Adonis Diaries

Theatre role playing keeping the peace in Tripoli (Lebanon)

Posted on: December 8, 2015

Theatre helps keep the peace in Tripoli (Lebanon)

A conflict resolution project

In the early 1900s Syria Street, in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, was a busy, prosperous thoroughfare, lined with khans where goods making their way up the coast from Beirut were brought, before being transported onwards to destinations in modern-day Syria.

Nowadays, most of the buildings here are pockmarked with bullet-holes.

Few structures on Syria Street, which bisects the impoverished neighbourhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, have escaped the scourge of violence that has plagued local residents.

A New article in The Guardian about ‘Love and War on the Rooftop >>
‪#‎MakeArtNotWar‬ ‪#‎Tripoli‬ ‪#‎Lebanon‬ ‪#‎Play‬

When rehearsals for a new play began in this Lebanese city, the actors all carried knives

Since 2008, rival militias in these neighbourhoods have engaged in at least 20 rounds of gun battles, leading to the deaths of more than 200 people and forcing thousands from their homes. (Fomented by ministers in the government)

These bursts of violence have increased in intensity since 2011, when the outbreak of Syria’s civil war accentuated old grudges and political divides between the two districts that date back to Lebanon’s civil war.

During times of conflict, residents of Syria Street have become accustomed to sharing the area with snipers.

In Bab al-Tabbaneh, a Sunni neighbourhood of 100,000 with historical connections to Homs, Hama and Aleppo, opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is strong.

In contrast, the majority of the 60,000 residents of Jabal Mohsen share the same Alawite faith as Assad, and have maintained support for the Syrian regime.

These ideological divides helped fuel violence in an environment defined by high youth unemployment and dire poverty.

This year, however, the cycle of gun battles has abated following raids by the Lebanese Armed Forces. (As the government agreed to stop the created violence)

In their absence, local NGOs and civil society groups are tentatively developing initiatives to bridge gaps between the two communities. “Initially, making contact with like-minded groups in Mohsen was difficult,” says Hanna Abou Khalil, a project co-ordinator at the Tabbaneh Youth Council. “But we are making progress.”

One striking example was the production of Love and War on the Rooftops, a play featuring 16 actors aged between 16 and 29. Hailing from both Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, most of the cast were former fighters.

To recruit these aspiring thespians to the cause, the Beirut-based civil society group March networked with the Tabbaneh Youth Council and NGOs present in Jabal Mohsen, such as Lubnan al Mahabba (Lebanon Love) and Chabab El Ghad (Youth of Tomorrow).

Auditions for the production began in February.

At the start, everyone carried knives,” recalls Lucien Bourjeili, a Lebanese writer and director brought in to direct the production. “They were suspicious of one another, and also us. An actor brought a grenade to one rehearsal – he was carrying it in a banana while acting. But by the end, a lot [of the actors] were not carrying knives.”

Love and War was staged in June at Masrah al-Medina, a theatre in the Hamra district of the Lebanese capital Beirut, 50 miles south of Tripoli.

“Most of the actors were fighters, people you should fear,” Bourjeili says. “But when you see them on stage, they are like other youth in Lebanon. The difference is that they live in poverty without economic prospects. The one thing that might make them some money is fighting.”

One of the key intentions of Love and War, Bourjeili says, was to highlight the socio-economic factors that have fuelled violence between the two neighbourhoods, and counter the negative stereotypes that are prevalent in Lebanese society.

According to a 2015 UN Economic and Social Commission survey, 56% of families in Tripoli live in poverty – but this figure rises to 69% in Jabal Mohsen, and 87% in Bab al-Tabbaneh.

Before appearing in Love and War, Samir Atris, a 25-year-old from Bab al-Tabbaneh, considered leaving Lebanon to fight in Syria. Hundreds of Tabbaneh residents have joined Syrian opposition groups including the Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

There is no work, no opportunities, no healthcare here. Fighting pays a salary,” explains Atris, sitting on a bench just off Syria Street. “That’s why I fought here against Mohsen.”

“I used to think of people in Tabbaneh as terrorists,” says Ali Amoun, a 26-year-old from Jabal Mohsen who also performed in Love and War. “Many politicians help create hatred for their own interests. It’s the people who suffer.”

Early one morning in June, leaving his house before dawn, Amoun was stabbed in the ribs by an unknown assailant. The incident occurred shortly after he had appeared alongside his fellow Love and War actor Khidr Mukhaiber, a 21-year-old from Tabbaneh, on a primetime Lebanese television show to speak about the production.

The two had become friends during rehearsals – but not everyone in Tripoli was happy about this friendship between former fighters from rival neighbourhoods.

“I received calls from private numbers asking me why I was spending time with people from Tabbaneh,” Amoun says. “Others in the cast did, too.”

Undaunted, March – in collaboration with the Tabbaneh Youth Council – is now renovating a small building on an empty lot on Syria Street to serve as a cafe and performance space. Amoun, Mukhaiber and other Love and War actors will be involved in organising events and running the cafe.

Standing outside the new space – surrounded by foremen and painters from both Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen – Mukhaiber, who first took part in gun battles at the age of 15, says he is looking forward to developing new ideas and sharing expertise picked up during the production of Love and War when the cafe opens.

“I want to keep acting. Maybe there will be gun battles again, but I am finished [with that],” he says. “Before the production, I had never been to Mohsen. Now I visit Ali and he visits me. Our families have become close. We have both lost friends, but now he is like a brother to me.”

To read the full article please visit

A conflict resolution project by MARCH
Written and Directed by Lucien Bourjeily

Acted out by the amazing youth and ex-fighters of Beb El Tebbeneh and Jabal Mohsen ..

An inspiring group of young people, much love to you all heart emoticon xoxo

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December 2015

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