The road to conflict transformation in Lebanon by Vanessa Bassil- CGNews

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), an initiative of the international conflict transformation organization Search for Common Ground
Beirut - The recent violence between political parties – some of them affiliated with different religious sects – in Tripoli and Beirut has made headlines, and shows the degree to which political conflicts in Lebanon remain a potent social problem. Lebanon is composed of 18 religious communities, and all too often, politicians use religion to keep people divided, and differences between different religious and political interests cause tensions. 

Although political solutions are often what come to mind when discussing such issues, national conflicts cannot truly be resolved without knowing how to deal with conflicts on a personal scale first. This is the space that a dynamic group of Lebanese youth is working in, and seeking to change. 

The Responsible and Active Youth project (RAY) gathered Lebanese youth from different regions and religions. The project provided a space where they could experiment with how to deal with conflicts while learning how to shift their thinking from seeing conflict as negative and destructive into a force with the potential to be positive and constructive.

Motivated youth have committed to volunteer with RAY for two years to develop a toolkit that contributes to creating the society they dream of: one based on tolerance and acceptance of the “other”. Aiming for a creative, youth-oriented and practical approach, they invented a board game called “Ta’o Nehke” (“Let’s talk”), which trains people to deal with conflict through scenarios and role play. 

The youth went to four different communities in Lebanon to implement the project at schools, universities and clubs, working with the Lebanese Association for Education and Training (ALEF), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ). 

The conflicts the game tackles are not political, but personal. Because political conflict is so sensitive, RAY’s approach focuses on personal conflict, which youth can apply to political conflicts later. The groups chose the scenarios that play out in the board game based on their own experiences in romantic relationships, with family dynamics, and in student-teacher conflicts. 

Hassan, a Muslim participant, said: “In a sectarian, divided country like Lebanon, joining the RAY project is an action that goes against the norm. When it comes to such experiences . . . we have an obligation to share them with others”.

The so-called Rayans who implemented the project gained a new perspective on conflict through their engagement with their peers: conflict is natural, it should be understood in order to deal with it successfully, and it can be transformed through dialogue and negotiation. 

Participants in the game practice this transformation when they arrive at squares labelled “negotiation” where they have to negotiate with another player on another side of the conflict scenario played out in the game. Youth who have participated in this exercise to date noticed how often they failed to take into consideration others’ concerns or to listen to them – and suggested that this was one of the reasons for the current conflicts in their own country. Now, however, they realise that they have the tools to correct this attitude.

For instance, while playing the game, Adriana, a Christian participant, learned to see things from different perspectives because, in each round, she had to articulate other players’ needs and how they were feeling about the conflict that was being addressed in the game. A “tips” square that she landed on helped her learn about others’ positions. 

In one game, she played the role of a young male student who changed majors three times during university which led to a conflict with his father who was working abroad to pay his tuition fees. Adriana received a tip revealing that his father felt lonely, was working hard to support his family and felt like his son was taking his help for granted. Understanding his father’s feelings and reasons for opposing his son’s decisions, she concluded that everyone has reasons to think and feel the way he or she does – and so learned to approach the people with whom she is in conflict with empathy. 

“Let’s talk” aims to change how players think about conflict, and thus how they deal with it. It is a message that deserves to be heard more widely in order to develop a society that is tolerant and respectful of all its members – regardless of religious or political affiliation.


* Vanessa Bassil is a Lebanese journalist and peace activist.
This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 29 May 2012, and republished by a number of regional and international  organizations and media outlets, for instance Al Arabiya English news website:
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
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Tags: Arab, Conflict, East, Lebanon, RAY, beirut, dialogue, listen, negotiation, peacebuilding, More…play, sectarianism, talk, transformation, tripoli, youth


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Comment by Costas Apostolides on June 29, 2012 at 3:13am

Dear Vanessa, Thank you for your response. We have set up a network called Conciliation: Oeace Economics Network and are already working on the economic relations in the South caucasus which should be the centre of the world but is a cul de sac. We are interested in exploring economic relations between the communities in Lebanon. Is it possible to introduce us to economists or universities in East and West Lebanon that maybe interested in working with us?

Best wishes and contact me if ever you come across.


Comment by Vanessa Bassil on June 28, 2012 at 3:02pm

Yes Pam, I strongly agree! Anyone can benefit from the board game Let's Talk actually.
By playing it, players acquire communication, negotiation and conflict transformation skills.

Here is a photo of this peacebuilding toolkit:

Comment by Vanessa Bassil on June 28, 2012 at 2:55pm

Thank you Costas for sharing this. Actually, Lebanon does not operate as one united economy. Although, Lebanon is not a federal state, it does in fact operate as so, and that's because of the virtual geographical borders that had divided Lebanon after the civil war. That's why the exchange is not big between Christian and Muslim areas.

On the other hand, Lebanon has a central administrative, therefore all operations happen in Beirut. Rural regions as Hermel did not know so far any considerable development, so villagers rather live all their lives in their villages or leave them to go to Beirut. This is where actually there is an opportunity for me coming from a Christian area, to meet a Shiite from Hermel. And believe it or not I have only visited Hermel once in my life, and that for a social project.
The conclusion is the following: Each community in Lebanon spend money in its own area, or buy its needs and sell its business in the capital city where resides more than half of the population. 

Comment by Vanessa Bassil on June 28, 2012 at 2:55pm

Thank you Aline! (Good to know that there some Lebanese on PCDN by the way ;) )

Comment by Aline Hachem on June 12, 2012 at 8:47am

Great initiative !!

Comment by Costas Apostolides on June 11, 2012 at 9:39am

Good work. We have been working in Cyprus on economic interdependence between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities across the ceasefire line. has there been much work in Lebanon on trade and economic interaction between the various groups. I presume Lebanon operates as one united economy and the fact that there are no borders between groups does not give rise to the problems we have across the water. There I presume Shiites from Hermell trade, visit and spend money in easteren Christian areas and vice versa. is that the case?

Costas apostolides

Comment by Pam Bailey on June 11, 2012 at 9:15am

This is great...Actually, I think families, co-workers, etc. everywhere could benefit from an exercise that forces them to look through someone else's eyes...

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