Alexi Touma | Friday, March 29, 2019
Lebanon’s coastline is far from picturesque. Out of the two hundred and twenty kilometers binding us to the Mediterranean Sea, approximately forty kilometers remain accessible for public use. The decline of available public maritime property was most pronounced during the civil war years whereby private investors took advantage of the general lawlessness of the country to convert public maritime property into private resorts and hotels. Many of these resorts are blatantly illegal and are estimated to owe up to USD 1 billion in taxes and fines to the government. The issue of public maritime property, like many other cases, has engaged civil society actors with various degrees of success.
In recent years, civil society actors prompted the issue of public maritime property to resurface. In 2013, the Civil Campaign to Protect the Dalieh of Raouche (CCPDR) formed with the purpose of preventing private development of the Dalieh and from being sealed off from the public. The movement successfully mobilized to prevent the anticipated construction of yet another large-scale luxury touristic project by lobbying the Ministry of Environment to classify the Dalieh as a nationally protected zone in a draft law, and by tearing down the wired fence that sealed off the area.
Unlike the Dalieh, civil society actors were not able to halt the construction and subsequent operation of Eden Bay; Decree 14814 of 2005 made its construction possible. Civil society actors protested frequently in front of the site and raised awareness that the coast was being lost to private interests. But this wasn’t enough. When we look deeper into the civil society actors’ involvement related to Eden Bay, we can point out the disparity between these actors that have paralyzed them from making a lasting impact. Eden Bay revealed the reactionary nature of the actors. They mobilize and act once a violation has occurred, often with incoherency amongst themselves. The intention is in the right place, but its implementation is innefective. Their efforts were effective enough to pressure the Municipality of Beirut to withhold permits for Eden Bay, but not enough to halt the project as a whole.
In 2017 the Lebanese Coast Coalition came to be. The coalition expanded on the foundations of the CCPDR with the aim of creating a national framework for managing Lebanon’s coast. Despite consisting of twenty-four groups and organizations, it has largely been inactive as a collective for various reasons according to information provided by key members of the coalition. As with many short-lived civil society actor coalitions, the Lebanese Coast Coalition is hindered by internal divisions and conflict of interests. The groups conflict over strategies, tactics, objectives, and have not convened effectively since its inception despite the existence of an internal organizational structure and bylaws. Some groups seek more credit than others for various reasons, particularly those related to securing funding.
The Lebanese Coast Coalition lacks the conditions that allowed the CCPDR to succeed. The CCPDR incorporated local communities and had an immediate goal, save the Dalieh from privatization. The local communities, including fishermen, were most impacted by the situation and had the strongest cause to mobilize and voice their opposition. These factors led to positive outcomes. The Lebanese Coast Coalition does not have the same community approach, nor does it have an immediate goal, but rather several on a much larger scale. It is divided among regional lines despite its nationwide ambitions. For the reasons mentioned above along with others, its members opt to work independently with their own agendas.
By no means are these debilitating characteristics unique to the actors listed above. The You Stink movement also suffered from deep internal fragmentation and an inability appeal to the average citizen which led to its downfall, according to a prominent member involved. Although these factors allow us to assess civil society actors from one perspective, it surely doesn’t paint the entire picture of why civil movements fail in Lebanon. There is an extensive list as to why others have failed in the past and continue to fail.
It is important for us to point out the preventable disruptive tendencies of civil society actors that hinder their efforts in shaping policy. As such, civil society actors must emphasize the importance of forming effective and functional coalitions with an agreed upon agenda and form of operation. There should be unity in forming a common strategy rather than competing strategies. Efforts should be made in adopting and abiding by a long-term mindset rather than merely reacting to violations as they happen. Civil society actors must shape the way they communicate to target the wider public that are most impacted rather than appealing solely to their immediate circle. These are only a handful of suggestions that will improve the effectiveness of civil actors in protecting the coast or other matters of public interest.
Alexi Touma, Researcher, Civil Society Actors and Policymaking Program, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut.
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