Interview à Time Out Beirut - avril 2010
Why did you choose to go into diplomacy ?
I started reading the newspaper Le Monde everyday when I was 12-years-old – no really, it’s true ! I was always interested in politics. Later, I studied Political Science and Arabic in Paris. And you know,when you study political science and foreign languages, especially Arabic, logically, you are interested in diplomacy. Also, I was raised in Africa while my father was working in the cultural sector of the diplomatic service – that experience gave me a kind of openness to the outside world.
You were also the French Ambassador to South Africa from 2006 to 2009. How does that experience compare to your time here in Lebanon ?
Well, most of my career has been dedicated to this area [the Middle East]. My first assignment was in Abu Dhabi. I worked in the Sultanate of Oman for awhile. Later I joined the French Service and my work was concentrated in Jerusalem. So in a way, being appointed Ambassador to Lebanon was going back to my professional roots. But South Africa was fantastic because it’s an emerging country. Everyone knows about France in Lebanon, but in South Africa, France is not very well known – so it was challenging, but quite an interesting assignment. I was raised in Western Africa, in Burkina Faso and Mauritania, which have nothing to do with South Africa, but it was still Africa and it was nice to be back.
And now you’re back in the region of your ‘professional roots’. What do you love most about living in Lebanon ?
The Lebanese. You know what happened to me recently [the Ambassador’s wife, Maria Sanchez Pietton, was a passenger on the Ethopian Airlines flight that tragically crashed in January], and I have to say that I found a lot of sympathy, support and genuine human warmth, which is something you don’t find everywhere. The second thing would be the weather, definitely. Unfortunately, I work too much to really enjoy a normal life in Lebanon. I would love to go out in Gemmayzeh every night. I would love to go to Hamra more often. But I work, I have social obligations and I have to think about security.
So what would you do if you had a day free of work and obligations ?
I’d like to go skiing and hiking in the mountains. Also, something I love to do in Paris – and it’s possible in Beirut – is just to sit at the terrace of a café, look at the people walking on the pavement, and read a newspaper… oh, and smoke shisha !
Beirut was once touted as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’, and now tourism is picking up again. Do you think that the city is on its way to reclaiming that title ?
I think so. As you said, the number of visitors to Lebanon is increasing which shows that people have confidence that the situation here is
stable enough to come back, spend holidays and remain in Lebanon. When you look at the real estate sector, it’s amazing to see how
Beirut is growing – maybe a little bit too quickly – and part of that is related to how attractive Beirut is in the eyes of many tourists, particularly Arab tourists.
Why do you think that is ?
People are coming to Lebanon to breathe some fresh air, because there’s an interesting mix of cultures – it’s an Arab capital, definitely, but there are also a lot of things here that you can find in Europe and even the US. If you live in the Gulf countries you don’t have to go as far as Paris or New York – you can just come to Beirut. Almost everyone speaks English, everyone speaks Arabic and you have a level of services that is quite high by international standards. The Lebanese are a cosmopolitan people, accustomed to interacting with foreigners. It’s an open society and it has to remain that way. If the situation changed, it wouldn’t be Lebanon anymore. But that’s not the case – Lebanon is still an attractive and vibrant place.