25/09/2009

The French-speaking world seen from Beirut

This year, what is called “la Francophonie” (the organisation of the French-speaking world) launches sport competitions that will be held in Beirut from September 27 to October 6. This 6th edition will bring together 70 French-speaking countries for six sports competitions but also cultural competitions.

In the Mediterranean area as elsewhere, the French language and culture seem to lose ground while they used to have a preponderant role in a region including Maghreb, Lebanon and Syria. Former field of a Franco-British competition, the Mediterranean is today under a certain American influence, which is fatal to the “Francophonie”. However, with its French shops signs and panels and its French-speaking media, the “Francophonie” in Beirut is a concrete concept. Moreover, French is said to be « in a good shape » in the cedars’ country in terms of practice teaching, media and publications.

Nevertheless, what can the “Francophonie” do in the region except being present?

The “village des partenaires des Jeux de la Francophonie”, a platform between economic actors, institutions, associations and artists is based on the theme of sustainable development, a topic which is in tune with current events and the priorities of the Union for the Mediterranean. This concern is not a surprise: in 1991, the French-speaking States had decided to make sustainable development a priority by adopting, in Tunis, an action plan outlining a strategy for environmental cooperation in the French-speaking world. Promoting this imperative in a region where it is absolutely not a priority is to be taken into account.

In addition, in this area, the “Francophonie” has a message to deliver: the promotion of a development based on cultural and linguistic diversity with a vision of culture beyond the purely commercial field or submitted only to the principles of liberalization. In this, the “Francophonie” is a necessary and original voice to be heard today.
At the political level, the “Francophonie” could be an alternative voice from the U.S. and the so called « rogue States ». Indeed, the Summit of Beirut in 2002 had witnessed the emergence of a French-speaking political statement opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq and endorsing « the Arab peace initiative » proposed by Saudi Arabia. The next summits will tell whether the political momentum is confirmed.

The “Francophonie” is also a symbol. It shows that the North and the South might wish to share a common vision and it brings together Christians and Muslims. It transcends geography, religions or economics. If the “Francophonie” suffers from low visibility and a complicated mission, its mere existence provides an important message while globalization is often a synonymous of homogenization.

Finally, the choice of Beirut to organize this French-speaking meeting is a powerful symbol. Showing that the Lebanese capital, pillar of the “Francophonie”, must be reconsidered as a city to come to, is crucial for the country, which is still too often associated only to a war zone. While tourists are returning to Lebanon, the chronic instability of the country is still making the headlines worldwide. La “Francophonie” has made, on the contrary, the bet to show Lebanon under another light and to support it by making Beirut its capital for a few days.

Luce Ricard