Terrorist recruitment in Lebanon has surged since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, but thanks to support from the Strong Cities Network (SCN) and the Government of Denmark, communities throughout the country are now acquiring the tools to push back.
The SCN was created in 2015 with support from the U.S. Department of State and the Governments of Denmark and Norway to assist local governments with their efforts to counter violent extremism (CVE), offering its 125 members across six continents the opportunity to participate in workshops, exchanges, and an online hub.
Since 2016, the SCN has worked with the Lebanese municipalities Majdal Anjar, Saida, and Tripoli on how to adapt relevant international best practices to their local context. This work has been done in close coordination with the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities and the office of the National Coordinator for Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) at the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
As a result of their work with the SCN, the National PVE Coordinator’s office institutionalized engagement with municipalities in Lebanon’s National Strategy for PVE (2018). This strategy focused on nine pillars: 1) Dialogue and Conflict Prevention; 2) The Promotion of Good Governance; 3) Justice, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law; 4) Urban/Rural Development and Engaging Local Communities; 5) Gender Equality and Empowering Women; 6) Education, Training, and Skills Development; 7) Economic Development and Job Creation; 8) Strategic Communications, Informatics, and Social Media; and 9) Empowering Youth. The SCN members from Lebanon -- Beirut is a founding member -- actively contributed to the action planning workshops the National PVE Coordinator organized for several of these pillars. The SCN supported the following recent municipal engagements:
- On March 6, 2019, the SCN worked with Tripoli to open Lebanon’s first Office for Youth Affairs. The municipality also worked with the SCN to establish a Local Prevention Network (LPN), organize multiple events to build the resilience of youth, and develop a PVE guide in coordination with local religious leaders. The Youth Office will serve as a platform to bridge the gap between youth and the municipality and build a relationship of trust in the local authorities.
- On March 14, 2019, the SCN and the National PVE Coordinator’s office hosted its first national meeting for Lebanese Mayors on countering terrorist radicalization and recruitment. The mayors heard best practices from SCN members in Bordeaux, France, and Vilvoorde, Belgium; received training from the SCN staff; and, formed a working group for the development of the Action Plan for Pillar 4 on Engaging Local Communities and Municipalities.
- On March 27, 2019, the SCN and the Saida Prevention Network brought together 250 religious leaders from across Lebanon to launch a workbook for imams and educators to promote social cohesion in communities rife with sectarian tensions.
Two of the international speakers at the March 14 event -- Hans Bonte, Mayor of Vilvoorde, Belgium, and Marik Fetouh, Deputy Mayor of Bordeaux, France -- highlighted the value of local government engagement with national and international counterparts on efforts to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment.
Vilvoorde -- a municipality of 42,000 people just north of Brussels -- once had the highest per capita number of foreign terrorist fighters in Western Europe. To help address this issue, Mayor Bonte led a delegation to Columbus, Ohio, in 2015 as part of the State Department-sponsored City Pair CVE Partnership Program. Ideas taken from this two-way exchange led to improved coordination between law enforcement, city officials, and community members. Since the City Pair CVE Partnership Program and implementation of Vilvoorde’s CVE- and community-focused programs have taken place, there has been no known documented cases of foreign terrorist fighter travel from Vilvoorde.
In Bordeaux, the municipality developed the Center for Prevention of Radicalization (CAPRI) in 2015, with technical input from Montréal’s Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRLV), which was created through municipal and provincial support. CAPRI uses a multi-disciplinary approach to provide people in the early stages of radicalization with an off-ramp.
Vilvoorde and Bordeaux improved their ability to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment by learning from other local governments and are now sharing those lessons with counterparts in Lebanon. After more than two years of engagements through the SCN, Majdal Anjar, Saida, and Tripoli are municipalities better prepared to push back against terrorist recruitment and are, in turn, sharing their knowledge with other municipalities in Lebanon and elsewhere.
About the Author: Michael Duffin serves as a Policy Advisor in the Bureau of Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State.