Here is an example of a Western power directly intervening to spread the tyrannical rule of Saudi Arabia over other Arab countries, writes As`ad AbuKhalil.
By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News
The most recent Lebanese crisis with Saudi Arabia has ostensibly been resolved in the wake of a diplomatic intervention by French President Emmanuel Macron. It is not a coincidence that this occurred on the eve of Macron’s trip to Saudi Arabia where he was willing to bestow political and diplomatic legitimacy on the disgraced Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS). Macron was the first Western leader to meet with MbS after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Macron secured bilateral political deals with both Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. He promised to urge MbS to soften his stance on Lebanon and to end the diplomatic boycott, in return for the resignation of George Kordahi, the Lebanese minister of information who offended the Saudi government when he described, in remarks made before he assumed his post , the Yemeni war as “pointless.”
With Saudi Arabia, the French deal was less clear, or more secretive. Macron evidently had secured certain concessions from the crown prince prior to his arrival in Saudi Arabia. Most likely, Macron was promised a series of arms purchases and investment in return for Macron’s visit, which was highly promoted in Saudi regime media.
France has always regarded Lebanon as its backyard or vassal. France colonized Lebanon after WWI and only left in 1943 after the U.K. sponsored a Lebanese independence movement. (French troops would not leave Lebanon for three more years). A segment of the Francophone Lebanese establishment (including the Maronite patriarchate) identified with France and supported its colonization.
Colonization by Another Name
French colonization was not officially called “colonization” because the League of Nations — in a racist classification — distinguished between colonization of backward people (as in Africa) and a mandate over less backward natives who needed Western guidance before they were left to manage their own affairs.
Indeed, there are Lebanese who still speak glowingly of the French mandate era because they regard Lebanon as belonging to the West and not to its own Arab region. Conflict over Lebanese identity has split the country since before independence. As a result, France continues to enjoy good approval ratings among the Lebanese — especially if you compare it with the U.S. standing in Lebanon.
Macron took a personal interest in Lebanon after the Beirut blast in August 2020. A man who was denied glory and acclaim in his own homeland found a country in which he could play the hero. Relying on the automatic support of those Westernized Lebanese elite who are willing to chant for any visiting Western head of state, Macron flew to Lebanon at the time and summoned all political leaders to meet with him (even the head of Hizbullah’s parliamentary bloc, Muhammad Ra`d, attended).
French Ultimatum in Former Colony
Macron was aware that the bulk of the Lebanese ruling class consists of men who are subservient to Western and Gulf powers, and that they have a long record of serving Western interests. He did not want to harm the interests of people like Walid Jumblat, Amin Gemayyel, Saad Hariri and Najib Miqati, among others, and offered a vague plan which would satisfy the IMF vision for Lebanon. Macron then issued an ultimatum for the formation of a new cabinet.
He extended his ultimatum later but nothing happened. Lebanese internal squabbles and Saudi and U.S. sabotage in Lebanon undermined any potential for understanding. The U.S. and Gulf despots insisted on the exclusion of Hizbullah from the political process. However, according to the last election, Hizbullah garnered the most votes of any political party and its MP, Muhammad Ra`d, received the most votes among all winning MPs — over 43,000 votes in comparison to 2500 votes by Paula Yacoubian, who is highly promoted by Western and Gulf media.
Meanwhile, nationwide protests died down while the economic situation continued to deteriorate: people have become too helpless and live in a state of despair. Hope is a precious commodity in Lebanon — a country often associated with joie de vivre.
But the recent crisis which followed the statement by Qordahi, the minister of information, was more acute and threatened to sink Lebanon further into the abyss. Macron realized he would be able to hold sway in Riyadh because his visit was highly valued by a man, MbS, who feared Western disregard of his person in the wake of his crimes and wars.
Joe Biden has continued to send envoys to see MbS, but the U.S. president would not speak to him on the phone, and banned a photo-op when National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with him recently. Essentially, the U.S. has been willing to look the other way because it has its own financial interests in the Gulf.
What Macron Achieved
Yet Macron wound up in the end exposing this hypocrisy of Western policies in the Middle East.
First, his visit to the Gulf summarized the principles of Western foreign policies in the region, namely, that profit supersedes any lofty ideal, no matter how historic. The ideals of the French Revolution can be easily buried under Gulf orders for French, British or American arms.
Gulf despots know full well this weakness of Western leaders and have operated according to their understanding of Western priorities for decades. Macron feigned outrage after MbS ordered the arrest and beating of Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, in the fall of 2017, and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi a year later.
The French president was willing to rehabilitate the Saudi crown prince in return for financial benefit during a tough presidential contest in France. Macron has been desperately trying to draw to his camp supporters of the Islamophobic racist right.
The French far right has been gaining in respectability and the land of the French Revolution has become quite unabashed in its hostility to Islam and Muslims. A country that preaches democracy at home and showed it is closely aligned with the worst despots in the Middle East and beyond; a country that historically relaxed its secularism standards in favor of Catholic schools, suddenly discovered that its secularism is being threatened by Muslims and by Islam.
Role of the Lebanese Billionaire
Macron’s intervention to end the Lebanese crisis was also at the behest of the Lebanese prime minister and billionaire, Najib Miqati.
Miqati is a typical representative of the corrupt Lebanese political class. Here is a man who made his fortune in Syria through an alliance with the regime there, but who was willing to switch sides after 2005 and become a lynchpin in U.S. plans in Lebanon. He is a man who was nominated by Hizbullah to become prime minister in 2005 but quickly became a tool of Western powers.
It is easy for Western governments to control and own Arab billionaires because they threaten them with sanctions and of freezing of assets if they don’t follow orders. Macron was thus helping a tool of Western powers by ending Miqati’s boycott by Saudi Arabia, which never forgave him for his past alliance with Hizbullah.
The deal that Macron reached with MbS allowed for the Saudi government to welcome Miqati in Riyadh, and MbS agreed for the first time ever to speak to him on the phone. Aaccording to Saudi media, Miqati expressed thanks to the Saudi government for its “great efforts” in helping Lebanon—while Saudi Arabia has been boycotting Lebanon for years and imposing various boycotts and sanctions against it.
France has thus established a dangerous precedent for Lebanon and other countries, namely, that Western powers are willing to support Saudi blackmail of poorer Arab nations provided the Saudi government signs more orders for exorbitant arms deals. The essence of Macron’s intervention in Lebanon last week was basically that Lebanon would adhere to Saudi demands that no Lebanese government official would dare criticize Saudi wars or policies in the region.
Macron essentially told the Lebanese people that they should sacrifice their freedom of speech (which in Lebanon, despite the corrupt political system and dysfunctional and deformed democratic system is less restricted than in all Arab countries) in order to appease Gulf despots.
Here is an example of Western powers directly intervening to spread the tyrannical rule of Saudi Arabia over other Arab countries — all in return for selling more arms.
The notion that the West ever cared about democracy or freedom in the Arab world is a figment of Western propaganda which is met with ridicule and dismissal by Arabs. The Arab people know full well that the West favors tyrannical rule because it serves western political and economic interests.
They know that the C.I.A. overthrowing Mosaddeq in Iran in 1953 was but one of may examples in which Western powers aborted, obstructed or reversed democratization in the region. Macron’s most recent diplomatic initiative was basically to provide a lifeline to a dangerous despot, while telling the Lebanese people that the value of freedom of speech is highly overrated.
As`ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002) and The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.