Political Activism in Conflict

CEO Dagmar Enkelmann and program director Miriam Younes in conversation with Syrian children in a school in the Bekaa valley CEO Dagmar Enkelmann and program director Miriam Younes in conversation with Syrian children in a school in the Bekaa valley CC BY 3.0, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung

Opening RLS Programme Office Beirut and start of the "Dialogue on Positive Peace"

Modern Lebanese history is characterised by various, violent interstate and intrastate conflicts.In fact, the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) was twofold: it was a conflict between different confessional groups and a proxy war of various states pursuing their own interests. Other examples of violent conflict in Lebanon are the Israeli and Syrian occupations which respectively left an extensive part of the country under Israeli (until 2000) and Syrian (until 2005) control. Thus, it is clear to see that since the end of the Civil War, Lebanon has faced a fragile state of peace that is repeatedly interrupted by new armed conflicts. Most recently, the beginning of the Civil War in neighbouring Syria (2011), has also spurred violent conflict within Lebanon, usually between the state and warring estremist factions on the borders.

On May 22, the new program office of Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, the 21st office of RLS abroad, was opened in Beirut, Lebanon. The official opening included 120 invited guests and welcoming remarks by the Chairwomen of the board of the Stiftung, Dr Dagmar Enkelmann, the Ambassador for Germany in Lebanon, Martin Huth, the Director of the Centre for International Dialogue, Dr Boris Kanzleiter, and RLS-Beirut Program Director, Miriam Younes. The day after the opening, a workshop with activists and representatives of regional civil society took place. As such, the workshop was the kick-off event for the founding of the Rosa Left Forum. Moreover, the RLS’s new program “Dialogue on Positive Peace” will focus on conflict/post-conflict and migration in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq within the upcoming year. The aim of the work is to facilitate a just, emancipatory, and solidary social change through networking, studies, public events, and the support of progressive voices in the region.

Lebanon has a population of 6 million individuals. In the course of the Syrian civil war, Lebanon received an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Additionally, Lebanon hosts roughly 450,000 Palestinian, 40,000 Iraqi, and 2,000 Sudanese refugees, many of which havelived within the country for decades. Moreover, in addition to refugees, Lebanon hosts approximately 200,000 migrant workers. With this, it is easy to see how the high number of refugees and migrants living in Lebanon have put a strain on the country’s scarce resources and have aggravated already existing social and political antagonisms and tensions. This is especially true as the Lebanese state reacted to the old and new non-citizens with a policy of “securitization”: borders were closed, processes for residence and work permits became more difficult to follow, and access to political and social rights were, and continue to be, neglected.

This state of lawlessness applies to the situation of many Lebanese citizens in a weaker form, as well. A laissez-faire-state and a neo-liberal oriented economy, combined with a political system shaped by confessional belonging and with corrupt structures, all contribute to denying large parts of the population access to fundamental social rights. As a consequence, Lebanon has for decades been dominated by social conflicts and struggles. A positive effect of this, however, is a strong and politically active civil society that is committed to these struggles and has grown even stronger over the last years, due to the fact that many Syrian activists have continued their own social and political activism in their Lebanese exile.

The concept of "Positive Peace"

The new “Dialogue on Positive Peace” program in Beirut is focused on taking  a deeper look at social and political struggles, as well as civil society and activist structures and processes, as a basis for conflict prevention. The program’s work in the field of conflict management and peace politics is based on Johan Galtung's, a Norwegian peace researcher’s, concept of “Positive Peace”. The concept focuses on forms of structural violence that have their roots in political, economic, and social conditions and are, other than open personal forms of violence of war and terror, going on indirectly. According to Galtung, structural violence occurs wherever people are deprived of or even denied political and social justice through unequal power and dominance relationships, up to suppression, deprivation of rights, and exploitation. Accordingly, Positive Peace means to give full effect to social justice and equality as well as political and personal freedom of individuals and social groups, especially minorities, including their participation and development.

The kick-off workshop for the future Rosa Left Forum on “Political Activism in Lebanon and Syria Today: Continuity and Change” that took place in the new RLS office on May 23 followed up on these issues in specific. The workshop aimed at analysing the complex situation of topics and struggles from different perspectives and developing alternative visions for a post-conflict social system based on justice and solidarity. Around 30 participants from critical leftist organizations within both the Lebanese civil society and the Syrian exile community discussed political scopes of action for activists in Lebanon and Syria, highlighting concrete examples such as the use of art in conflict situations, gender relations, (un)free journalism, historiography, human rights, gentrification and public space. The workshop started with a statement from MP Kathrin Vogler, who stressed the necessity of using civil means for conflict solution and prevention of violence.

The office opening program also included excursions to downtown Beirut, Tripoli, and the Bekaa Valley. On day one, the delegation from Berlin including Dr Dagmar Enkelmann, Dr Boris Kanzleiter, MP Kathrin Vogler, Head of Department for International Politics of the party DIE LINKE, Andreas Günther, RLS advisor for peace and security politics, Ingar Solty, and the project team had the opportunity to get to know and discuss the devastating consequences of the neoliberal sellout of the historical centre of Beirut, namely corruption, displacement processes, and the shrinking of public space during an extensive alternative guided tour through Beirut downtown.

In Tripoli, Lebanon’s second biggest city, Samer Annous, a Professor of linguistics at Balamand University, guided the delegation and team through the old waterfront of al-Mina, pointing out the signs of past revolutionary activities. Speaking to young activists from Tripoli, it became clear how difficult it is for a traditional Sunni Islam majority in Tripoli to deal with an active leftist scene.

In the Bekaa Valley, the delegation and team visited two informal tent settlements for Syrian refugees and a school for Syrian children. Refugees spoke about their difficulties in securing their daily needs without state support or donations from international program such as the World Food Programme.