New Partnerships Amid Lebanon’s National Crisis

Above: the Lebanese Local Prevention Networks meet to discuss the implementation of local strategies amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ghida El-Assaad
Project Coordinator,
Strong Cities Network

13 January 2021

On October 17, 2019, Lebanon was rocked by popular protests triggered by the failure of the national government to respond to an unprecedented economic catastrophe. Since then, the country has experienced successive, prolonged crises that show no signs of ending.

The situation on all fronts remains dire. Civil unrest, accompanied by intervals of political vacuum, has led to food shortages, daily road blockages and banking restrictions. The delicate social fabric of the country, exacerbated by the millions of displaced persons who have sought refuge within Lebanon’s borders, has, in the eyes of many, met its limits with the added pressure of the COVID-19 crisis. The closure of small businesses and soaring unemployment rates has threatened many citizens with long-term poverty, deteriorating living conditions and homelessness, while women and youth have been increasingly marginalised.

Recently, the Strong Cities Network (SCN), together with the Local Prevention Networks (LPNs) conducted community perception assessments with local municipalities to evaluate the current crisis, as well as the effectiveness of national and local responses and the role and value of PVE programming. The outcome of these assessments identified a series of increasing and alarming setbacks which could provide ideal fertile ground for extremist groups to polarise communities, incite violence and radicalise and recruit youth. As a result, mayors, municipal members, civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists called for immediate intervention.

To respond to these threats, a call for proposals was launched late last year across Lebanon to scale up PVE initiatives at the local level. The call, developed in partnership with the National PVE Unit and under the patronage of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will allocate small grants to leading municipalities to help them raise awareness, build cohesion and resilience, and respond to urgent community needs. In the process, our aim remains the expansion of the LPN model for multi-stakeholder coordination on PVE to additional municipalities beyond those in Majdal Anjar, Saida and Tripoli.

Above: the Call for Proposals was launched late last year across Lebanon to scale up PVE initiatives at the local level.

In all, 37 municipalities from all Lebanese Governorates engaged with the call, and two municipalities are now in the process of establishing their own LPNs.

Increasingly, CSOs are called upon to fill the gaps vacated by the national government and tend to the basic needs of its citizens. It is hoped therefore that these initiatives can help build concrete cooperation between CSOs and the local authorities, while enabling municipalities to strengthen their abilities to coordinate, deliver and institutionalise local P/CVE strategies and activities.

The solutions and projects proposed by these CSOs have ranged from improving opportunities for socio-economic development through supporting youth skills development, to enhancing critical thinking skills for youth through media literacy trainings and capacity building on hate speech and fake news. Other projects have sought to engage youth and provide them with an active role in their community through human rights, conflict resolution and advocacy education and involve them in artistic, sports and dialogue activities.

“The delicate social fabric of the country, exacerbated by the millions of displaced persons who have sought refuge within Lebanon’s borders, has, in the eyes of many, met its limits with the added pressure of the COVID-19 crisis”

Religious leaders and teachers were also an integral part of the proposals submitted, which included improving religious tolerance and the role of interactive educational methodologies in PVE. The teachers’ toolkit and the religious agenda previously developed by the SCN will also be used by municipalities throughout the implementation period.

Lastly, the launch of a counselling and referral unit in Saida municipality, providing psycho-social support and help for parents concerned about vulnerable children, represents a uniquely promising development. The unit will combine both the knowledge and experience of a team constituted of LPN members as well as teachers and youth who have undergone numerous capacity building trainings and have gained skills in the psycho-social support field. Over the coming six months, the SCN team in partnership with the National PVE Unit and in cooperation with the focal points and LPNs will seek to provide all new partner municipalities with the knowledge and tools needed to identify and respond to early signs of radicalisation.

In the fifteen months of successive crises since the October protests began in 2019, the LPNs have been instrumental providing coordinated responses to the many crises that Lebanon has faced. With the tragedy of the Beirut port blast last August, they rallied to provide emergency relief and support to those most affected. Their success as a model in uniting local government with civil society, public health bodies, the private sector and faith leaders to identify and address community tensions, speaks to their agility and versatility through times of unbearable crisis. The model has since been replicated across the world in other SCN member cities, including in North Macedonia, Kenya and the USA. Their expansion in Lebanon is a resounding endorsement of their value in building stronger communities and, ultimately, stronger cities.

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