BEIRUT, Aug 31 (Reuters) - The French president will start his visit to Beirut on Monday by meeting Fairouz, one of the Arab world’s most famed singers whose haunting voice has been Lebanon’s soundtrack from its glamorous heyday through its conflicts and its latest trauma.
The enigmatic 85-year-old, who rarely speaks publicly but whose lyrics fill the airwaves from Rabat to Baghdad, is feted as a national treasure and symbol of peace, transcending factional and sectarian divides in Lebanon and beyond.
President Emmanuel Macron will meet Fairouz at her home after arriving in Beirut for the second time in less than a month to push Lebanon’s fractious politicians to tackle the nation’s worst economic crisis, which was compounded by a devastating port explosion this month.
Songs by Fairouz dedicated to Beirut played on loop by local broadcasters showing images of the blast and its aftermath.
“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.
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.
Macron is expected 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 a swathe of Beirut shattered by the Aug. 4 explosion.
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. (Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Edmund Blair/Mark Heinrich)
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