The meaning of community participation in post-conflict societies: Ethnography of the challenges of inter-religious reconciliation in Lebanon
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The Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) witnessed military conflicts between the major religious communities, including Christians and Druze. It resulted in the displacement of a third of the population into religiously homogenous areas. One of the major goals of International Development Agencies (IDA) in post-conflict Lebanon was the rebuilding of the multi-religious civil society through grassroots participation in development projects in the context of the return of the displaced. In this dissertation, I first explored how participation is conceptualized by the members of the civil society affected by displacement, and by the development practitioners (DPs) involved in implementing development projects. Second, I examined the perceptions of these two groups of who is expected to participate in development projects. The research design was an ethnographic study in Mount-Lebanon lasting for 32 months in phases from 1998 to 2005. I collected data through non-participant observation and 21 in-depth interviews with members of the civil society and with DPs (employees of IDAs and Non Governmental Organizations). Findings suggested that civil society in my research site could be classified into four categories: Druze reconcilers, Christian reconcilers, Druze non-reconcilers, Christian non-reconcilers. Reconcilers are those who considered the reconciliation to have taken place and who reported to accept the other religious group. The five major findings of this research are: (1) differences amongst the four categories of the civil society and the DPs in the understanding of participation and of its actors; (2) lack of inter-religious involvement in civic life and in development projects; (3) perception of implemented development projects as "parachuted"; (4) marginalization of some groups, mainly the displaced community, negatively affecting Christians' confidence in the organizations; (5) lack of proficiencies and credentials among DPs to intervene in post-conflict societies. As a result, development efforts were additional obstructing rather than facilitating factors for the reconciliation between Druze and Christian communities. Policy makers, organizations, and DPs need to get better insight into grassroots perceptions, and to consider the six key policies suggested by this research in order to succeed in rebuilding post-conflict societies: (1) participation in the whole process; (2) multi-level participation; (3) inter-religious participation; (4) multi-dimensional approaches; (5) early implementation of development efforts; and (6) three major roles for organizations and DPs: conservator, empowerer, and monitor.