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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Lebanon in no mood to celebrate independence day

Despite intense preparations for Lebanon’s 75th anniversary of independence from France, Lebanese find little to celebrate

Members of the Lebanese security forces take part in a military parade for Independence Day celebrations marking 75 years since the end of France's mandate in Lebanon. AFP
Members of the Lebanese security forces take part in a military parade for Independence Day celebrations marking 75 years since the end of France's mandate in Lebanon. AFP

Posters glorifying the army may have sprung up all over the country and ringtones switched to the national anthem, but as Lebanon commemorates the 75th anniversary of independence from France, Lebanese say there is little to celebrate.

In addition to longstanding issues such as a crumbling infrastructure, the highest refugee per capita ratio in the world and rising environmental fears, Lebanon has been without a government for six months as politicians bicker about power-sharing.

Negotiations have reached a new deadlock after Hezbollah demanded representation for its Sunni allies, a request which Prime minister-designate Saad Hariri has rejected.

Without a government, Lebanon cannot implement reforms necessary to access money pledged last April by the international community, threatening to plunge the country into an economic crisis given the country has the third-highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world.

Like many young Lebanese, 29-year-old Abdallah Amhaz, a sales employee in a multinational company, says he’ll enjoy his day off by staying home and ignoring celebrations.

“What’s the use of Independence Day if we can’t take care of ourselves?" he asked. "I’ve heard people my age joke they wish we were still occupied by the French. We’re not even getting anything from the Independence Day show. Only politicians can watch the military parade in person.”

Despite violent protests back in 2015, civil society has been unable to dislodge a ruling elite studded with warlords and their offspring. “Independence Day just reminds that we still have the same problems and the same leaders,” says blogger Gino Raidy.

Several civil society movements have organised a demonstration in central Beirut on Independence Day under the slogan “Our independence from their exploitation”. “It is necessary to admit that there is a governance and management crisis, not just an electricity, a water, or a garbage problem,” the organisers wrote.

Increasing frustrations, preparations for the Independence Day military parade brought traffic to a halt in Beirut last week. Cars were stuck for hours in pouring rain while local news reported that a woman went into labour in her car.

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Considered untainted by the sectarian divisions which plague Lebanese politics, the army remains popular in Lebanon. But even die-hard supporters are exasperated.

Gone are the days when her family would celebrate by gathering to sing patriotic songs and eat a cake shaped like the Lebanese flag, says the sister of a soldier who was killed several years ago in clashes against Salafi armed groups. “We stopped after my brother died, and today we are not happy at all with the current situation. The government needs to let the army do its job," said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of offering such criticism due to her high profile job.

Lebanese authorities remain incapable of reining in Hezbollah's powerful militia, whose military capacities have grown stronger these past few years with its support of Bashar Al Assad in the Syrian civil war, much to the dismay of its Lebanese opponents, who accuse Hezbollah of implementing Iran's agenda in the region.

For many Lebanese, the country is still not truly independent. “Independence is only possible if Lebanon is not a proxy for other countries, whether it is Iran, Saudi Arabia, France, America or Russia,” said a tweet read out loud by an LBC presenter, one of the country’s main TV channels, in answer to the question “What does independence mean?”

In contrast, the 83rd birthday of Lebanon’s much-loved diva Fayrouz, which falls a day before Independence Day, generated a much stronger patriotic response. “She is the real image of Lebanon to come… and of our homeland’s ancestors,” wrote MP Ibrahim Kanaan on Twitter.