Civil society in exile, reconciliation and the future of Syria: the role of the emerging Syrian civil society in Lebanon
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As the polarised violent conflict in Syria continues without end in sight, Syrians continue to flee into neighbouring countries in search of safety and security. The displacement of Syrians en masse into Lebanon over the past few years means that there are now Syrians from a wide variety of socioeconomic, sectarian and ethnic backgrounds, together forming a microcosm of Syrian society in Lebanon. Within this exiled population, many Syrians with strong entrepreneurial abilities from different political projects have taken the opportunity presented by the relatively enabling civil society environment in Lebanon to set up different forms of civil society groups. While no official register of these organisations exists, field research in Akkar, Beirut, Bekaa Valley, Shatila, and Tripoli, managed to identify a total of 34 Syrian-led civil society actors across Lebanon. Fourteen of these groups were examined more closely, through interviews and direct observations. The majority of the researched Syrian actors work in response to the suffering of fellow Syrian refugees, while some focus on easing the tension between Syrians and their Lebanese host communities, and others yet again conduct and disseminate research. The research suggests that Syrian civil society in Lebanon ought not to be misunderstood as merely a form of charitable service provision or temporary pastime activities of exiled Syrians. Rather, the analysis of the research findings suggests that the emergence of a Syrian civil society in exile presents a unique phenomenon. Instead of waiting passively for a ceasefire and a political settlement to be reached, these Syrian groups are seizing the opportunity to develop and grow as civil society actors in exile, hoping to play a role in rebuilding Syria at a later stage. However, the emerging civil society will require international support in order to sustain its work and develop organically. While the international community can play an important role in this context, it needs to recognise the specific and fragile circumstances in which the Syrian civil society actors are operating. A number of concrete recommendations are derived from the research findings, proposing ways in which the international community could support the emerging Syrian civil society in exile.