On the 6th of August, French President Emmanuel Macron became the first Western leader to visit Beirut following the massive blast that killed at least 190 people and wounded thousands more. During his visit, the French President promised direct emergency aid, but warned the country’s leaders that there would be no international aid without reforms, giving them until the end of the month to start a reset of the political system.
The Lebanese Government, on their part, resigned less than a week after the explosion. Many members of civil society have accused the Lebanon’s elite of mismanagement and corruption, which they believe led to the explosion. Meanwhile, the country’s long-term political, social and, health crises have been further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that the French public is generally split over Macron’s visit to Beirut. Indeed, while a strong plurality (37%) of respondents approve of the President’s intervention in Beirut, a significant proportion (28%) disapprove, and 26% neither approve nor disapprove.
Support for Macron’s intervention varies depending on political allegiance. Those who voted for Macron in the second round of the 2017 Presidential election are significantly more likely (55%) to approve of his intervention than those who voted for Le Pen (24%). Meanwhile, 16% of those who voted for Macron disapprove, compared to 45% of those who voted for Le Pen.
Macron is set to return to Beirut tonight, for the second time since the explosion, to chart a new political plan to lift the country out of its multiple crises. Macron’s second visit comes as Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany, Mustapha Adib, received support from senior Sunni politicians to become the country’s next Prime Minister and is now tasked with forming a new government. Nevertheless, Adib’s nomination has been denounced by members of the public as yet another attempt to maintain the ruling class in power.
Our research indicates that the French public is overall opposed (48%) to France playing an active role in the governance of Lebanon. On the other hand, only 22% of French respondents would support the country playing an active role in Lebanon, while a significant plurality (31%) do not know whether they would support or oppose French involvement in Lebanese affairs.
Respondents who voted for Macron in the second round of the Presidential elections are particularly divided over the question, with 38% of them opposing French involvement and 31% supporting it. By contrast, two thirds (67%) of those who voted for Le Pen are against French involvement in Lebanon, compared to just 13% who would be in favour.
France’s political ties with Lebanon date back to the aftermath of the First World War, when Paris was handed a mandate to administer the infrastructure of the country. During his first visit, however, the French President insisted that Lebanon’s reforms were not a “French solution” but a “new political order.”
Overall, despite the historical ties between France and Lebanon, our research suggests that the French public is divided over the future direction of the relationship: while slightly over a third approve of Macron’s intervention in Beirut, nearly half would oppose the French Government playing an active role in the governance of Lebanon.