INTERVIEW: Political actors must be transparent, held accountable: ex-Lebanon FM Nassif Hitti

BEIRUT: Lebanon finally saw the light on Nov. 22, 1945, almost 25 years after the declaration of Greater Lebanon by Gen. Henri Gouraud.

That same year, it became a founding member of the UN. In 1947, one of its most brilliant politicians, Charles Malek, helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, alongside Rene Cassin, Peng Chung Chang, and John Humphrey, under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s widow, Eleanor.

This golden age has now become a pipe dream in the view of many. The Lebanon of 2020 is nothing less than a failed state, a country that, according to its former Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassif Hitti, “is the least regionally and internationally influential and the most influenced by foreign powers.”

In an exclusive interview with Arab News en Francais, Hitti, a diplomat, academic and former minister of foreign affairs and emigrant, said the date of September 1 certainly has a “sentimental” dimension related to “the importance of the creation of this entity” that became the modern Lebanon.

On the other hand, the Greater Lebanon proclamation centenary comes at a time when Lebanon must be prevented from “sinking like the Titanic.”

He added: “A confrontation with the current authorities is more than necessary today. You have to show will and foresight. These elements are essential in a country where nearly 52 percent of the population lives below the poverty threshold and where, instead of social uplift, there is now social decline.

“We must have the mindset and go for it. To say that we are a country of coexistence is no longer enough. Today everything is politicized. Structural and comprehensive political, economic, and financial reforms are needed and must be initiated. Time is our sworn enemy.”

According to Hitti, a government must be immediately formed, with a plan of action and a roadmap with a clear agenda. “Political actors must be transparent and held accountable.”

What about France’s role in Lebanon, as French President visits Lebanon for the second time in less than two months? Is not the French intervention mainly driven by the historical link that exists between the two countries?

“There is certainly a sentimental dimension. For Paris, we must save this country, a model of coexistence and of unity in diversity.”

However, the strategic importance of Beirut and its stability should not be understated.

“This stability is important, not only for the Middle East, but also for the entire Mediterranean. Lebanon’s deep stability is important for obvious strategic reasons. In case you need reminding, this former head of Lebanese diplomacy (Hitti) resigned as minister of foreign affairs in the wake of an awkward statement made by then Prime Minister Hassan Diab, in response to remarks made by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.”

Le Drian, during a visit to Beirut, had harshly criticized Lebanese officials for their inaction. In response, Diab claimed that Le Drian “lacks information” about the reforms undertaken by his government. Despite the chill cast by this statement, Macron was the first international leader to go to the bedside of Beirut after the massive explosion of Aug. 4 that damaged nearly half of the city.

So, was Paris in a position to prevent Beirut from sinking?

It was, but Hitti said: “We must fulfil our duty. I am very much counting on the role of France. This country is a friend, and a friend is someone who tells you the truth as it is. During my tenure as minister, I was very open to criticism. France can play a supporting role, only if we shoulder our responsibilities.”

How did Hitti perceive Lebanon in 2021? He called for “a new social contract, a drastic reform of the political system, which could put an end to sectarian logic and the reign of tribal leaders.”

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