Our PRIO (International Peace Research Institute of Oslo) lecture today focused on what role civil society can play in peacebuilding, primarily in post-conflict settings and preventing the recurrence of violence.
Throughout the lecture, I thought strenuously about how to tie civil society to Lebanon's political instability, and what positive role it could play in mitigating the potential/effects of conflict in the country.
I have commented on the emergence of a civil society in Lebanon before, but it is something that has gone largely unnoticed by many analysts, including the researchers at PRIO.
Admittedly, civil society in Lebanon is a development-in-progress, thus difficult to measure in terms of influence. However, the question needs to be asked: can civil society in Lebanon gel the country together and prevent a recurrence of violence?
I have had private discussions with other Lebanese on this issue - many of whom I would consider within this civil society rationale - and most concede that civil society in Lebanon is still too small, too insignificant, and too new to be able to effect change.
Indeed, this may be so, but the workings of a new civil society in a country that previously never had an independent arena for critical voices and opinions would take years to solidify, perhaps decades.
Nevertheless, civil society in Lebanon has propelled since the Syrian withdrawal in 2005 and endured four years of heightened political tension and a war with Israel. Whilst local hegemons and regional powers were playing chess with Lebanon's political institutions, social movements emerged as a backlash to the prevailing situation. Such movements promoted the core daily issues confronting Lebanese that simply lost its significance amidst the political wranglings of corrupt warlords, and their grand causes.
Women's rights, GLBT, human rights, and environmental groups, as well as independent academic discourse/citizen journalism, have coalesced in recent years to create an independent space for free critical thought on contemporary Lebanese society and politics.
This development is not intentional, but rather incidental. In Lebanon's case, the emergence of civil society is a consequence of years of frustration at the lack of progress on the political and economic level, and highlights a disconnect between the elites that demand our loyalty and a society moving in a different direction.
Indeed, the majority of Lebanese remain in the grasp of their local chieftain, but even the smallest chip away from this reality is worthy of mention and, more importantly, nurture. Lebanese civil society presents an alternative to the sectarian, tribal, hedonistic culture that has dominated - and destroyed - Lebanon since independence.
Now the question is: how to shift this alternative into the mainstream?