The report, in 40 pages, coordinated by Professor Antoine Messarra and prepared by a group of 18 researchers, lawyers, journalists, activists and university professors under the umbrella title of Civil Peace Observatory (CPO), in cooperation with Ayia Napa Conference Center (Cyprus), assesses Lebanon’s ability to resist the “recurrence” of civil war.
“The general picture in Lebanon is darker now than it was a year ago”, the report says. Its judgment is based on more than 125 indicators, including sovereignty and social unity, as well as a review of socio-political events occurring between August 2000 and August 2001.
Shortcomings listed as a danger to Lebanon’s stability include the exploitation of the “national unity excuse” by the state to justify repressive behavior, together with the government’s antipathy toward collective gatherings, demonstrations or meetings taking place outside of sectarian communities.
The report highlights government attempts to “confessionalize national problems”, stating that civil society has demonstrated a high level of resistance to such attempts. It noted a dichotomy between the people’s orientation and the will of the state, and constitutional violations perpetrated by the state: “Such practices have substantially eroded the state’s legitimacy”.
The CPO suggested civil peace could be achieved by concentrating on three main themes. First, using the collective memory of the war to heal wounds between groups and combat government repression. Second, promoting peaceful resistance to confessionalism. In so doing Lebanon could free itself from the image of “Lebanon the sidewalk” to “Lebanon the nation”.
The report uses a communique published on the 25th anniversary of the start of the civil war that was signed by more than 60 NGOs under the title “Never again”, to suggest a new social perception of the war.
Also considered in the analysis was Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir’s visit to the Chouf and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s corresponding speech of reconciliation. The report points to this as proof of “the change (in people’s mentality), manifested with courage, open-mindedness and determination”.
The report called the security crackdown that followed Sfeir’s “historic visit” and which targeted opposition youth “an earthquake, which showed that the enforcement of civil peace is harmful to all those who are surviving on discord, both in and outside Lebanon”.
The CPO criticized state aggression against any project involving therapy through collective memory of the war or attempts to commemorate the kidnapped and martyrs of the civil war who “came from different political backgrounds and who belonged to all regions and religions”.
“Some believe that one should forget in order to live happily. This is not true. What we need in Lebanon is a national healing” said one member of the panel, journalist Aline Farah.
Marie Therese Badawi, a sociology professor at University St. Joseph agreed, saying the Lebanese today “are not at a stage of forgetting but at a stage of denial”.
Fadia Kiwan, political science professor at USJ, used the example of Israel to highlight what she believes should occur in Lebanon. She explained how the Israelis have made an industry of their memory, “an industry they use in fund-raising and in drawing the world’s sympathy”.
The report posits that at least three issues have been “placed in a confessional framework: bilateral relations with Syria, the unification of Lebanese University branches, and issues of public liberties”.
Referring to the constant risk involving the “mobilization of some Christian and Muslim volunteers seduced by power and willing to serve this objective”, the report concluded that there will always be people trying to emphasize divergence between communities. The enforcement of a “better-founded civil peace” requires clarification of the concept of confessionalism and the identification of techniques used by some “professional initiators of strife” to create problems.
Social worker Evelyn Messarra complained that public matters are being placed in a sectarian frame to be used for “authoritarian and customized” purposes, while LU professor Victor Kik proffered that the use of religion by political clites is “a generator of wars and civil unrest”.
“We need to look for religious peace as a contribution to enforcing dialogue between cultures, after the collapse of political ideologies in the world, and its replacement by religious ideologies that are used for political purposes,” he said.
The report believes “Lebanon has in the past, and is still, suffering from the fragmentation of the Arab regional security system, mostly due to the marginalization of the Arab League and later of the Camp David agreement. “This is why Lebanon became a hostage to inter-Arab conflicts and a theater for regional battles after 1975”,it said.
The report concludes with recommendations for the creation of lasting civil peace.
Among these are suggested the design of a new electoral law “based on a culture of inclusion”, in addition to reducing the voting age from 21 to 18.
It also mentioned the need for new leadership in order to “change the rules of the political game”, which will therefore create political parties and unions capable of functioning outside hereditary, feudal and confessional considerations.