A Conflict of Interest

By: Michael J. Willis

The revival of a city is a complex, and interconnected process – a crucial factor of which is ending violent conflict and establishing security.  Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli has long been plagued by an image of conflict. Latest of which was fighting between the neighborhoods of Jabal Al-Mohsen (majority Alawite) and Bab Al-Tabbeneh (majority Sunni).  Yet since 2014, fighting in Tripoli has mysteriously abated. Slowly, the city’s image is shifting from one of war and neglect to that of peace and progress. Better understanding how the violence ended is vital to Tripoli’s subsequent revival.  

While the exact circumstances are unknown, many credit the 2014 Lebanese Security Plan that was implemented by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces (ISF) for halting the violence.  According to the Security Plan, the government deployed 2,000 security troops to the area, and the judiciary issued thousands of arrest warrants to calm hostilities, while certain local militias agreed to withdraw.  

Others allude to a back door deal between both sides of the conflict and their regional backers, or constant pressure against local politicians as reasons for the end of hostilities.  Moreover, preceding the security plan were some form of negotiations centered around agreement on the plan’s execution, but details regarding this process are also unknown. There was no formal peace agreement in Tripoli because the conflict took place at the city, not the state level.

One of the objectives of the Tripoli Project is to understand how this negotiation process happened, and how the fighting ended.  A conflict analysis will examine the roles of the various actors such as the central government, the LAF, the ISF, the local militias, the politicians, the businessmen, civil society, and external powers.  Given the deeply seeded grievances operating in Tripoli, along with the political divisions in the country that sometimes reaches within the Lebanese security establishment itself, it is remarkable that the fighting ceased.  

One angle could examine Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Lebanon, including assistance from the U.S. military to the LAF and ISF.  Historically, the LAF has maintained a doctrine of non-intervention in internal conflict, acting instead as a mediator in situations of domestic conflict resolution.  However, recently implemented community policing programs by security forces could provide key insight into Tripoli’s informal peace negotiations.

Another angle could examine the influences of the business community, and local politicians.  Regional power dynamics along with economic incentives were likely contributing factors to ending the violence.  Moreover, many of those who were allegedly engaged in financing and fueling the conflict either directly, or indirectly are now active participants in Tripoli’s revival.  

Essential to Tripoli’s revival is security and stability.  How did pacification happen without destroying the city, and how does that affect future peace?  The Tripoli Project aims to investigate the story behind how people decided it was in their interest to stop the fighting, and the manner in which they did so.  Tripoli provides a unique example to study, and examine best practices in how an interdisciplinary security landscape can foster co-existence in post-conflict, divided societies.  

Students involved in the Tripoli Project  can expect to work in domains including, but not limited to Countering Violent Extremism, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, Peacebuilding, and Civil-Military Relations. They will need access to key actors on the ground, including members of the security establishment, civil society, and the business sector.  

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