meeting Berri on Tuesday, Le Drian said that the open-ended session proposal could “mark the beginning of a solution”.

Le Drian also held discussions with Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc leader MP Mohammad Raad, who said that “ Berri’s proposal aligns with the French efforts”, according to a Hezbollah statement released on Wednesday. At the same time, he asserted that Suleiman Franjieh remains the party’s only candidate .

However, uncertainty prevails as Berri has not yet set a date for a Parliamentary session to elect a president.


The second development revolves around the negotiation method adopted by stakeholders following the opposition’s rejection of cross-party dialogue on the presidency – an approach that was first suggested by France.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said previously that he saw no merit in “wasting additional time on a dialogue that will not lead anywhere”. Hezbollah reportedly never honored any agreement reached during previous dialogue sessions

Tension between the long-standing foes has been fuelled by the recent kidnapping and murder of Elias Hasrouni, a member of the Lebanese Forces.

The party blamed Hezbollah for the killing, with Geagea saying the incident “resembles the kind of dialogue” Hezbollah has been advocating for months.

“Any form of dialogue outside the parliamentary framework is a derailment of democracy and the constitution,” a Lebanese Forces spokesman told The National.

Le Drian’s trip has been the occasion to address negotiation methods acceptable to all stakeholders, with some MPs showing more flexibility than before.

Some from the opposition camp told The National that they are open to discussions that do not require face-to-face negotiations.

“We are willing to compromise as long as the candidate is not corrupt or an integral part of Hezbollah hegemony project over the country,” the Lebanese Forces spokesman added.

Michel Moawad, an independent MP and the opposition’s camp’s initial presidential candidate, said: “We are open for a dialogue process, which may assume various forms, and could involve France in a mediating role.”

Still, many unanswered questions linger, with the specific format for discussions yet to be determined.

Neither Azour nor Frangieh

A third significant development lies in the recognition that the current candidates, Hezbollah-backed Suleiman Frangieh and opposition-supported Jihad Azour are not viable options, suggesting the need to consider alternatives.

Both current candidates are seen as controversial by the opposing camps:  Frangieh for his close ties to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and Azour for his perceived US backing.

“ Le Drian said that as neither candidate could garner a two-thirds majority, it might be time that we start discussing a third candidate,” said independent MP Waddah Sadek, who attended a meeting with Le Drian on Thursday.

There is a third name circulating: Army chief Joseph Aoun, who enjoys the backing of Qatar, which is soon sending its own delegation to Lebanon.

“We are open for a compromise and willing to engage in discussions about a third name: this could potentially represent a breakthrough,” said independent MP Fouad Makhzoumi.

The development has been widely interpreted in the local media as the new French approach, rather than a simple recognition of the situation.

It has resulted in back-and-forth between the two rival camps, with Hezbollah and its allies claiming that France never requested them to withdraw Frangieh as a candidate, while the opposition asserted the opposite.

Le Drian refrained from making any comment to the press during his visit.

Under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, the president’s post is reserved for a Christian Maronite, while the prime minister’s post is reserved for a Muslim Sunni, and the parliament speaker’s post is reserved for a Muslim Shiite.

The international community has repeatedly stressed the urgency of electing a president, given that Lebanon is dealing with one of the worst economic crises in modern history under a caretaker government with limited powers, a central bank headed by an acting governor, and a parliament unable to take up other business until the presidency is decided.

IMF blasts Lebanon

In a statement issued at the end of a four-day visit by an IMF delegation to the crisis-hit country, the international agency welcomed recent policy decisions by Lebanon’s central bank to stop lending to the state and end the work in an exchange platform known as Sayrafa.

Sayrafa had helped rein in the spiraling black market that has controlled the Lebanese economy, but it has been depleting the country’s foreign currency reserves. 

The IMF said that despite the move, a permanent solution requires comprehensive policy decisions from the parliament and the government to contain the external and fiscal deficits and start restructuring the banking sector and major state-owned companies. 

Lebanon is in the grips of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. Since the financial meltdown began in October 2019, the country’s political class — blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement — has been resisting economic and financial reforms requested by the international community.

The National / YL