Retrieving the History of Lebanese Dialogue Throughout Twenty Five Years

The Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace (LFPCP) held a seminar in Aya Napa (Cyprus) within its program: ‘Monitoring Civil Peace and Memory in Lebanon’. It was held from October 1-4, 2009 to commemorate twenty five years of the preliminary meetings that were held in 1984 in the Conference Hall in Aya Napa.
The seminar was mainly about: ‘Retrieving the History of Lebanese Dialogue Throughout Twenty-Five Years (1984-2009); Determining Future Prospects to Build General Policies.’
Participants included about fifty activists that have been most loyal and faithful to dialogue since 1984, also those who have been most active in civil society by taking part in other major rounds of dialogue (Montreux meetings, the Lebanese Forum for Dialogue, La Celle-Saint-Cloud meetings, etc.). Participants have also been active in dialogue and research bodies and in communicating with civil society.
The aim of the seminar was to retrieve the missing or rather dispersed history of Lebanese dialogue in order to draw the lessons and deduce methods. The seminar was different than other meetings inasmuch as it focused on the outcome of past Lebanese dialogue rounds to deduce methods that may preserve future memory from the prospect of civil society through dialogue namely Lebanese dialogue since 1975. 
Coordinators of the seminar brought forth the following recommendation to participants: may you enter this seminar as though you were coming from China or from another planet to study the accumulated results of the rounds of dialogue with a new approach aimed at assessing and foreseeing future prospects without repetition. What is there to find through experience? There is no need for fake case studies since the Lebanese have in their experiences since 1975 a lot of cases to study, experiences that have actually happened. Which are the real cases and which ones are the fictive?
The opening session was inaugurated by running Secretary of the Lebanese foundation for Permanent Civil Peace, Lawyer Wasif Harakah. Session moderators were LFPCP Executive Committee members, Marie-Therese Khayr Badawi, PhD, and Lawyer Ibrahim Trabulsi.
Achievements and Future Prospects 

To explain the aims of the seminar a global report about the 1984-2009 years was published. It included the achievements of Lebanese dialogue and efficient dialogue terms based on the concept of pacts, terms of civil peace and memory building, terms of peaceful settlement based on the rule of law. This is in order to deduce future prospects in general policies namely for civil society so as to strengthen permanent civil peace and the constitutive and binding republican values. 
The seminar set off from a presentation of the real conditions during which the LFPCP was founded in Lebanon amidst the war. At the time, a group of Lebanese people from all regions and religious communities started a number of meetings in 1984 breaking barriers in order to protect solidarity and permanent civil peace. The efforts of these people actually did bear their fruit with the setting up of the LFPCP whose aim was to learn from history and not always in history with the repetition of past experiences and their reproduction. 
Since then, the LFPCP held yearly meetings in Aya Napa not because the place is central in cases of conflict and to strengthen the culture of pacts but also to ensure that participants may attend the entire seminar without any professional, social, or external pressure.
Since 1999, the LFPCP found that there was a growing need in Lebanon for a civil peace monitor. It created one during that year and formed a work team who publishes yearly reports as to the state of civil peace in Lebanon – progressions, regressions, or stagnations, all are reported – with summaries of the seminar proceedings as the LFPCP is convinced that no achievements are useful should Lebanon be under the threat of seeing such wars or internecine strife break out again.
The seminar set off from four definitions of dialogue in Lebanon since 1975: Islamo-Christian dialogue, political dialogue, civil society dialogue, and specialized dialogue. This last category was not discussed.
Four parts were published, Memory of National Dialogue, 1975-2009.

Practical and Follow-Up Proposals 

From the papers and debates the following practical and follow-up suggestions were made:

1. Priority to Civil Peace: It was said in one paper: ‘Civil peace in political dialogue has an effective value and is the only factor that should be given priority in the future in order to strengthen it.’ The Belgian example is both good and bad since the disagreement as to the structure of the State whose federal constitution dates back to 1993 did not lead to civil war.
As concerns civil peace, the LFPCP endeavored ever since its foundation to make the concept clear through personal work and through more than one hundred civil peace indicators. Civil peace is used in foreign relations since civil wars are often – as a result of the decrease in the number of direct wars between countries – internecine wars or by proxy and are only in part civil. They are impossible to tackle after some time without regional or international intervention.
The UN envoy to Lebanon during the war, Al-‘Akhdar al-‘Ibrahimi, warned the Iraqi in February 14, 2004 against the ‘Lebanization’ of the conflict. This means that civil war does not really occur unless a part of the people carry guns against the other part by proxy, which is why wars are only an extension of foreign interests that go beyond internal actors and only end with foreign intervention.

2. More Efficient and Straightforward Dialogue : Papers focused on the need for dialogue to correspond to the nature of the Lebanese civil society since one ‘cannot do without dialogue’. The main hurdle to the efficiency of dialogue is that it is used as an ‘internal tactic’. Some participants to the dialogue have ‘preconceived positions’ or are subject to repetition ‘except that people only change to say the same things’. Required progress in Lebanese dialogue lies in the following:
a. A more practical and pragmatic approach: the accumulation of past dialogue means that dialogue in the future ought to be ‘more practical, more pragmatic, taking into account Greek historian Thucidide’s words as to the need for major nations to deal with smaller nations’.
b. Social and economic matters: there is a need to ‘bring political leaders out from their prison by bringing up daily social and economic matters that are of common concern’. There is also a need to ‘reorient public matters politically as was the case of the Fu’ad Butrus National Committee to Draft the Law of Election. 
c. Rejecting the fear of others and using the ‘cards on the table’ policy: matters must be dealt with using the ‘cards on the table’ policy, i.e. ‘in all honesty, transparency, and with due respect since there is nothing to gain unless wounds are heeled’. There is a need for approaches and methods that may ‘break down walls in some places and lead the way out of ideologies’. This is by ‘giving priority to ‘concrete work rather than speeches or declarations. It necessitates reorientation, more focus, more rationality, and more transparency as to what is hidden behind discourses’. This trend is that of revealing the blind spots, the ‘strife-leading points’. As to the persistent refusal of delving into conflict leading matters, it is related to ‘an esoteric attitude, fear of others, compromise, and flattering of some’.
d. Reducing pressure and alienation: ‘Pressure in official representation should be reduced since positions change’. Some participants in dialogue have a weak personality and evade crucial matters, or they carry their mobile phones to constantly make phone calls with their superiors’. There is a need to take into account the fact that ‘political parties are subject to foreign forces’.
As to the Lebanese-Syrian relations there is a need to start off on the basis of general principles that have to be enforced, especially after the opening of an embassy since implementation is ‘something else’. It was suggested that Palestinian-Lebanese dialogue be developed. 
e. Different dialogue: there is a need to ‘produce dialogue that may be different and feasible even in the presence of illegal weapons’. Current circumstances must be taken into consideration, namely ‘diplomacy as a defense strategy that may support a small and weak – or weakened – state that has no expansionist designs, so that this may help its internal security.’ International resolutions namely 1701 ‘created a new situation by deploying the army in the South along side UN forces. A military force lost its legitimacy among part of the Muslims, which made it difficult to lead military operations in the South. The relation with the Lebanese army grew unavoidable’. The main hidden and declared conflict-leading issues are related to security and the awareness of external danger – all external danger. This is security that is not restricted to military matters but rather concerns the memory of the young ones.
What was the outcome of Lebanese dialogue which sometimes occurred within massive mobilization and widespread shows? Dialogue occurred ‘to make time pass’ or to make believe that Lebanon is ‘in permanent civil peace’. The outcome of dialogue is to be seen in three matters: more security – if only momentarily or occasionally; the return of institutions to work; the preservation of Lebanese communication – whereas it was hampered by blockades and barricades and strife-leading ideologies’.
Dialogue based on civil society has led to ‘the strengthening of the legality of pacts, the legality of the Ta’if national agreement , making pacts known, the spread of the culture of pacts, based on the words of President Rashid Karami in 1976 as the 1943 pact was criticized: ‘We endeavor to enrich not annul it’. That participants should meet is important but this meeting requires ‘good will, honesty, and genuine expression of interests. It is also better that they meet than not’.
The outcome as concerns political reform, national and religious balance, and so on, is practically inexistent compared with the cost not because of the content of constitutional texts but because the problem may lie in other elements.
There is a need to be cautious as concerns the content and method of dialogue especially as to the ‘arguments related to constitutional texts that often have undeclared reasons. Political reform cannot be achieved by constitutional texts that remain ineffective. The needed articles ought to be deduced from history for the future’
Islmo-Christian dialogue includes three dimensions: cultural (creed, tradition, knowledge, common images); legal (democratic management of religious plurality); and political (religions contributing to the culture of peace or, on the contrary, to the exploitation of religion in political rivalry).
Particular importance was given to the hurdles to a ‘dialogue culture’ everyone dreams of. The infrastructure of the Lebanese civil society – through examples mentioned in a file handed out to the participants – shows the need for the spread of a dialogue culture through civil associations. In one paper it was said that: ‘The Swiss have given real lessons in conflict management whereas Lebanese politicians are prisoners of some stands’. 
It was suggested that any dialogue in the future should set off from research-oriented cases in order to avoid repetition and useless debate.

3. Pacts and Agreements : More than fourteen official documents prior to the Ta’if Agreement were presented. They did not last for they did not gather regional or international consensus. The following question was raised: ‘Was it by magic that after many rounds of violence or the suspension of institutions that everything was solved?’ One paper said: ‘The truth about the conflict is to be found on an internal level on the one hand then on a regional and international level on the other’.
One participant said: ‘When we cancel something that took a number of years to achieve so that we try something different then we need another ten years at least!’
Different agreements have occurred in a state of ‘race between bloodshed and reaching an agreement. All agreements were reached within these conditions and when they were concluded they became myths’. The Ta’if agreement would not have been concluded had it not been for the regression of the USSR and Palestinian forces. In a glimpse, there was a state of balance and rebellion was put to an end…’. Agreements are related to the presence of a protective and supportive ‘Arab umbrella’. Some participants said: ‘Agreement cannot work under pressure and coercion. Participants in dialogues abroad say: ‘This is not what we had agreed upon!’
Faced with this situation some say about meeting out of Lebanon: ‘I felt somewhat humiliated!’ While others say: ‘I was depressed as if I needed a foreign tutor. We need agreements made in Lebanon. To what extent can we meet without the support of others?’

4. The Game of Words and Concepts : Wars in Lebanon have occurred with weapons but also with words and concepts. An example is the comparative sorting of the Lebanese constitutional system since the eighties as a complex parliamentary system. Those who criticized this sorting in the 1975-2005 years – liberals, reformists, resistance, etc. – turned since 2005 into the fiercest defendants of religious community division based on changes in power and positions, and changes in internal and regional balance of powers.
An unclear definition of terms leads to a ‘lack of trust’ because of discrepancies between what is said and what is never uttered. The same word may have different meanings: Arab, resistant, traitor, etc. ‘whereas pain in itself has the same meaning’! There are terms that have been ‘reiterated’ as though chewed since 1975 in Lebanese dialogue.
There is a need to ‘denounce what lies beneath ideologies’ and delve into the ‘lexicon of Lebanese dialogue’ to make the concepts clear and therefore clarify dialogue as to these concepts not just dialogue about the general title that is used in the consumer market. This is how ‘the meaning of words may lead to the knowing of things’.
Concepts that ought to be clarified are: Opposition, self-defense, parliamentary consultation, etc. We sometimes hear: ‘Self-defense is legitimate’, which practically means resorting to violence, whereas in fact the right for ‘self-defense’ is through given institutions we all adhere to in a binding public space. Some terms are mentioned in dialogue and remain unclear or equivocal since ‘some categories are not pleased with the way the power is allotted so they use unclear speeches without expressing the need to review the prevailing system. This is how ‘domination’ is hidden – one that President Shafiq al-Wazaan always cautioned against. The problem is often about domination under the cover of reform.
What is equivocal as well is conflicting concepts related to the nature of the Lebanese federation, which is personal and not geographic. The solution is sought as though the Lebanese constitutional system were a geographic federation as is the case of Switzerland and Belgium. In fact the solution is different in geographic federations than in personal federations.

5. The Role of Civil Society Supported by Professional Bodies and Unions: What is expected from NGOs in future Lebanese dialogue? Patterns of resistance during the wars since 1975 were presented. Their efficiency was analyzed especially in as much as they kept society together and exerted pressure on the warring parties. Today the situation is different since there is a ‘structural change in the Lebanese sociology with tension aimed projects’. It is noted that ‘discourses aimed at creating clashes are reproduced and no real remedies are brought forth’. The strife days are considered as ‘glorious’.
Economic and professional bodies as well as unions publish condemnation and denunciation statements; they also publish statements where they make ‘wishes’ and ‘nag’. They are not real lobbies that may prevent the ‘crisis from growing due to the lack of trust as a result of illegal weapons’. This is why the following question was asked: Do the Lebanese today need to rewrite of the social contract? Some current instances speak for themselves: namely the refusal by people in Tripoli of terrorism and fighting as they stood by and supported the army. A women’s movement in Ashrafiyyah stood up to a supermarket in the area as to the freedom to sell and buy alcohol.
Case studies about the Lebanese dialogue and stands of NGOs show the following four future prospects: 

6. Retrieving republican values: dialogue especially as of 2005 is mainly about values and principles. In case of disagreement about principles, civil society has a different role not ‘vertically’ but rather ‘horizontally’ in order to prevent ominous danger to all. This is how ‘resistance to the attempt to topple republican values’ is given priority. The term ‘Lebanese unchanged [principles]’ that prevailed throughout the 1975-2005 years is today no longer used. This necessitates programs and projects that may develop public space. An example is the Mathf-Barabir passage during the war years as there was ‘daily dialogue related to life matters in the souk right next to where the fighting took place’. This example was used in from Bosnia where the UN representative found inspiration in this souk experience to set up a grocery souk there. There were major divisions in Bosnia as there was no communication and no unified currency. The souk helped build a bridge. This is how civil society can make breakthroughs to bring people together.

7. Working on culture and mentalities: since 2005, there appears to be people who have attempted to play with instincts, unspoken hatreds through time in order to breed strife and mobilize the crowd. One paper stated that: ‘Within the Lebanese society, there are some who are ready for civil war’. Christian and Muslim education institutions which include great numbers of students can actually pursue the education reform plan efficiently if the public institutions are unable to pursue this reform. ‘Civic education’ and ‘history’ programs that were set up between 1997 and 2001 convey this spirit of change through behaviors and provide remedy to the ‘ills’ of memory. Any political action – without any exception – needs educational fertilization, i.e. needs to be fostered in education to be conveyed through educational means – especially in schools – to the new generation.
The potential of civil society increases if it works as ‘a drop of water that can get through a rock’. NGOs need to have a parallel agenda to that of politicians and need to have a draft agreement parallel to the politicians’ agreement’.
One paper stated: ‘No civil peace is possible without trying to tackle traumas in order to deal with them from within. When one does not have any way out one may find an outlet by causing problems or immigrating! No real work has been done on memory so that we forget or we remember. We have kept our traumas and we reproduce them. No solution can be expected unless we first go through a mourning phase. We are heading to the future with old prejudices. Some work was done in this sense in Berlin. There is a need to approach Lebanese conflicts resolution through psychology. The latter factor may help reveal the link between memory and repetition by turning the page without really reading it well.’ It is therefore clear by rereading Lebanese dialogue papers that there is repetition as though some things were ‘chewed’ and the researcher is bored.

8. Unions and professional bodies retrieving their role: these bodies are a counterbalancing force as to parties that tend to become over powerful and use their monopoly if they no longer represent people’s legitimate interests. There is a need to redefine public interest and legitimate daily needs. The following question was raised: ‘Why is there no dialogue about electricity to rebuild the social contract through resistance and Lebanon that is a country of traders, the country of the phoenix? Here, all thoughts turn to a social strength that may result in a new social fabric helping redefine terms. This is how the society may be strong with the help of economic powers and unions that may exert pressure on political decision-makers. Lebanon is only divided on the ground and not within the Lebanese personality that has been through so much’. For instance, the November 19, 1987 phenomenon’ ‘took off legitimacy from de facto powers’.
It was said that parties are ‘somewhat influenced by other dialogues that take place outside. What was the impact of the Synod for Lebanon on Christian leaders? The general impression is that the impact was weak’. 
The following question was raised: ‘Is security in Lebanon civil or merely political and military? The larger the public spaces the more civil settlement is possible’. A proposal for future dialogue is ‘to build on these experiences’. A question was raised as to the fate of today’s youth especially with the example of ‘Offre Joie’ association. The issue of ‘the core of tension, often poor regions, and the matter of class in civil war’ were brought up. There is a need to face the growing ‘discourse that exploits mental historic images used by some for their own purposes’. Participants highlighted the danger of politicians owing failure to civil society.

Institutions: From Generalities to Application and Know-How

One paper stated: ‘I have never seen anything implemented, which means we need to find a way to implementation’. In studies and analyses about political and constitutional reform, the terms ‘implementation’ and ‘failure to implement’ become a new slogan! One researcher wrote a whole book about the Ta’if Agreement and the Constitution only to conclude about implementation whereas this latter point is as such worthy of interest. One may deduce from Lebanese dialogue since 1975 future practical proposals. 

9. Realistic diagnosis of state institutions: the State cannot be enabled to act should it not have the monopole to be the sole manager of public matters. The subject worthy of being the center of future dialogue is how to support the prevailing state that has international recognition and has the support of UN resolutions. A democratic state is strong by its legitimacy, i.e. by people’s support to it, whereas the states that are strong as such – similarly to some neighboring states – are oppressive and terror-based. Any constitutional system in the world is non governable unless the state has the sole monopoly of managing public matters allowing the society to hold officials accountable for their actions. The issue of weapons ‘gives internal conflict a regional dimension and can be solved only through a regional settlement that may Balkanize Lebanon amidst the regional and international ‘game’ at the expense of the small country. Weapons are an internal actor that politicizes all other matters and hardens positions’. 

10. The Lebanese state with its weaknesses is better than a no-state situation: the danger lies not in Lebanon’s constitutional shape but there is danger for the state itself. There is a need for the ‘Lebanese to recognize their State first, especially that a weak State is better than a no-State situation’. Poet Muhammad Abdallah wrote a book towards the end of 1989 entitled: ‘My Beloved State’. One paper stated: ‘I am a representative but the person I represent does not cooperate with me, so what can I do?’ The following issue was raised: ‘We may no longer have the possibility to ask in the future: Which Lebanon do we want?’ 

11. The strategy of retrieving trust: One paper stated: ‘In the past, we had the hope of building a State and that when the war would stop we would build a State! Today we realize that we are in a stalemate and that we are much less optimistic than we were in the eighties’. 

12. Giving priority to practical daily life matters instead of repetitive debate: One paper stated: ‘People need a government that provides water, electricity, a university that has deans, etc.’

13. Making the principles of the general system known and diffusing them: One of these principles is equality that prevents a mentality of anyone prevailing over others. A paper stated: ‘Equality is a general principle. We need unequivocal stands as to core matters namely Wilayat al Faqih [the authority of a leading jurist as the Leader of society], which is both religious and political. It is irrelevant to the role of the Vatican’.

The seminar has allowed a release from the ‘hic and nunc’. Documentation and analysis of Lebanese dialogue since 197 showed that ‘national dialogue in Lebanon has ended’. It ended with experiences and sufferings as regards the geography of Lebanon and its diversified and unified social fabric, its pact based on equality without any force prevailing over the other. There is a need to avoid ‘full blindness and work to overcome sterile political debate’. We would like to quote the Prophet’s Hadith: ‘Should Allah want what is bad to his people, he will get them into a polemic and prevent them from work’. We need to develop and diffuse the culture that says ‘enough’ and ‘no more’.

14. Dialogue within institutions: Future dialogue is expected to be within institutions and not deal with matters related to the Lebanese being but rather to general policies. The greatest threat is ‘the dictatorship of stalemates that is seen today should there be no renewal’.