On Friday 19 and Saturday 20 May 2017, a workshop entitled Building Civil Peace was held at the Rotana Hotel in Beirut at the initiative of the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue FDCD and sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. It gathered a group of Syrian civil society activists representing the full spectrum of the Syrian society, who discussed possible initiatives which could help the Syrian society suffering from the aftermath of war, to stand on its feet again and move forward.
In his welcome speech during the evening on Thursday May 18, Reverend Dr. Riad Jarjour, Chairman of the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue hailed the efforts of the participating associations working on relief and community actions in various Syrian regions. He commended the passion and courage of Syrian associations inaccomplishing activities that put many lives at risk, based on their belief in the need for the nation to recover, in addition to their desire to launch more initiatives aimed at meeting the observed needs, most of which are related to community support and development on the one hand and forgiveness and reconciliation on the other hand.
Speech of AFSC, the workshop’s sponsor
Ms. Alma Jadallah Abdul Hadi, Middle East Relations Representative at the American Friends Service Committee who joined the group via Skype, conveyed the organization's desire to allow Syrians to debate without setting any prior agenda with specific purposes. She hoped these discussions would lead to projects that aim to achieve civil peace and build on the needs that are identified on the field. She concluded by saying: What happened was a great mistake that destroyed the Syrian civilization, and we stand with you.
The current situation
On the first day, Mr. Tarek Al-Ahmad from Civil Syria Association started by describing the current situation in Syria, explaining that the solution starts by renouncing to the armed struggle and returning to civil life, thus creating job opportunities. In this context, he raised the idea of "productive villages" in war-affected areas which became relatively stable, so that people could return to these villages even before the war ends. The idea is to create a village that provides housing and job opportunities for people, so that they would stop depending on food parcels and become productive again.
Civil society work in Syria
The participants unanimously agreed on saying that the civil society needed a clear vision for its role and size in Syria, so that civil society organizations and bodies are aware of their ability to influence target communities, and that the international community realizes that civil society in Syria does not represent state institutions.
In this context, participants stressed that the role of civil society, which constitutes 70% of the country's relief movement, must be recognized, and that it should be able to carry major issues, such as citizenship and civil peace, to be more effective and participate eventually later on in political activities.
Three challenges facing civic engagement:
1. The Syrian society is a breeding ground for discord because of overcrowded cities and restoring civil peace is an urgent necessity for the persistence of social life.
2. Economic weakness, ignorance and sectarianism are being exploited to ignite war, hence the need for social consensus and not for coexistence.
3. Initiatives cannot be launched on the basis of questionnaires, statistics and figures that require time, so most of them are based on the needs identified through testimonies, the naked eye, the recurrence of a particular phenomenon or perhaps brief questionnaires.
Voices have loudly called Syrians to stop acting as victims and to deal with Syrians as producers and saviors. They also warned against fighters normalizing their relations on the fronts and their unwillingness to drop the arms, which would create a reintegration problem. Participants also stressed that peace is not something that can be completed and finalized, but rather a series of steps that are progressively achieved and in which stability was a step towards peace. Many mentioned structural social problems related to not accepting others and not having a sense of citizenship, and insisted on the importance of building a new and responsible generation.
Participants agreed that the planned initiatives should be long-term, socially oriented leading to meaningful solutions and common between civil associations and institutions, with the possibility of networking with other entities to create job opportunities for trainees. The participants will draft initiatives that meet the needs on the ground and present them to FDCD before they proceed with their implementation.