By Diana Moukalled*
There was a refreshing feeling among Lebanese Christians upon the visit to Beirut of the right-wing candidate for the French presidency, Marine Le Pen. Spiritual and political leaders flocked to meet her, and media and social networking sites welcomed the rising star of the right-wing in France, who wants to stop immigration, exit the euro, tax companies that employ foreigners, and revoke the citizenship of French people with dual nationality.
Le Pen landed in Beirut after Western capitals were reserved about welcoming her, particularly given her populist agenda based on anti-globalization and conservative socioeconomic policies.
“We have a special feeling toward Lebanon,” said Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie, founder of the right-wing National Front party. He has spoken of “ideological and political parallels with Lebanese Christians,” saying the National Front has close ties with them from the time of Lebanon’s civil war.
It seems this visit by a French presidential candidate will not be the last, although Lebanon does not have more than 20,000 citizens and residents who are eligible to vote in France. Yet such a visit is important to the French right-wing as it is a suitable introduction to Middle East Christians and radical Islam, topics that became popular after last year’s bloody attacks in France.
Lebanon carries an added value as the best place to discuss the Syrian crisis and Syrian refugees, particularly as Le Pen’s views on refugees chime with those of President Michel Aoun, who is against receiving refugees and wants to force them to return to their country. Is Le Pen teaching Lebanese officials how to deal with foreigners in their own country? As if Lebanon, with its history of tightening policies against refugees, needs such lessons.
While Lebanon has more than 1 million Syrian refugees and over half a million Palestinian refugees, a part of Lebanese society does not need Le Pen to have xenophobic ideas, as they are strongly exercised by officials who were able to impose curfews on workers and refugees at night and prevent them from working in certain professions. These are only some examples of hostile political rhetoric.
Lebanese, happy with the visit of Le Pen or any Western right-wing leader, do not want to admit that none of these leaders can identify a policy to protect the Orient’s Christians, or protect anyone for that matter. They excel at rushing to exploit the issue of minorities for domestic reasons only, and Le Pen is at the forefront of that. Reviewing the experiences of the right-wing, which is expanding in Europe and the US, shows the failure of these ideas.
*Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. She can be reached on Twitter @dianamoukalled.