I get the feeling that the Lebanese want to shun their Arab roots.
They already have quite a mixed identity; having been under Ottoman rule for 400 years, the French “created” the state, and then the republic, as part of their mandate for Syria following the First World War. They gained independence from the French in 1943, although the French influence is still very present.
The country’s top-ruling positions have to be occupied by people from specific religious groups: for example, the President has to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shi’a Muslim. The religious make-up of the country is diverse.
Add to this the vast numbers of Palestinians who arrived following the creation of Israel, and the subsequent Arab-Israeli wars.
Due to the fifteen year-long civil war, a third of the population was wounded, and estimates of fatalities range from 130,000 to 250,000. As a result of this, many Lebanese fled the country, and so other nations’ cultures play a part in the make-up of the country. Brazil has a huge ex-pat Lebanese population.
In the Achrafiyeh district, everybody, it seems, speaks French. And I’m not talking about people having it just as a second-language; I would often hear groups of Lebanese speaking French amongst themselves. Similarly in Hamra, as I sat in a café, English was spoken between friends.
Billboard posters often appear only in English or French, advertising the shops or banks in the language of the country from which they came. A job advertisement in the window of a restaurant only appeared in English.
This was all epitomised when I overheard a conversation in a café. The (Lebanese) waitress was saying to a (Lebanese) customer, in English, that she had the same computer, but that hers was “better” because the keyboard was only in English; there were no Arabic characters.
Whilst the global export of our culture can certainly lead to good things, certain freedoms and rights, above all, I don’t think that other societies should embrace it as whole-heartedly, and packaged, as they seem willing to do.
The photo, above, reads “Beirut” in Arabic. Let’s hope it stays this way for a little while longer.