Despite frailties, Lebanon has reason to celebrate
Lebanon, a tiny nation squeezed between two powerful antagonists — Syria and Israel — that have caused it more harm than anything else in recent history, marked the golden jubilee of its independence on November 22.
Seventy-five years after France ended its mandate in Lebanon, the Lebanese are still sceptical about their independence. It has been dimmed by an ongoing political crisis that left the country without a functional government for five months, economic slowdown, acute unemployment, staggering public debt and dwindling public services.
For many, there is no reason to celebrate Independence Day.
Young Lebanese seek employment or higher education abroad with the hope of eventually settling in a new country where they can advance professionally and have the minimum conditions for a decent living: housing, uninterrupted electricity supply, clean water, social security, free education, health care, proper transportation and communication. In short, good governance by politicians free of corruption.
In more than seven decades of its so-called independence, Lebanon’s internal affairs, as well as external policies, have been largely influenced, if not dictated, by Arab and foreign powers through local proxies. Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Iran, the United States and France all had their say in how Lebanon should run itself.
Independent Lebanon has also survived calamities that few nations of its size and limited resources could sustain.
A mini civil war in 1958; Israeli incursions and attacks on PLO guerrillas and the Lebanese army in south Lebanon from the late 1960s; a devastating 15-year-long civil war (1975-1990) punctuated by a destructive Israeli invasion in 1982 that left the country in ruins and claimed tens of thousands of victims; costly wars with Israel in 1996 and 2006; long years of Syrian military and political hegemony; and the assassination of top Lebanese politicians, writers and activists in 2005-06.
Independence Day should not be an occasion to air grievances and frustrations only. It is also important to remember that despite all the odds, Lebanon still has a relatively democratic system, a new president every six years and a national army. The little country, which for decades offered a platform for free expression in a region run by dictatorships, played vanguard of the Arabs’ central Palestinian cause and forced the mighty Israeli army to withdraw from its territory without signing peace, deserves its independence.
Having withstood all this is an attestation of Lebanon’s resilience and a testament to the incredible endurance and strength of the Lebanese, who were able to deal with all possible challenges and still excel at home and abroad. Despite their differences, divisions and grievances, the people of Lebanon have stuck with their country in good and bad times with amazing resolve.
For all these reasons, this tiny country, my country, once dubbed the Switzerland of the Middle East, deserves its independence. And despite the many challenges it currently faces, it will once again prevail.