Intra-Sunni Dialogue and Strategy Development in Lebanon

Against the background of emerging threats of increased social tensions and growing radicalization in Lebanon, the project seeks to contribute to overall stability and peace in Lebanon by working with key actors in the Sunni community. By supporting Dar al-Fatwa, the religious institution representing the Sunni community at government level, and a wider network of influential social figures  our aim is to contribute to diffuse tensions, develop strategies to address radicalization and strengthen moderate narratives. Working in close cooperation with Dar al-Fatwa, the project seeks to support key Sunni actors in their efforts to promote religious tolerance through strategy-building and intra-Sunni dialogue.

Timeline

2015 – 2017

Conflict Setting

External factors related to the war in Syria as well as developments in the wider region have strongly contributed to the recent wave of radicalization in Lebanon. Ultra-radical groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the so-called Islamic State, have extended their mobilization and recruitment efforts on Lebanese soil, constituting an urgent threat to the political stability and social fabric, exacerbating additional pressure on Lebanese institutions. Local clashes between supporters of extremist groupps and security forces repeatedly occur and  are a manifestation of the social tensions and fragile security situation. Yet domestic factors have also contributed significantly to the increasing social tension and more recent dynamics of radicalization. These include the structural weakness, and often absence of the Lebanese state, in providing basic services, security and rule of law, the growing socio-economic disparities and lack of economic and social prospects for youth as well as the prevailing sectarian strife.

Radicalization is by no means a phenomenon particular to certain communities, confessions or groups. Yet recent confrontations and escalations of violence in certain areas of Lebanon also involved radical Sunni-affiliated groups. With the election of the new Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Republic, Sheikh Abd Al-Latif Derian, in August 2014, there is a window of opportunity for Dar al-Fatwa to lead efforts to promote moderation and religious pluralism – a commitment the Grand Mufti expressed since his inception. Considering the historical role of Dar al-Fatwa as the main religious institution of the Sunni community in Lebanon, it has the potential to develop a strategy of de-radicalization capable of reaching the Sunni-Lebanese community, to enhance intra-Sunni dialogue to overcome fragmentation of moderate voices and to promote alternative narratives to violent extremism.

Approach

Our activities seek to support Dar al-Fatwa and influential social figures from the Sunni community in developing strategies to address religious and Sunni radicalization through , internal dialogue support and capacity-building.

The cooperation project builds on the assumption that intra-Sunni dialogue is key to developing strategies and implementing de-radicalization efforts within the Lebanese Sunni community. We are convinced that increasing tension and feelings of marginalization within Sunni communities in the region need to be addressed by respected Sunni leaders, institutions and activists themselves. Efforts to strengthen religious tolerance, stability and pluralism have to be locally led and owned to be efficient and legitimate within local communities.

Building on an effective partnership based on trust, transparency and mutual learning, the cooperation project is therefore implemented by Dar al-Fatwa in a lead role with technical support and process advice from the Berghof Foundation building on our experience in inclusive dialogue formats and meditation support.

The project team consists of well-qualified Lebanese as well as international project staff based in Beirut and Berlin, assisted by experienced Lebanese senior advisors and facilitators. 

Aims & Outcomes

Against the background of religious and especially Sunni extremism, the project starts from the consideration that an efficient, effective and sustainable response to this extremism requires the strong support of the Sunni community, its leadership and institutions. Therefore, the overall aim of the project is to strengthen the ability of the Sunni community in Lebanon to address the root causes of radicalization and to contribute positively to stability, religious tolerance and pluralism in the country.

In order to contribute to this larger purpose, the project has the following three  objectives:

  • To support intra-Sunni dialogue to address the root causes of extremism, identify options to strengthen religious tolerance and pluralism and offer alternative narratives for those who are prone to violent extremism;

  • To enhance the capacities of Dar al-Fatwa, and its main institutions and partners, to take a lead role in promoting moderation and to act as a support organization and knowledge hub;

  • To develop coherent response programmes to counter extremism and local violence. This involves a network of multipliers as well as intra-institutional and intra-community efforts and enhanced partnership.

The activities include thematic round tables and workshops on root causes of radicalisation, religious media and religious education. Capacity-building activities are taking place in the areas of dialogue facilitation, mediation, communication and (media) outreach. Strategy-building activities have been defined in close cooperation with Dar al-Fatwa. The focus of these activities are in the areas of internal strategy building, media strategy development, religious education, welfare provision through Dar al-Fatwa and affiliated institutions as well as prisoners counselling.

Key Actors

We are working with the following key actors:

  • The Mufti of the Lebanese Republic and his advisers, Dar al-Fatwa staff and representatives of its affiliated branches and institutions
  • A wider network of influential Sunni community representatives including Imams, religious scholars, teachers and community leaders.

Through engaging with Dar al-Fatwa and a network of multipliers of active Sunni social figures, the project activities seek to benefit the Sunni community at large – also those sectors of Lebanese youth and within (Syrian and Palestinian) refugee communities that feel particularly marginalized and deprived due to political, social and economic exclusion. 

Regions

A project office was established in 2015 in Beirut. While key activities with Dar al-Fatwa are taking place mostly in Beirut, additional project activities are implemented all over Lebanon, including in Tripoli, Saida, Sur and the Beqaa valley among others.

Partners

Our main partner in the project is Dar al-Fatwa in the Lebanese Republic. In our activities, we also coordinate with other Lebanese social, philanthropic and dialogue-oriented organizations and respected social and political figures from the Sunni community. We further seek to support efforts to exchange and cooperate with Lebanese governmental institutions and international organizations working in related fields.

Funders

Our activities are funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) of the European Union (EU).

April 2015 – Visit of Sheikh Abdellatif Deriane to Germany

The Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Abdellatif Deriane, visited Berlin from 20 to 24 April on invitation of the German Federal Foreign Office and the Berghof Foundation. The aim of the visit was to enable political discussions between the Grand Mufti and German governmental institutions as well as with civil society initiatives on his efforts to promote tolerance and religious pluralism in Lebanon. Throughout the visit, the Grand Mufti emphasized the need to strengthen inner-Sunni dialogue and promote moderate Islamic theology. Dar al-Fatwa and the Berghof Foundation signed a Letter of Intent to cooperate and support the strategy development of institutions belonging to Dar al-Fatwa to enhance stability and religious tolerance in Lebanon. News >

October 2015 – Project Launch Strengthening Religious Tolerance in Lebanon

On 28 October 2015, a launching event was organized by the Lebanese Dar al-Fatwa and the Berghof Foundation to kick-start the cooperation project “Lebanon: Strengthening the Strategy Development of Dar al-Fatwa Institutions to Enhance Stability and Religious Tolerance.” The aim of the cooperation is to develop and support the capacities, strategies and instruments of Dar al-Fatwa to identify root causes of radicalism and address these as the lead representative institution of moderation and tolerance in the Sunni community. Through the two-year pilot phase, Berghof Foundation aims to support Dar al-Fatwa in its efforts to promote tolerance, moderate narratives and religious pluralism against the increasing threat of extremist groups and their mobilization efforts in the region. News >

December 2015 – Conference on the Role of Religious Media in Promoting Tolerance and Moderation

On 20 and 21 December 2015, a two-day conference entitled “The Role of Religious Media in Promoting Tolerance and Moderation” was organized by the Berghof Foundation in cooperation with Dar al-Fatwa in the Lebanese Republic. The aim of the conference was to develop a common strategy on religious media in order to promote moderate narratives and increase outreach of religious messages aiming to strengthen tolerance and pluralism. The Grand Muftis of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon were the keynote speakers of the conference. Together they developed the Beirut Declaration on Enlightened Religious Media, which was signed at the end of the first day. During the second day, four panels were held with experts coming from Lebanese, Palestinian and Egyptian religious, professional and academic backgrounds. News >