In areas of the Middle East and North Africa, dialogues guided by seasoned local facilitators have cooled a range of potentially violent situations—tribal conflicts, the drive for revenge, tensions between Islamist and secular students and more. Two new resource manuals make their knowledge more widely available across the region and beyond.
The two volumes were unveiled in a June 30 event in Beirut of the Middle East and North Africa Regional Forum of Facilitators, supported by the U.S. Institute of Peace. The forum was established in 2014 to allow facilitators from around the region to learn from each other’s experience. The Beirut event marked the closing of the project and was held in conjunction with Lebanese American University’s Institute for Social Justice and Conflict Resolution.
The first guide for practitioners, in Arabic, presents eight case studies from Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria and the Palestinian Territories, told in the facilitators’ own words. The examples include how an accord was struck to prevent violent retaliation in the wake of ISIS’s massacre of 1,700 Shia cadets in Iraq, and a comparison of modern facilitated dialogue to the traditional mediation of Lebanese and Syrian tribal leaders. The manual helps fill a gap in Arabic-language resources on peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and illustrates the constructive role that tribes and religious leaders can play in the region.
“Never in this region has there been documentation of ‘lessons learned’ from facilitated dialogue delivered by those who practice it,” said Darine El Hage, a USIP regional program manager in North Africa. “USIP just gave them a voice.”
The second manual, combining theory and practice and written in English from USIP’s perspective, is intended for academic use. Still in draft form, it distills successful mediation practices in the region. Both volumes are aimed at expanding the ranks and sharpening the skills of facilitators in the Middle East and North Africa.
“The West has lots of tools that aren’t necessarily adapted to local culture,” El Hage said. “The region has lots of practical experience.”
The guides come out of a two-year project funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and implemented by USIP. It aimed to boost facilitators’ collaboration across the region and increase their reach to other countries by establishing the forum, supporting their meetings and collecting their knowledge and experience for future use. The forum members conduct dialogues separately with other organizations, such as Sanad for Peacebuilding in Baghdad and the Network of Iraqi Facilitators, both of which were established with USIP support.
The forum stemmed from a 2013 discussion involving facilitators and Elie Abouaoun, USIP’s director of Middle East and North Africa programs, and Manal Omar, associate vice president of USIP’s Center for the Middle East and Africa.
“We realized that people on the ground had deep knowledge and commitment, but they were working alone,” Omar said. “By putting them together in a network, they could share information and become much more effective.”