Lebanon is in ruins. The explosion of the port of Beirut blew the port of its capital, its economy, but also part of its political class. On August 10, a week after the explosion, Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the resignation of his government. A few days earlier, one of his ministers had taken the lead. Manal Abdel Samad, Minister of Information, was the first to hand over her mandate by publishing a letter in which she apologizes to the Lebanese, on behalf of leaders who “failed” in their task. For Point, she returns to the ongoing investigation, the economic crisis and the corruption that plagues her country. She salutes the role of French President Emmanuel Macron, who was the first to stand alongside Lebanon.
Le Point: Where were you at the time of the terrible explosion?
Manal Abdel Samad: I was in my office with my team. I felt an earthquake, then a loud explosion. The false ceilings fell and the windows were blown out. It was a horrible time. The next day, while making my rounds in the districts affected by the explosion and the hospitals to inquire about the health of the wounded, the scene was apocalyptic.
Do we know today what is the cause of it?
All we know is that the double explosion was the result of the detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate confiscated since 2013 and deposited in a warehouse in the port of Beirut.
President Michel Aoun spoke of the track of a missile. Does it seem serious to you?
We must wait for the results of the investigation to judge.
The international investigation is a necessity in order to flush out the criminals.
Why refuse the opening of an international investigation?
It is a controversial question. Some consider that the international investigation takes us away from the truth given our experience in the matter. But, for me, the international investigation is a necessity in order to flush out the criminals and punish them with the most severe penalties.
Some fear that the light will never be shed on this matter. Do you understand these fears?
I understand their fears since the people no longer trust the state. All the more so since investigations carried out following previous crimes have often failed. The President of the Republic has promised to carry out this investigation to the end and to sanction those responsible, whatever their position.
The economic situation in Lebanon was already delicate before this tragedy. How can the country recover?
The sanctions exercised by the international community and the lack of foreign investment in the country have created a financial, economic, social and monetary crisis. We tried to put in place a rescue plan and negotiations with the IMF which were interrupted, then resumed, because of internal disagreements on the estimate of the losses accumulated by Lebanon. We are called upon to speed up the implementation of reforms. Solidarity and mutual aid are our only salvation. Without forgetting the reforms, we must put an end to corruption to stop the leaks.
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In the street, part of the population is demonstrating every day against the leaders. Is the link broken between the Lebanese and their political class?
The Lebanese no longer trust the political class because of its bad governance for years. We will try to restore that confidence if circumstances allow.
We briefly saw all the Lebanese parties, up to Hezbollah, show their willingness to work together. Can this tragedy unite the country?
The links must be re-welded at this time. I said it: it is a great moment of solidarity. Hand in hand, we can get out of this abyss. Let us forget about our faiths and our political affiliations, and help our country to get out of it.
How did you perceive the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron?
France has always been at the side of Lebanon, and the Lebanese consider France as a “tender mother” or “second homeland”. Mr. Macron’s visit the day after the port explosion is very symbolic. He came to tell us that Lebanon is not alone. We thank him, the government will do its best to put in place all the required reforms. We also thank him for the support and compassion that France shows whenever Lebanon finds itself in an impasse. His proposal is sincere. He tried to shake the government to speed up reforms. We are convinced as ministers of the need to establish these reforms. Our heritage is heavy: years of corruption, chaos, patronage, neglect. It is difficult to change this situation overnight, but we will do our best to speed up the implementation of the reforms.
Several voices in France have criticized this visit, believing that it reduced the country to a French protectorate. What do you think ?
On the contrary ! The country that advocates freedom, equality and fraternity cannot contradict itself. France is a friendly country which is always by our side. This is an approach for which we thank France.
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Concretely, what does Lebanon need to recover?
It first needs unity, then the resumption of reforms in key sectors (such as electricity, telecommunications, etc.) to guarantee the return of foreign investment and tourism.
The Covid epidemic further complicates the situation by hitting the tourism sector hard. When will Lebanon be able to once again become this admired country, popular with investors and tourists from all over the world?
Lebanon is known for its culture, its human resources, its wealth, its nature, its tourism and its openness. He needs political and economic stability and solidarity between his sons.