No Olympic truce in Tripoli

…and here is the second, my final piece for openDemocracy from 29 July – just after returning to London from Lebanon.

Sadly my time in Lebanon has come to an end, at least for now. This week I have returned to the UK at a time when the eyes of the world are on London for the 2012 Olympic Games. I am living close to the Olympic Park, and the spectacle of the Games has electrified not just this area of the city, but the whole country.

Aside from the obvious values of competition and fair play, the Olympics also seeks to carry a message of peace. The tradition of the ‘Olympic Truce’, begun in the ancient Greek games to allow athletes to travel to and from the games safely, was revived by the International Olympic Committee in 1992, so that the Olympics might become an opportunity to promote peace and friendship across the nations. For this year’s games, the 193 UN member states unanimously co-sponsored an Olympic Truce resolution, calling for all nations to cease hostilities and seek reconciliation for the duration of the games.

But there has been no Olympic Truce back in Tripoli, North Lebanon. As the fireworks of the opening ceremony went off in London, gunfire was resounding once again in Tripoli. There has been sporadic shooting in the city in the two weeks since I left, and the most recent fighting, which has injured 12, has once again renewed local fears of escalating deadly clashes in the city of the sort last seen in June.

Granted, these disputes are internal rather than international, but the ideals of the Truce are equally applicable at the local level. The Truce-related initiatives this year have reflected this by seeking to promote “local solutions to local problems”:

“Preventing conflict and building peace requires the involvement of the local communities who are most affected. We are looking for opportunities to work with host governments, communities, faith groups, civil society and the media to build relationships across boundaries.”

The continued violence means that another opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation has been lost. It may be too much to ask that the fighters in Tripoli’s rival neighbourhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen forget their animosity. But just as sport allows for regulated competition through shared rules and structures, Tripoli’s fighters should be encouraged to compete and cooperate though the formalised systems of political participation.

The lack of an Olympic Truce in the city does not, however, mean that there are no peace initiatives in Tripoli. As has happened following previous clashes, some residents have sought to manifest their desire for peace in their city through dignified public demonstration in front of Tripoli’s Serail. The Olympic Games may be of limited relevance to many people’s day-to-day lives, but there are still plenty who embody its values and hope for a peaceful future for the city, and more widely for Lebanon.

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