If Lebanon is to overcome its political fragility and social fragmentation, longer-term efforts and processes, aimed specifically at building sustainable peace and fostering reconciliation, are needed.
Lebanon is vulnerable to fluctuating regional and international developments, which bear a direct impact on domestic security both in border areas and more centrally. However, the country’s fragmented societal and political fabric, combined with weak state institutions, is not able to buffer these fluctuations. Against a domestic background of intra-Lebanese sectarian animosities and their instrumentalisation by political elites, the EU has joined efforts with UN agencies and national and international NGOs to promote activities aimed more explicitly at strengthening civil peace and reconciliation, based on participatory conflict analysis, and strengthening citizens’ sense of national identity and state capacity for managing social diversity.
To date international engagement has largely prioritised ‘post-conflict recovery’ activities: humanitarian aid, local development, security sector reform and the rule of law, the reconstruction of infrastructure, public administration reform, political stabilisation, and human rights and gender issues. But to be effective, these need to be supplemented with post-conflict prevention and peacebuilding tools geared towards conflict mitigation and analysis, and dialogue and reconciliation. The international community needs to, not only mainstream these throughout the spectrum of development cooperation with Lebanon, but also to deploy them as part of a more explicit approach to peacebuilding. This has been the aim, as outlined below, of the new approach adopted by the EU – the Instrument for Stability (IfS).
Expanding local capacity for civil peace and dialogue: The challenge is to build on existing capacities and foster greater national awareness and momentum for the consolidation of a domestic peace supported by all Lebanese. Efforts to achieve this include: improving participatory conflict-analysis skills; supporting development and implementation of locally-tailored, multi-stakeholder peacebuilding strategies to mitigate tensions in a few pre-selected conflict-prone parts of the country (focusing on youth and providing alternatives to mobilisation along sectarian lines); supporting the establishment of a coherent civil society platform and mechanism for advocacy, agenda-setting and coalition-building on issues related to civil peace, dialogue and reconciliation; and supporting civil society in ‘Track II’ initiatives to complement the National Dialogue, and to broaden the basis for consensus-building on key reform agenda items and peace and reconciliation efforts. This work is implemented in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) through the ‘Strengthening Civil Peace in Lebanon’ project, and involves several national NGOs and relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities.
Reducing sectarian and confessional divides: Existing intra-Lebanese cleavages coupled with intolerant attitudes and mistrust of the ‘other’ can quickly trigger increased instability, and even develop into violent conflict. To tackle these challenges, IfS is currently promoting initiatives in collaboration with UNDP, the Lebanese NGO UMAM D&R and the international NGO Search for Common Ground, in collaboration with relevant ministries such as the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and the Ministry of Social Affairs.
These initiatives include: supporting the development of a collective memory, so as to provide a common reference and stimulate reflection on shared experiences – although not necessarily leading to shared interpretations; integrating peacebuilding into formal and non-formal educational channels; and the use of alternative media, such as children’s TV series, and university magazines and blogs, in order to reduce stereotypes, as well as training for journalists to promote unbiased and conflict-sensitive reporting.
Building consensus among key stakeholders on appropriate mechanisms for addressing the legacy of a violent past: Peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts that have taken place in Lebanon in the past twenty years have largely ignored the legacies of abuse and violence left by various conflicts. The legacy of the 15-year civil war is an important factor in the country’s path to stability, and needs to be openly addressed.
This approach would facilitate a process of healthy self-criticism by all parties involved, and help rebuild trust amongst communities, and between people and state institutions. This includes activities geared towards assessing citizens’ expectations, supporting the formulation of options to ‘deal with the past’, and facilitating consensus building among key parties: eg victims and other NGOs, government and political parties. This work is being promoted along with national and international NGO partners such as the International Centre for Transitional Justice, the Centre Libanais des Droits Humains, the Permanent Peace Movement and L’Association Libanaise pour l’Éducation et la Formation.
There is greater engagement with areas or groups at greater risk, such as marginalised regions and poorer neighbourhoods, where potential factors for instability, tension and grievance are more difficult to address and could quickly escalate. Furthermore, EU humanitarian assistance and relief work in Palestinian refugee camps is now being complemented by greater attention to governance dynamics in the camps, as well as improving the effectiveness of existing mechanisms for Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue – which focus on promoting fundamental socio-economic rights as essential conditions for refugees to live with dignity. The EU is also supporting outreach efforts for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to facilitate greater public understanding of its function and work.