Doing politics differently in Lebanon

More than 20 years after the end of the civil war, the main causes of conflict in Lebanon have not yet been fully addressed.

Communities remain divided along partisan and sectarian lines, which has led to frequent armed conflict, political assassinations and governmental paralysis. There are also high levels of inequality and over one-third of the population lives in poverty, many with no access to education, healthcare, security or justice. Yet citizens have little opportunity to improve the situation.

The Syrian civil war and the presence of more than a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon (a country of only four million) is further challenging the precarious stability.

International Alert has been working in Lebanon since 2009 to increase opportunities for more sustainable peace in the country. This includes bringing together the leaders of the youth wings of political parties to discuss peace and conflict issues, and build trust between them. We also help to reduce tensions between Syrian refugees and their host communities, and promote better security provision in the country.

Here, we introduce you to three leaders of the country’s political youth wings, whom we are helping to challenge a history of sectarian division in Lebanon by building bridges across political lines.

"You can sense that people here are tense, especially because they are afraid that there will be a new war," says Leen, from the Progressive Youth Organisation Party. "The political instability and all the problems here are fuelling their fears. You see that there is no social trust between us, between the different sects. When we are raised with such an ideology that we should hang out with people like us, people who are from the same religion, the same area, the same political party, this really affects our daily lives. When you mix, when you blend with other communities and when we get closer to one another, we are building trust and we are reducing the tension between us."

"If you look at the cities now, there are cities that are purely Maronite, or purely Shia, or purely Sunni. So people end up not knowing the other," reflects Nadeem, from the Lebanese Forces Party. "This creates a kind of fear of the unknown. In the dialogue process that we have been part of at International Alert, we can see how the representatives of the parties who sit together come from different communities, different religions, different cities, and year after year we are getting more and more comfortable talking to each other and getting closer as friends and as political party representatives. So sitting with the other and getting to know them is a big step towards a peaceful city, country and region. We are all Lebanese and we all belong to this country."

"After the civil war there was no real reconciliation process at the community level," comments Ayman, from the Democratic Renewal Party. "So people just stopped fighting each other and stopped being in conflict, but there was no real process of reintegration. International Alert enabled us to look more closely at reality. It is like they gave us a magnifying glass to detect real problems, developing skills in exploring and managing differences, listening to ‘the other’, etc. Now when there are struggles in universities [where violent clashes break out between supporters of the different political parties], we know that we can call these people [from the other political parties] to defuse tensions. It is important to take advantage of the lack of conflict to create channels and mechanisms through which people can reach their rights and their aspirations in a cooperative and constructive way."

Find out more about our work in Lebanon and our 'Doing politics differently' project.