Lebanon’s independence: Reality or dream?
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star
Nov. 21, 2014
BEIRUT: More than 70 years after the French mandate rule ended, the majority of Lebanese are unconvinced that their politically divided country, reeling under the influence of regional and international powers that are using Lebanon as a venue to vie for influence in the region, is really independent.
“Lebanon is certainly not independent,” Sami Nader, a professor of economics and international relations at the Universite St. Joseph, told The Daily Star. “The country has lost the components of its sovereignty – as well as its resilience – as a result of its sectarian system and interference by regional powers in its internal politics.”
This week marks the 71st anniversary of Lebanon’s independence from France and the country faces uncertainty and serious threats to its security and stability as a result of the spillover of the war in Syria into Lebanese territory.
But although French rule ended in 1943, many today would question whether Lebanon, its history marked by sectarian wars and political instability, is really independent, especially given the growing meddling by regional and international powers in its domestic politics.
One question being asked by the Lebanese is: Is a country that fails to elect a president without foreign interference and hold parliamentary elections on time, and whose government is crippled by internal divisions, really independent?
Senior government officials publicly admit that the key to ending the political deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president for nearly six months lies with regional and international powers, citing particularly a long-awaited rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which back opposing sides in the country.
Such a declaration enhances the widely held view that Lebanon does not have the freedom to choose its own president, let alone decide its own destiny, without foreign input.
“The presidential election is a matter of a regional consensus rather than a consensus among the Lebanese,” Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said in a TV interview this week.
In another interview screened on Future TV recently, he said: “The presidential election is a regional and international decision and no one from inside [Lebanon] can decide on it.”
Critics of Hezbollah, both local and foreign, contend that Lebanon cannot be independent and sovereign while the powerful Shiite party maintains its arsenal in defiance of state authority. The March 14 coalition, along with regional and international powers, have repeatedly called for Hezbollah’s disarmament in line with U.N. resolutions and for the Lebanese state to have the sole monopoly over the use of arms.
Ironically, the Lebanese will not be able this week to enjoy official celebrations of Saturday’s independence anniversary in the absence of an elected president, just one of the consequences of the vacuum in the country’s top Christian post.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam, whose half-Muslim, half-Christian government is exercising full executive powers in the absence of the Maronite president, said there would be no celebrations, which usually include a military parade, on Independence Day this year while the country remained without a head of state.
Salam said he refused to hold independence celebrations on behalf of the president.
Celebrations marking Army Day on Aug. 1 were also canceled for the same reason.
The word “independence” rings hollow among ordinary citizens who contend that Lebanon is far from being an independent and sovereign country, given the fact that its long-simmering internal problems, further aggravated by the presence of more than 1 million Syrian refugees and an estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees, have become entangled with the region’s wider conflicts.
“What independence are you talking about when all the major regional and international powers are interfering in Lebanon’s domestic politics and trying to play a role in the election of a president and the Cabinet’s formation?” said Mohammad Najdeh, a grocer in Beirut’s southern suburbs. “After the Syrians withdrew from Lebanon, now we have the Americans, French, Saudis, Iranians and even Israelis jockeying for influence in the country.”
Dr. Bassem Saab, a family physician at the AUB Medical Center, concurred that Lebanon’s independence had been undermined by regional and international powers that use the country to further their own ends.
“I don’t feel Lebanon is really independent because its internal politics is affected by external powers,” he said.
In addition to a power struggle within Lebanon between regional and Western countries, Saab blamed what he called the “absence of a powerful state” as well as the country’s sectarian system, for the lack of genuine independence.
“Unfortunately, Lebanon is a fertile ground for rival politicians who exploit the country’s sectarian system for their benefit by sharing the spoils of power. The politicians’ endemic bickering over influence and government posts is a major hindrance to the creation of a powerful state,” Saab said.
Imad Salamey, political science professor at the Lebanese American University, said Lebanon had never been independent, despite officially gaining independence in 1943. “The country’s domestic politics has always been decided by regional and international powers,” Salamey told The Daily Star. “Lebanon has never truly been independent to decide its own destiny. Lebanon has sought regional and international guarantees for its domestic political arrangement, whether it pertains to the election of a president or its power-sharing formula.”
He added that negotiations were ongoing between the U.S., Iran and to some extent Saudi Arabia, to enable the election of a new president to take place.
Salamey said Lebanon nowadays was linked to the region. “We cannot speak about Lebanon’s independence while Lebanon depends on financial, economic and military support of other countries, like Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and Iran,” he said.
“We are living in a globalized world and a small village. All states are interdependent and interlinked. So what happens in one state affects what happens in another state.
“If there is an economic problem in the U.S., it affects Dubai. The security of the world is also inter-linked. So the stability of one country has implications for the stability of another.”
Despite acknowledging the role of regional and international states in the country’s domestic politics, Salamey said Lebanon today was “better off than when it was under Syrian and Israeli occupation.”
Nader, the USJ professor, said that despite the absence of independence and the popular upheavals currently sweeping across the region, “the good news is that Lebanon still exists and its sectarian coexistence formula has survived unscathed during the sharp political crises that have gripped the country since its independence.”
“Lebanon still maintains its free enterprise system, a private initiative and a vibrant civil society,” said Nader, who is also the director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, a Beirut-based think-tank.
“The Lebanese coexistence formula has proved viable despite all setbacks. Lebanon is more viable than any other country in the Arab region. This is a sign of hope. This formula could be applied in all Arab countries that have been jolted by pro-democracy popular upheavals,” Nader said.
The parliamentary Future bloc, which has blasted Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria, lamented that the independence anniversary this year came amid “critical and harsh circumstances” for the Lebanese, and while the country was without a president.
After its weekly meeting Tuesday, the bloc issued a statement that said: “The bloc sees that genuine independence is [attained] by working to extend the Lebanese state authority and prestige over all its territories without the presence of any other rival authority and by putting an end to violations by outlaws or de facto forces and militias that are still trying to proliferate and expand.”