BEIRUT: French President Emmanuel Macron began his trip to Beirut on Monday by visiting Fairouz, one of the Arab world’s most famous singers whose haunting voice has been Lebanon’s soundtrack from its glamorous heyday through its conflicts and latest trauma.
Anger at Lebanon’s political elite over an economic meltdown and this month’s devastating port blast was evident as Macron arrived at the home of the 85-year old artist, feted as a national treasure and symbol of peace, transcending factional and sectarian divides in Lebanon and beyond.
Protesters were seen in live television broadcasts gathered outside, carrying placards reading “No cabinet by, or with, the murderers” and “Don’t be on the wrong side of history!”.
Before stepping inside, Macron acknowledged them with a slight bow. Some were screaming “Adib No”, referring to new prime minister Mustapha Adib who was named by Lebanese leaders on Monday under French pressure.
Macron is visiting Beirut for the second time in less than a month to press for a new government made up of experts untainted by corruption and capable of rooting out graft, waste and negligence as well as rebuilding after the Aug. 4 explosion that wrecked swathes of Beirut, killing 190 people.
Songs by Fairouz dedicated to Beirut played on loop by local broadcasters showing images of the blast and its aftermath.
The enigmatic singer rarely speaks publicly but her lyrics fill the airwaves from Rabat to Baghdad.
“I love you in summer, I love you in winter,” she sings in one of her most famous numbers, released before Lebanon’s descent into its 1975-90 civil war, and when the nation was still famed as the Switzerland of the Middle East, attracting Hollywood idols to its fine restaurants and beaches.
Her songs were listened to across the religious and factional divide, whether Christian, Muslim or Druze, even as they spilled each others’ blood on the streets.
Macron, speaking to reporters after his arrival, said that as Lebanon celebrated its centenary there was an opportunity “to try and draw all the lessons and look forward to the future”.
Fairouz has drawn the admiration of other French presidents. Francois Mitterrand awarded her the Order of Arts and Letters in 1988 and Jacques Chirac handed her the Legion of Honour in 1998.
Another Lebanese singer, Melhem Zein, told Reuters that Macron’s meeting with Fairouz would be a message that “this is the Lebanon we want”.
Fairouz, born Nouhad Haddad, made her first European television appearance in 1975 on a French show. In 1979, her song “Paris, Oh Flower of Freedom” included the words “France, what do I tell you about my wounded country?”
During the civil war, Fairouz toured abroad, holding only one concert inside Lebanon – on a stage that crossed the frontline of the then-divided capital.