Beyond the Ceremonies
Lebanon’s Independence: A Work in Progress
An Independence Day Address by Elie Al-Chaer
November 22, 2005 | Visit:
[Text in PDF]
My Fellow Lebanese,
More than six decades have passed since national independence from the French
was proclaimed. The greatest dream of all Lebanese, to be free and masters of
their own destiny seemed realized on that day.
The attainment of independence on November 22, 1943, remains and will always be
an outstanding landmark in the long history of struggles of our people for
freedom. It was the culmination of centuries of monumental battles against
injustice that first brought down the cruel system of the Ottoman Empire and
secondly the bondage of the French Mandate. Independence was a defining moment:
finally the exploitative systems of imperialism and colonialism came to a
Thus began the life of a new but historic nation called Lebanon and thus we
renewed faith in ourselves to be masters of our own destiny.
As we look back on that day in history, it is important to keep in mind that it
was but the beginning of our march towards true independence and towards
freedom. For our nation has yet to come to grips with its unity, its identity
and its historic purpose.
Over the past sixty years, we have struggled with existential problems ranging
from ideations of regional nationalisms that threatened to efface our Lebanese
identity, to neighborly ravenousness and occupation that ravaged our land and
demolished our political, social and economic infrastructures.
But our nation through the determination and resilience of our people,
victoriously overcame some of these problems. In 2000 we celebrated the
liberation of the South from Israeli troops and earlier this year we celebrated
the liberation of the rest of Lebanon from Syrian military occupation.
Our thoughts at this time turn to all those who sacrificed or dedicated their
lives to the noble cause of liberation and independence, because they will
live-on forever in our hearts and in the memory of all the Lebanese people.
As we do so, it is fitting that we commit ourselves, once again but with even
greater fortitude, to serve our people and country and resolve the remaining
problems that keep us from being unified and truly free.
Let me first congratulate you for our continued progress towards true
independence, for keeping the peace despite the daunting circumstances, and for
respecting the constitutional processes like a truly democratic nation worthy of
However, our independence will remain a work in progress as long as parts of our
land continue to be the subject of conflict with Syria or occupation by Israel
and as long as we continue to struggle with our national identity and historic
Therefore, the next step in our progress towards true independence must be the
formalization of the borders with Syria to be followed by the liberation of any
remaining Lebanese territories under Israeli occupation. Whereas the first step
involves good will negotiations between friendly neighbors, the latter requires
a strategic plan that necessitates among other factors the continued readiness
of a national resistance movement working side-by-side with the Lebanese army
under the civilian command of the Lebanese people.
The time has come for us to move from the narrow sectarian divisions that
plagued our nation over the past thirty years and kept us from becoming one
people, to a national union that we embrace as citizens of one nation. The time
is now for us to start having leaders who agree on a national progressive agenda
and to have national institutions who serve the people regardless of creed,
faith or lack thereof.
Inevitably there will be differences and disagreements between and among
political parties. This is the nature of a democracy. This is especially true in
Lebanon where we have recently recovered our freedom of speech, freedom to
assemble, and begun the process of restoring a free judiciary and independent
But let our differences be based on national political philosophies and not on
segregated sectarian interests. We cannot go on to become one nation if we
continue to frame arguments along sectarian lines and without a unifying
national vision. We cannot be one nation if we fail to come together - as
citizens of one nation rather than followers of many sects - in our national
decisions whether to choose the next president or speaker or prime minister or
to decide the legitimacy of our resistance movement.
It is important for us to resolve our differences in a manner that allows for
continued development of our country. I believe that our politics has to mature
to the point where we can solve our problems without resort to threats of
violence or holding hostage the proper functioning of national institutions.
In a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society like ours, politicians and all others
must eschew postures that can sow the seeds of discord and division.
The unity of our people must always be paramount.
The evolution of the national dialogue was a national necessity to end the war.
It was intended to build trust and create a national ethos of respect and
tolerance, and an atmosphere of harmony and security. Thus it must be pursued on
the belief that all Lebanese have a stake in the future of our country and it
should not serve selfish political interests. Dialogue cannot be switched on and
off at the behest of political expediency.
Equally important is that we Lebanese have broadened and deepened our rights and
freedoms. Today we have one of the most advanced constitutions in the Middle
East that has constructed a modern framework for our citizens to live in
equality and security.
Today we need to define the road we are going to follow in order to strengthen
our democracy, the speed at which we will go and the partners with whom we will
share interests, with reciprocal advantages. We also have to be able to
determine with the requisite flexibility the role of each internal factor in the
process – the state, the public administration, political parties, companies,
organized civil society and so forth.
In this era of globalization, in which every country is a market within a global
market, in which information and the values of a universal culture, and the
norms of western civilization are disseminated without boundaries, those who are
incapable of administrating their market and preserving the values of their
identity, and transforming them into a contribution to the global process, will
become ineffective and eventually obsolete.
The events of 2005 taught us much about ourselves as Lebanese. We understand our
limitations and shortcomings but also our strengths and capabilities much better
than before. Many of us have discovered internal strengths within ourselves that
we never thought existed. We have endured setbacks. At times, our expectations
have surpassed our abilities and, in many cases, our resources. Yet, we have
endeavored to remain focused on the task at hand to build a stronger, freer and
more independent Lebanon.
The resilience and fortitude that makes us what we are today continue to shine
through, diminishing the efforts of those few detractors who only wish to hold
us back. Instead of hate and spite and demonstrations here and there, let us
organize work brigades to build with love houses, factories and playgrounds and
replenish the green nature of our country.
My fellow citizens,
Let us ensure that the Lebanese spirit continues to carry us upwards and
onwards. This is what we should expect of ourselves and this is what we,
together, demand of our government and our leaders: to live up to the Lebanese
It is no longer acceptable to have a government with a narrow vision and a
single approach to all problems, a government that reacts to crises instead of
anticipating them, or a government fragmented by sectarian strife. The Lebanese
people can no longer tolerate to place their lives on hold pending an
international process. Similarly they do not accept that a number of ministers
in their cabinet stand aside, for purely sectarian reasons, while the Lebanese
Prime Minister is under a gratuitous attack by a foreign leader.
The current government in Lebanon must come together and remain resolutely
focused on our national development agenda – one based on wise political
strategy, prudent economic management, and support for the private sector,
inclusive governance and the provision of better infrastructure, social services
and security for all our citizens.
Peace and democracy
It is imperative that the Lebanese government today consolidate peace and the
democratic process. True peace must be based on justice and the balanced sharing
of national revenue. It must also be based on respect for one’s fellow and
tolerance for differences of opinion. Our differences should not be used to
divide or create separation between us. On the contrary, they enrich our common
heritage and strengthen our national identity in a multi-ethnic and cultural
diversity. Therefore, we need to:
1) Promote social solidarity. This must be a priority of the government for it
enriches and strengthens the peace and the national reconciliation process.
2) Setup a time frame to handle the reintegration into society and production of
former soldiers, resistance fighters and prisoners of war and their families.
The same attention should be paid to displaced persons and refugees, who have or
have not yet returned to their home areas and also to handicapped persons.
Peace, national reconciliation, freedom and social stability are essential to
consolidating our democracy.
3) Make sure that there are no prisoners of conscience in Lebanon; that no
citizen is detained for his or her opinions in the country; that everyone is
free to express his or her ideas and make whatever criticisms deemed opportune,
provided the rights of other citizens are not violated.
4) The situation in the country today permits us to envisage the holding of the
next elections with optimism. Prepare the material, institutional and
psychological conditions for these elections to be free, transparent and with a
high level of participation, without any constraints or pressures of any kind.
Parties and coalitions of parties must be able to compete freely and on an equal
footing, in accordance with an equitable law.
Given the severe economic constraints and the tremendous amount of debt, the
current government must work assiduously to enhance our economic fortunes.
Strengthening our independence requires a carefully planned economic plan that
lays the foundations for building a self-sustaining economy based on three key
1) Adjusting our economy to keep abreast with international trends, especially
trade liberalization and a global economy. Privatization, while a possible
remedy to some of our economic ailments, is not a magic bullet and must not be
the only solution to our problems.
2) The present world situation is cause for concern – high budget and balance of
payment deficits among industrialized nations, currency and stock market
volatility, skyrocketing oil prices, diversion of official development
assistance, armed conflicts and terrorism impact on the well-being of many
countries including Lebanon.
3) Drastic changes in weather patterns over the years have resulted in
catastrophic disasters, un-seasonal rainfall and severe droughts around the
world. These natural phenomena and the threat of disease pandemics are having a
severe impact on many economic activities globally and nationally. Appropriate
measures must be taken to counter their effect.
Together, we must usher in a new era of predictability and confidence essential
to new public and private investment and economic growth.
This requires taking the following steps:
1. Maintaining the stability of the national currency and of prices of goods;
2. Rehabilitating all facilities ravaged during the Syrian occupation and
3. Ensuring the recovery of production and increasing the domestic supply of
goods and services.
Chronic monetary instability and high and uncontrolled prices must become a
thing of the past. The government must endeavor to maintain and strengthen
macroeconomic stability and re-launch productive economic activity, heeding the
failings and imperfections of the market, and thereby protecting the purchasing
power of workers’ wages, creating conditions to consolidate and diversify the
financial system and increasing national and foreign private investment
essentially in production.
In addition, the government must strive to create a more just and supportive
society, using taxation policy to promote the redistribution of revenue for the
benefit of the neediest strata.
A balanced and carefully planned program that takes into consideration the
concerns expressed above could be a catalyst for our economy, since it will
permit the free movement of people and goods and involves a great volume of
investments that will open the way for national entrepreneurs and for the
employment of a great deal of manpower, absorbing many people who are now
unemployed. Hundreds of thousands of new jobs will be created, providing new
work opportunities for the youth.
The economy alone is not sufficient to build a modern country. Of particular
importance is the expansion of the social programs to deliver more and better
quality social services. The Lebanese need to see huge investments in education,
health, housing and energy and water sectors.
We need significant reforms in the education system, to make it better suited to
the pressing needs of our medium- and long-term development. For this, we have
to lay the human and material foundations, through the training and further
training of teachers and technical personnel, for producing the administrators
and managers of school establishments.
As a start, I propose the development of a course in national and civic
education that will be uniformly taught in all schools in Lebanon, private and
public, at all curricular levels. This course will educate the students in the
meaning of Lebanese citizenship and prepare them for democracy, ethics in
government and the free market.
We also need to make an extra effort to ensure that, from their earliest school
years, pupils start to familiarize themselves with the new information
technology, and that some of our higher institutes of science and technology and
the universities transform themselves into catalysts of applied scientific
Civic, moral and patriotic education, combined with academic, physical,
technical and vocational training, given from the earliest years until the
completion of education, will guarantee the coming into being of the kind of
Lebanese men and women we need to build a better Lebanon for all.
In addition to education, the government’s great emphasis must be on health.
Both education and health are essential factors in human development and ones
that can contribute to increased wealth and social wellbeing.
In the area of health, we need to train more personnel, so as to provide better
care for the whole population. In order to improve health care nationally, we
need to establish new health centers in the major municipalities, particularly
those remote from the capital. Within a framework of cooperation with the WHO
and other donors and philanthropists, we need to rehabilitate our public
hospitals and refit them with the most modern medical and surgical equipment.
This effort must be accompanied by personnel training, because if these new
units are to function normally we will need a large number of nurses, nursing
assistants, doctors and hospital managers.
Social Security and Retirement Planning
An overhaul of our social security programs is necessary in order to bring about
a comprehensive program that provides retirement income, health care for the
aged, and disability coverage for eligible workers and their dependents. New
policies are needed to ensure that all people have adequate economic and social
protection during unemployment, ill health, maternity, child rearing, widowhood,
disability and old age, by means of contributory and non-contributory schemes
for providing for their basic needs.
For the Lebanese to be productive and lead meaningful lives they must live in
peace and security. The crime situation is cause for concern particularly in
light of the terrorist attacks that took place this year. The government has
been expending more and more resources on the security forces to improve their
crime-fighting capabilities and to maintain law and order in the country. I want
to commend the members of the security forces for the work they have done in
bringing the situation under control. However, we must not be complacent. I urge
the citizens to play their part in the continuing battle against crime and
We need to restore public administration throughout the country.
The power of the central government has been restored in many regions after the
war and the liberation and what is now needed is to expand it to all regions and
to create the indispensable conditions, in material, technical and remunerative
terms to achieve administrative decentralization.
Instances of misuse of resources, mismanagement of resources and corruption must
be weeded out.
I call on the National Assembly to pass a Fiscal Management and Accountability
Act which establishes a modern and comprehensive framework for the
administration of public finances and the reporting on public financial
management. A major aspect of this legislation will be the reaffirmation of the
role of the National Assembly in the budget process. This must be followed by an
Audit Act which will strengthen and give greater autonomy to the Auditor
General’s Office. To complement this program of legislative reform, a number of
associated administrative reforms need to be undertaken. These include the
introduction of an Integrated Financial Management and Accounting System which
lends itself to more efficient and transparent management of public finances.
There are many other measures which the government can introduce to heighten
transparency and accountability. For example, I call for the establishment of an
active Integrity Commission: all top government officials, functionaries and
parliamentarians, including the President and Ministers, must submit their
financial statements to the Integrity Commission.
Master plans need to be drawn up for the modernization and development of our
cities, whose financial, banking, commercial, legal and other institutions can
serve as a springboard or driving force of our development.
Our Role in the World
We have shown the world that the Republic of Lebanon, despite the external
aggression and permanent destabilization to which it was subjected, is a
peaceful country. Today it has relations of friendship and cooperation with
nearly all the countries in the world. We must ensure that we continue to be a
factor for peace and regional stability and world security, and a fair partner
ready to share interests and cooperate on the basis of reciprocal advantages in
building an ever better world for everyone.
The Lessons of History
Our successes in the past are a great source of encouragement to us as we
continue on the path of progress. However, as we move ahead, we must take time
to learn from past mistakes so as to avoid pitfalls that could thwart our growth
and development. At all times we must remember that it was only when our people
were united and free, were they able to overcome difficulties. If we continue to
embrace this legacy and live and work in harmony we will achieve that brighter
In our march onward, we must be careful to create an enlightened environment
that is conducive to the participation of all citizens in the political,
economic and social life of the country. Reforms must allow for more active
participation and inclusiveness of all sections of society. It is this
environment that will contribute to the success of a national dialogue.
The road yet to be traveled after 62 years of independence offers us an
opportunity to shape a future that brings hope for a better Lebanon and a better
life for all Lebanese. It gives us a chance to rekindle in our people that which
is the best. It provides us the possibility to make the best use of our
creativity in service of the public good. It gives us a chance to shape a land
of prosperity for all and harmony among all.
The lessons of the past will serve us well as we shape the future. Let us seek
inspiration from the experiences of our ancestors as we face new challenges
re-building our nation. I am confident that our present generation is imbued
with a similar strength of character and determination to accomplish the lofty
aspirations that excited our people upon attaining independence.
Let us reflect on these opportunities and keep reminding ourselves that the road
traveled so far has not been easy. The road ahead will also present its own
difficulties. But our commitment to place our country and the well-being of our
people above everything else will bring us the success we aspire to.
Long live Lebanon!
Happy Independence Day!