x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Muted Lebanese independence day as public barred from parade

Cynicism abounds with even the public barred from a parade.

Lebanese army cadets march past a giant national flag during a military parade marking Lebanon's 69th independence day in central Beirut.
Lebanese army cadets march past a giant national flag during a military parade marking Lebanon's 69th independence day in central Beirut.

BEIRUT // There was a parade and a disconnect yesterday as Lebanon celebrated its 69th Independence Day.

The public was barred, but the event marking the end to the French mandate that declared Lebanon an independent state, was shown on television.

The country's telecommunications minister, Nicolas Sehnaoui, did tweet live photos of battalions marching, security officials on horseback and tanks winding down Shafiq Al Wazzan Street in the heart of the city with a banner waving overhead that read "We are bringing you peace".

But the parade did not get many cheers - at least not on the internet. The French, who gained control of Lebanon in the 1920s, were not the last foreign entity to have troops in the country. In 2005, Syria withdrew its troops after a decades-long presence in 2005.

Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000 after years of fighting with Syria and Iranian-backed Hizbollah. Israel continues to occupy a contested area called Shebaa farms in the south.

So cynicism and scepticism, rather than pride and patriotism, often pervaded discussions yesterday.

"Can't we just indulge in a day of shameless patriotism without poisoning the fun with all the debates about how independent we really are?" asked Mustapha Hamoui on his Beirut Spring blog.

"We shouldn't be talking about 'independence', we should be celebrating Lebanon itself. Let's call November 22nd Lebanon's "National Day".

Joanne Nassar wrote on Facebook: "We need to remember and recall every year again and again. Independence was created by political figures and civilians, not by the military."

Lebanon's is currently facing another potential political crisis.

The western-backed March 14 coalition has called for the resignation of the government of prime minister, Najib Mikati, after an assassination last month of general Wissam Al Hassan. Despite saying they would boycott official activities until the government resigns, March 14 politicians made an exception for Independence Day. They marched.

Mr Mikati, whose cabinet majority is held by the pro-Syrian March 8 coalition, returned from an official visit to France to discuss the political crisis with the French president, Francois Hollande, in time for the parade. Despite his previous position that we was willing to resign, Mr Mikati earlier this week signalled he was staying put until a solution is reached with the opposition.

President Michel Suleiman's Independence Day remarks broadcast on Wednesday urged all parties to return the dialogue table without preconditions. "The essence of independence is not to use foreign powers against each other. Let us all head to dialogue with an open heart," he said, "Independence day is an opportunity to reassert our love for Lebanon and our readiness to sacrifice to protect its sovereignty."

Last night a modest crowd of a few hundred headed to Martyrs Square at the city centre to attend a first of its kind parade organised by a group calling itself Beirut Celebrations.

People waved flags and held red white and green balloons as scout groups, and a national circus group made their way down the short street.

Although the effort was new to the city, it didn't keep the sceptics away. "I guess we will all be patriotic for a full 24 hours then go back to 14 and 8 stupidity. Happy Independence Day!" wrote one observer on Twitter.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

This article has been corrected since publication. The pro-Syrian March 8 coalition was originally called the March 18 coalition.