Lebanon’s 72nd Independence Day: Protests replace official ceremonies

Thousands of people Sunday took to the streets in separate marches and rallies to mark Lebanon’s 72nd Independence Day after official ceremonies were cancelled for the second consecutive year over the  presidential vacuum
Thousands of people Sunday took to the streets in separate marches and rallies to mark Lebanon’s 72nd Independence Day after official ceremonies were cancelled for the second consecutive year over the presidential vacuum

Protests  organized by several syndical, political and civil society groups replaced  the traditional Independence Day military parade  at Shafiq Wazzan Avenue in Downtown Beirut  on Sunday , which was not held for the second consecutive year due to the continued presidential vacuum as Lebanon broke its   own record of  not having a president for 546 days.

A brief joint statement called for a “modern civilian state that ends corruption and prioritizes the interests of the people,” criticizing the state’s failure to resolve the crisis of abducted servicemen.

Protesters in all the demos  carried banners and  shouted several slogans, ranging from the call for electing a new president to issues such as the protracting garbage crisis, corruption, social security, the rent law and the rights of disabled persons.

The longest march was organized by NGO Offre Joie (Joy of Giving), which took participants from the Baabda Palace in an east Beirut suburb to the Municipality of Beirut in the capital’s central district.

“Our true independence is not just a day on the calendar, it’s a commitment to our country and patriotism… We reject the vacuum hitting state posts,” Melhem Khalaf, president of Offre Joie, told Al-Jadeed.

“We ask politicians to love us and love our country, this is our only message,” Khalaf said, calling on the Lebanese to join the rally at its destination, which is near the Parliament.

Khalaf rejected “the black image that they (politicians) are imposing,” saying, “tomorrow will be better.”

The march, which got underway at 10 am, was attended by clerics, lawyers with the NGO Legal Agenda, members of civil society groups, the Union Coordination Committee, and Makassed Scouts Association.

Participants marched under the slogan “Our Independence is our peace… Our Independence is Our Lebanon,” and only held Lebanese flags. A Lebanese Army marching band also partook in the march.

Separately, hundreds of people also joined a march organized by the We Want Accountability activist group from Beirut’s Mathaf area toward Downtown Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square, holding Lebanese flags and white flowers.

Lawyer Wassef Harakeh vowed at the beginning of the march to “reclaim true meaning of Lebanon’s independence by the resignation of the political elite.”

“We are paying the price of their (politicians’) exploitation.”

We Want Accountability’s most vocal member Nehmat Badreddine complained of what she said was foreign interference in Lebanon’s affairs. “We want to have our own independence away from foreign interference in our political life and economy,” she told Al-Jadeed.

“The only breakthrough for these crises is by staging true and transparent parliamentary elections.”

Several children laid wreaths at the grave of the Unknown Soldier in Mathaf  just before the march got underway.

The rally was joined by the You Stink movement and other civil society groups.

You Stink demanded in a brief statement the establishment of a state with garbage-free streets and a real representation at the people’s Parliament.

“If you (politicians) don’t know how to achieve these demands then leave your seats… we want solutions.”

The statement said that the battle is open with the political rivals. “We will continue to be more present on the streets…expose your corruption…we will dig your garbage because you stink,” the statement concluded.

Another rally organized by the independent coalition of Lebanese labor unions, joined by Change is Coming and the August 29 movement, commenced near the World Bank headquarters in Downtown Beirut at 12 pm and headed toward Martyrs’ Square.

“We [are here to] tell them to go away,” prominent labor union official Hanna Gharib told MTV, referring to politicians.

Omar Deeb, a member of the Change is Coming group, said that “all civil society movements still agree on the main demand regarding the trash crisis, but we joined the independent unions’ rally because our demands intersect.”

The marchers met at 2 pm in Martyrs’ Square for a joint rally where they delivered a statement.

The families of the 25 servicemen being held hostage by Islamist militants on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal denounced celebrations on the occasion of Lebanon’s 72nd Independence Day.

Hussein Youssef, the father of hostage Mohammad Youssef, read a statement emphasizing that independence “will not be achieved as long as the servicemen are being held captive.”

“What independence are we celebrating in the absence of a president, while those who are the vein of the country, the 25 servicemen, are humiliated and suffering,” Youssef said.

“They are dying more and more every day,” he added. “There will be no independence until our sons return… until we have a president and we become a united country.”

The remarks came in a small rally staged near the Grand Serail in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square.

ISIS and the Nusra Front have been holding 25 policemen and soldiers hostage on the outskirts of Lebanon’s northeastern border since August 2014, when the militants briefly overran Arsal.

Marie Khoury, the sister of abducted soldier George Khoury, told MTV that “she isn’t concerned with any crisis in this country as long as George is in captivity.”

She said that some of the hostages are in bad conditions and have developed a fungal skin infection.

Families of Lebanese who went missing during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War also took part in the rallies.

“We are Lebanese citizens and we are saddened by the situation in Lebanon… We are trying to become a part of the civil society movements,” said Wadad Halwani, the head of the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon.

“We are part of this society… and we have our demands.”

Many other civil society movements from across Lebanon joined the big rally in Martyrs’ Square, where tents were erected and flyers were distributed.