Lebanon: President’s Barren Tour of West Africa

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A man rest near a poster of Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman (C) and Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara (R) near the presidential palace in Abidjan 15 March 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Luc Gnago)

By: Ghassan Saoud

Published Saturday, March 23, 2013

If you had expected anything substantive to come out of President Suleiman’s historic trip to West Africa – where large numbers of Lebanese have lived and worked for decades – you would be sorely disappointed. It was all pomp and circumstance, with little to show for in the end.

On the plane carrying the president, his wife, and their entourage, Suleiman sat like a statue at the front of the plane hardly uttering a word, much less changing his characteristically vacant expression.

It was clear from the seven-day trip that the president’s relationship with the accompanying ministers is far from normal. Only on a couple of occasions could Suleiman be seen talking with them, despite the fact that Lebanon is facing critical economic, political, and security problems.

He brought several of his close advisors to keep him company, one of them giving him Wikipedia-style introductions to each country they were about to visit, while the head of his media office made sure that the team of journalists on board did not capture any out-of-character images of the president.

In a quick visit to Senegal, Suleiman met with a clerical delegation in the morning and, after receiving a medal from the the Senegalese president, he and his wife hopped on a boat to visit Gorée Island, which once served as a major outpost for the slave trade.

Ironically, one of the president’s favorite Lebanese TV stations was interviewing someone at the time who kept using the term “abeed,” which means slave in Arabic, to refer to Africans. There was no protest from the journalist.

In the Ivory Coast, the president was received by schoolchildren waving Lebanese flags along his motorcade’s route to the hotel. The local Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, whose members are estimated to control 40 percent of the country’s economy, covered the delegation’s room and board.

For his part, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara turned a new page with Suleiman, putting behind him the fact that Lebanon’s ambassador had openly sided with his opponent during the country’s controversial 2011 presidential elections.

For some strange reason, after receiving a medal from Ouattara, the Lebanese president reciprocated by granting his counterpart – and his wife! – Lebanon’s medal of achievement.

He indulged the local community with his pat centrist speeches, declaring that Lebanon cannot and will not become a passage for weapons and fighters to Syria and advising them to preserve the peace in their host countries.

In Ghana, he promised the Lebanese there “a modern and democratic electoral law,” and repeated calls for “a dialogue between civilizations.”

The first lady did not miss her chance to make a statement to the media. After Ghanaian children welcomed her with a dance, she declared that “Ghana’s children are Lebanon’s children.”

No such honors were exchanged on the tour’s last stop in Lagos, Nigeria, but it was made up for when Lebanese businessman Gilbert Shaghoury gave Suleiman a tour of his man-made peninsula project, situated on reclaimed land from the sea.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Our president is an utter and complete joke. What a shameful and deceiptful character!

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