Macron meets Fairuz, Lebanon’s one symbol of unity
by Pierre Balanian

To mark the centennial of Greater Lebanon, the French president is visiting the country for a second time in a month. As soon as his plane landed, he went to see the singer, the most loved and listened voice in the Arab world. Lebanon’s new prime minister, Mustafa Adib, was also appointed yesterday.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – On the centennial of the birth of Greater Lebanon, which is celebrated today, the country finds itself in a deep economic, political and social morass. The explosions on 4 August at the Port of Beirut caused damage worth US$ 8 billion, which comes on top of a huge state debt and widespread poverty in the population.

Still, the centennial is being used to reimagine Lebanon. Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi has called for a country that practises "active neutrality" so as not to be affected by tensions in the Middle East. President Michel Aoun has proposed a "secular" state to bypass confessional divisions. Nabih Berri, speaker of parliament since 1992, also said that he wants to transcend sectarianism in public offices, conscious that Shias are the largest block.

Against this backdrop, French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beirut yesterday. After his visit on 5 August, right after the blasts, he too urged Lebanon to reform. Yesterday, a few hours before his arrival in the country, Mustafa Adib was appointed prime minister. Adib, 48, is a former Lebanese ambassador to Germany.

Lebanon has three symbols: cedars, now on the verge of extinction; the flag, now replaced by banners of hostile factions; and Fairuz, the great diva of the nation and the Arab world.

French President Emmanuel Macron knows this well. He arrived last night and headed straight to her villa.

Fairuz is the "Mother" of all Lebanese, "our ambassador to the stars,” known in the Arab world as "the angelic voice".

She is the most loved and listened to singer in the Arab world. There is no Arab capital, from the Arab world’s far west (Maghrib) to its far east (Mashriq), that does not wake up in the morning to the sound of her voice.

She is the only singer who chose not to flee her country during the worst years of the civil war; through her songs she is the only witness of Lebanon's journey of glory and misery from independence to the present.

She is also the only Arab artist who has never sung for a politician or a monarch. Her songs are for the Creator of the universe, the earth, her homeland, the sky, the mountains; for pained, betrayed, rare love. Fairuz sings the soul of her people and expressed it through her voice.

In a world that wants to appear, impose its own ideas, she stands out for her modesty, her absence from the spotlight, even though she is in everyone's mind, hearts and ears several times a day.

No morning begins without her voice on radio and TV stations; there is no sorrow, war, or bombing without her reassuring promise of "we shall rise again," "we shall return", "there are no prisons capable of holding everyone," "we shall continue with those who remain."

There is no joy without the sound of her voice. Right after the civil war, the country began to rebuild following her concert in Beirut’s bombed out centre. In 2000, in one of her last public appearances, at the Festival of Beiteddine, she was greeted with a 25-minute standing ovation, fireworks and a shower of rose petals.

In Lebanon’s 100 years, Fairuz is the only person who has united all Lebanese: Sunnis, Shiites, Maronites, Druze, Armenians, Melkites, Kurds, Alawites, Orthodox, Protestants.

A faithful Christian, until a few years ago she never missed lending her voice on Good Friday, kneeling at the shrine of Our Lady of Harissa, to glorify the pain of Mary and the death of her Son.

Born as Nouhad Wadie' Haddad in Zuqaq el Blat, a poor Beirut neighbourhood, Fairuz later moved with her family into a single room in a house divided by a courtyard that housed poor Armenian families.

She began her career singing in church, then on state radio, where she met two composers, the Rahbani brothers. She married one of them, Assi, and the trio defined modern Lebanese vocal music: short, cheerful, full of hope. In a few years they took the world by storm.

President Macron spent an hour and 15 minutes with the 85-year-old last night. As he left, he told the journalists waiting for him, he described her as "beautiful and too strong".

“I promised her, as I now tell you, that I shall do everything I can to ensure that the reforms are applied to give Lebanon the best. I promise you I will not abandon you,” the French president said.

"I talked to her about how much she represents Lebanon, the Lebanon we love and that we are all waiting for, about the longing we have,” he added.

Fairuz is a national icon who has always marked the phases of "Lebanon’s renaissance", which took place several times.

Yesterday also saw the country get a new government. Former Lebanese ambassador to Germany, Mustafa Adib, is the new prime minister. Never in the past three decades was a Lebanese government formed in such a record time. Times of changes? Perhaps. The Lebanese hope so.

For her part, Fairuz still brings people together to sing “For Beirut, glory of ashes; for Beirut, the blood of a child carried in her arms; the wounded of my people have made tears blossom from mothers. Beirut you are mine! Hug me.”