BEIRUT: Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese drivers were jammed on the roads Friday while heading to work, as preparations by the Lebanese Army for next week’s Independence Day parade devolved into mayhem. Traffic was so bad that a plane departed from Beirut and reached Greece before one official arrived in Baabda from Jounieh. “A fellow lawyer and [friend] was at the [Beirut] airport when I left the house in Jounieh toward Baabda. He reached Greece and I am still here,” tweeted the Marada Movement's media spokesperson Sleiman Frangieh.
Several drivers interviewed by local television stations lamented that they had been sitting in traffic for nearly two hours to make the roughly 20-kilometer trip from Jounieh to Beirut.
Some estimates put the number of cars on the road during the blockage at 400,000. A cloud of smog hovered over the capital.
One video circulating on social media showed a young man getting a haircut outside his car in traffic.
The congestion didn’t lead to just fun and games, however. Another post reported that a woman went into labor while she was stuck in traffic, with the Internal Security Forces confirming the incident.
“She was yelling and screaming in pain, so a policeman rushed over and opened the road. When her husband arrived, the policeman remained close to the vehicle, until the car was out of traffic,” an ISF source said.
The Army’s leadership apologized for the traffic in a statement shared on Twitter, asking for citizens’ “understanding.”
An Army source told The Daily Star that the roads had been closed at 6:30 a.m. and that the drills lasted until 11:30 a.m.
Following the outcry over the traffic, the Army amended its schedule so that additional exercises were postponed until Saturday and Tuesday, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The exercises are in preparation for Independence Day celebrations set to take place on Nov. 22.
The Army source also noted that the Army had released a statement on the matter earlier this week warning which roads would be closed.
The source suggested drivers therefore bore some responsibility for using those roads anyway.
“We do this every year, it’s not a new thing to the Lebanese people,” the source said.
But the source acknowledged that closing the main entrances to Beirut was certain to aggravate traffic regardless of precautions drivers could have taken.
In addition to the vitriol it incited among everyday residents, the traffic caused a large outpouring of anger from lawmakers.
“This is all that was missing [in our lives] ... and because of preparations for Independence Day!?!?? We appeal to Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and the security forces to move immediately to ‘free’ citizens [from the traffic],” MP Elias Hankash tweeted.
MP Paula Yacoubian called on Army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun to cancel the exercises.
“Enough humiliation and insults to the people,” she tweeted.
This article was amended on Saturday, November 17 2018
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Marada Movement media spokesperson Sleiman Frangieh as the leader of the Marada Movement, who shares the same name. The Daily Star regrets this error.