Beirut explosion: Macron mobbed on shattered streets of Lebanon’s capital

The French president was mobbed when he stepped out of his motorcade and on to the shattered streets.

His security detail made a ring of human steel around him as people beseeched him with their stories and their demands.

Throughout his visit, shouts of revolution bounced off the broken blast-damaged buildings.

If Emmanuel Macron was unaware of how the Lebanese think about their government and the ruling elite, he certainly knows now.

The country is reeling from a massive explosion in its capital’s port. It damaged more than half the city and left countless families homeless.

But this catastrophe – which would devastate any nation – comes at a time of enormous economic and political trauma.

As he walked through the neighbourhood, shaking hands with victims of the disaster as he went, he told me Lebanon needs much more than just supplies of aid.

He said: “So at the same time we build this emergency aid we need a new political initiative. And I’m here to bring help to co-ordinate.

“We will launch a European and international initiative to bring money and help directly to the people. But at the other side we have to launch a new political initiative to change in depth what is today at stake.”

Cynics would be foolish to dismiss this as nothing more than a photo opportunity.

It was in fact a masterclass in global leadership at a time when that is in short supply.

Into the combustible fray of a city grieving and furious, he turned up and appeared to listen – it was a human touch.

At times, his guards lost their footing on the pavements of broken glass. They often looked nervous, unsure of whether the crowd would turn.

But the French leader was unflappable and he did something here that no Lebanese politician would dare to even think – he showed his face.

There was a moment, when despite the pandemic and the proximity of the crowds, he removed the surgical mask he was wearing, so he could talk and appeal to the people more directly promising solidarity and friendship.

But whilst his walkabout was well-received, the gesture will amount to nothing if there is no concrete change.

The people here hope France – Lebanon’s one-time colonial ruler and most supportive Western ally – will soon be able to come up with a lifeline along with the rest of the international community.

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