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L.S. Sfeir: The Spirit of 'Awneh'

We are meeting here in Seoul at the conference on “Toward a New Paradigm for Peace and Human Development.” When I read this topic, my childhood memories bring back to me the spirit of Awneh (the Arabic word for “joining hands”), this typical traditional Lebanese practice of mutual aid which combines a specific form of volunteering and sharing. Certainly, I am far from being as old as this practice, yet history has repeatedly shown that past experiences can be beneficial in finding present solutions. This Lebanese practice of "joining hands" consists of leveraging skills and human resources for the purpose of development and peace. In Lebanon, where we have 18 extremely distinct religious communities, the spirit of Awneh has cemented them all together, whether Christians, Muslims or Jews.

Napoleon used to affirm that “understanding a country’s geography would be sufficient in order to deduce its politics.” To regain its stability, which was shaken several times during recent decades, Lebanon turned to cultivating the spirit of "joining hands" in order to avoid - as much as possible - the regional turmoil and external influences which intervene to create dissension between its religious communities.

The Lebanese philosophy of "joining hands," with all its beauty, will always require nourishment from the strengths of family bonds and the recognition of women’s role in peacebuilding, peace education and sustained development; it needs to evolve further in order to succeed in promoting conflict resolution.

Furthermore, a nation’s stability and human development paradigm largely depend on the nature of the social agreement adopted by the various components of its population. These factors also depend on the extent of mutual understanding of the vocabulary and the terminology of such agreement. Whenever these elements are achieved, we can say that the agreement is real and well established, because it becomes based on informed dialogue. Thereafter, it shall take root in individuals and communities, thus allowing the establishment of a sound and peaceful practice.

This equation is valid for any society and is applied in Lebanon, where the private sector, and especially associations such as “Call of Society,” plays a key role alongside the public institutions in building this society.

Strong families and communities along with religious harmony are the main pillars of a peaceful environment, and Lebanon is a witness to this. Lebanon, which is a frontrunner for freedom and political and economic liberalism in the Middle East, has maintained its model and become an example for populations in revolt aiming to emulate its practice, despite its flaws. While history is being rewritten once again in our region, the current Lebanese model, dating back to around a hundred years, remains constant