On Tuesday 18 May 2017, academics, practitioners, government representatives, artists and activists joined together at an event in London to discuss the role of civil society in peace building processes in Syria and Libya.
As part of talks, a research team from the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University presented the findings of a new research report that was commissioned by the British Council.
The report documents the changing nature of civil society, from a predominantly local dispute resolving function before the revolution of 2011, to an increasingly political and protection orientated role. It also looks more broadly at how social institutions work to sustain peace within their communities.
The situations in Syria and Libya are both very different, very complex, and continually shifting. Ad-hoc mediation structures are created and ideas of tolerance and collective identity are spread, for example, through Friday prayer sessions. Many of the report's informants were critical of the role of the international community, international non-governmental organisations and new local non-governmental organisations. The research proposed that, in order to gain trust, any sort of intervention needs to have transparency of agenda, multiple in-country connections, and be able to demonstrate its value through ‘quick wins’.
Following the presentation of the report, an esteemed panel, made up of Yosra Nagui, Mediation Programme Officer at Swisspeace, Raj Bhari, Senior Peace Building Advisor at The Peaceful Change Initiative, Geoffrey Howard, Senior Libya Analyst at the FCO and Anas Darkawi, Syrian Civil Society Programme Manager at The Asfari Foundation, spoke about the findings in relation to inclusion, identity, and engaging youth. Participants then split into two groups to look at policy relating to Syria, and Libyan arts and cultural heritage.
Commenting on the importance of inclusivity, Raj Bhari said, ‘If everyone looks like you and sounds like you then you are talking to the wrong people’.
The panel also highlighted the importance of finding shared motivations for peace. So, how can both my and your communities benefit, and how can we find a common ground. In response, Yosra Nagui commented that ‘Some social divisions are natural, often healthy, and shouldn’t be confronted. Especially not by external actors.’
Following the event, colleagues from the British Council attended a similarly themed internal staff talk in order to learn more about work and life in Syria and Libya. In 2012, the British Council Syria office closed its doors however we maintained a commitment to the communities we were working with and are now operating through different platforms.
Anas Darkawi thanked the British Council for including Syrian and Libyan voices in the day's discussion: ‘You get it. Your office was displaced and you had to find new ways of working too’.