Above: Chess players from across Lebanon gather in Majdal Anjar to play in the biggest tournament in the history of the Lebanese Chess Federation since its inception in 1965.
Head of the Youth Initiative Association and Coordinator of the Local Prevention Network in Majdal Anjar.
23 November 2021
For the town of Majdal Anjar, 1 August will never be the same again. Where normally the country would mark Lebanese Army Day, commemorating the moment when the country formally took control of its armed forces in 1945 following independence, this year it was the day of the chess tournament.
Chess may not seem at first to be the most likely candidate for preventing violent extremism, and certainly not with members of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Indeed, over the past few years, tensions have been running high between the security forces and the locals of this town and the relationship between the two has been troubled despite many efforts to clear the air.
Five years have passed since the launch of the first local prevention network (LPN) in Majdal Anjar under the sponsorship of the Strong Cities Network (SCN) and in partnership with Majdal Anjar Municipality and the Youth Initiative Association. Countless hours of planning and hard work by all involved have contributed to a robust local prevention network and a strong community standing firmly against violence and extremism.
And yet, despite all their efforts and successes, the need for tangible results and actions on the ground were still needed to reflect the impact of prevention efforts in the town. This is how the idea of organising a chess tournament in Majdal Anjar on the occasion of the Lebanese Army Day was born. We wanted to engage chess players and clubs from all across Lebanon.
Chess has a symbolic value in Majdal Anjar and is a useful tool to counter and prevent violence. This board game, recognised as a sport, has enormous, varied and untold benefits on youth and social development. From developing players’ strategic thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, planning, focus, and sense of judgement, to promoting critical and logical thinking, developing a sense of sportsmanship through overcoming defeats and learning from mistakes, building self-esteem and a sense of empathy, the benefits are vast. When supported through coaching and through discussions with peers, players can discuss problems, find alternative solutions and improve their perseverance and good judgement.
Despite the fact that the local prevention network has organised many activities in the past, this day was particularly challenging. Hundreds of questions were raised: will this tournament be inspiring and generate hope for the youths in the town? Will it succeed in reinforcing the culture of diversity and acceptance of others? Will the participants reflect the sectarian, confessional and regional diversity? Will it meet the expectations of the local community and reflect the various partnerships in the town? What will be the number of the Lebanese Armed Forces’ team in the tournament?
All of the apprehensions faded away on the day.
The team, including local prevention network and SCN members, Majdal Anjar municipal members and the volunteers from the Youth Initiative Association, were all outstanding. An enormous banner welcomed the players and guests at the entrance of the school hall, which was equipped as per the standards of the Lebanese Chess Federation. At 9:00 in the morning, the biggest tournament in the history of the Lebanese Chess Federation since its inception in 1965, was launched. 275 players, both male and female and from various clubs and regions around Lebanon attended. The matches were held according to the Swiss method and led by a team of international referees.
The sheer number and diversity of those in attendance was enormous. Among the almost 1,500 present were players and their family members, residents from Majdal Anjar, spearheaded by the president and members of the municipal council, as well as religious leaders and a large delegation from the Lebanese Armed Forces and members of the Lebanese Chess Federation.
"Chess has a symbolic value in Majdal Anjar and is a useful tool to counter and prevent violence. "
Once the matches were concluded, the results were announced and prizes awarded. Several speeches were made, all highlighting the importance of this achievement. A Lebanese Army representative emphasised that today we are turning over a difficult page in the history of the town and opening a new chapter that is based on building trust, promoting moderation, and combating extremism. He also said that this town represents the heart of Lebanon which embraces diversity.
For his part, Mayor Said Hussien Yassin praised the role played by the SCN in promoting the notion of tolerance, preventing violence, and creating hope for youth in light of the difficult circumstances facing Lebanon. He also stressed the importance of the culture of dialogue and cooperation among the communities of the country, stressing the need to reject all forms of extremism and radicalisation.
Excitement levels were very high among the audience with the announcement of the names of the winners and distribution of prizes. It was a moment of happiness and pride for the members of the LPN and volunteers, and they were all aligned with their messages of hope:
“We have come a long way in a short period of time.”
“Helping someone through difficult times is the first step towards growth.”
“We can be a copy of ourselves when we help others”
“The SCN’s efforts promote stability and civil peace.”
Their talks and wishes came not only as recommendations but also as a roadmap for the local prevention network to pursue its mission relentlessly to safeguard the community.