Lebanon celebrates independence day amid rising tensions

Lebanese took a day off work on Thursday, 64th anniversary of independence, but with foreign powers hovering over the search for a new president, many Lebanese wonder if they can ever shake off outside intervention.“Nothing shows the bitter reality of independence better than the crisis over the presidency,” said commentator Rafik Khouri, writing in the conservative Beirut newspaper Al Anwar.

Lebanon in its present form began as a French creation in the 1920s and in its troubled history more than a dozen foreign governments have sent troops here, often with, sometimes without the consent of successive Lebanese governments.

Israel has made three major invasions, US troops have intervened twice to prop up governments they liked and Syrian troops underpinned Syrian dominance for most of the period from 1976 until they left on UN orders in 2005.

Other troops have come from Britain, France, Iraq, Italy, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. Many other countries have contributed separately to a UN peace force deployed along the Israeli border since 1978.

On the political scene, intervention has been more subtle and harder to document. But Lebanese politicians have routinely had close ties with one or another foreign power.

During the civil war of 1975 to 1990 many Lebanese and Palestinian militia groups depended for weapons and money on foreign sponsors, turning Lebanon into a theatre of choice for complex proxy wars between regional and global powers.

A small and diverse country wedged between two powerful and mutually hostile neighbours – Israel and Syria, Lebanon has for the last four decades often been the scene of the action when one of the two wanted to strike at the interests of the other.

The country also has to deal with the inescapable geographical fact that Syria controls its access to the Middle East hinterland, giving Damascus the power to make or break a Lebanese economy based on trade and services.

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