Lebanon has a rich tradition of peaceful co-existence between its diverse ethnic and sectarian groups (Sunni, Shia, Christian, Druze, etc.), but this diversity can easily be instrumentalised by political forces inside and outside the country. In 2008, after a series of violent clashes, the main Lebanese parties mandated the newly appointed President Suleiman to chair the National Dialogue process. This should provide a platform to discuss substantial issues that require unanimous consensus from the country’s political elite. While the National Dialogue sessions were often interrupted by political disagreement, in times of deep crises it has served as a crucial mechanism for conflict management (e.g. during the Gaza wars of 2008/9 and 2012 and during the current war in Syria).
While we continue to provide support to the National Dialogue process, in late 2009 we also helped establish the Common Space Initiative to address the root causes of Lebanon’s internal conflicts.
In close consultation with all the key stakeholders involved, the Common Space Initiative evolved into a support mechanism (and permanent dialogue forum) which directly supports institutions, ministries and other government bodies dealing with essential political, judicial and socio-economic reforms as well as the implementation of past agreements and political reconciliation.
The Common Space Initiative, located in the centre of Beirut (near the parliament) offers a venue for meetings and dialogue. It facilitates structured dialogues among policymakers, intellectuals, experts, civil society actors, stakeholders and individuals. It aims to create an environment conducive to national evolution. This is mainly achieved by enhancing public policy debates, building expertise and common knowledge resources on key issues and collaborating among the concerned national parties.
The team consists of well-qualified and trained Lebanese researchers and project staff, assisted by an international senior advisor. In addition, the Common Space Initiative is supported by a group of very experienced Lebanese dialogue facilitators.
Aims & Outcomes
Key objectives are:
- To support the Lebanese National Dialogue’s structures, mechanisms and committees,
- To support problem-solving and consensus-building on essential policy issues,
- To further develop and consolidate the Common Space Initiative and transfer it to a fully Lebanese-owned and sustainable structure and process to address deep-rooted conflict in Lebanon.
The Common Space Initiative provides new thinking and innovation in how to deal with deep-rooted and protracted conflict in Lebanon and supports key Lebanese actors in creating effective dialogue and reform processes.
It contributes significantly to public policy formation: For example, it facilitated expert groups on judicial, economic and political reforms and on Lebanese-Palestinian relations. They have also produced proposals for decision-making (hands-on proposals, draft laws, implementation mechanisms). Participation in the working groups is inclusive and generally high-level.
The Common Space Initiative also provides background studies, research, mappings and expert inputs. It facilitates dialogues as well as joint knowledge production based on transparent and mutually agreed-upon principles, criteria and procedures.
The Lebanese stakeholders - along with their respective constituencies - are at the centre of our activities in the National Dialogue process and constitutional reform processes. Next to the political parties and government institutions, we are also working with a number of selected NGOs.
We are working directly with the key advisors of the Presidential Office as well as high-level advisors from the Speakers’ and the Prime Minister’s offices. Our direct interlocutors in the dialogue fora are high-level representatives from the main Lebanese parties, Palestinian parties, representatives of the government and NGOs.
Based in Beirut, the Common Space Initiative offers support to all Lebanese stakeholders and regions. In the past few years, it additionally supported local efforts to ease the tensions in the northern city of Tripoli.