- Title: Culture festival brings together youths of Lebanon's warring communities
- Date: 24th October 2016
- Summary: PHOTOGRAPH OF YOUNG CHILDREN STANDING BEHIND FENCE
- Embargoed: 8th November 2016 12:45
- Keywords: Lebanon culture music art festival Tripoli Syria Alawites rap economy
- Location: TRIPOLI, LEBANON
- City: TRIPOLI, LEBANON
- Country: Lebanon
- Topics: Art,Arts/Culture/Entertainment
- Reuters ID: LVA00255D5E8L
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: A culture festival in Lebanon is bridging the gap between two previously warring communities in the northern city of Tripoli.
The ''Culture Blast'' festival, held on Saturday (October 22) and Sunday (October 23), is the fruit of more than a year of work with youths from the two communities.
Organised by a Lebanese civil society group called March which specializes in peace-building work among other causes, the youth project combines music and art and aims to rebuild trust and peace after years of inner city fighting.
The project's meetings are held at Qahwetna cafe on Syria Street, the road that divides the two neighbourhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh.
The street has become a symbol of the fighting between the two communities, one Alawite and one Sunni.
Tarek Hebbawi, an employee at the cafe, said the festival and the project helped people forget about the fighting and brought out the best of the city.
"We remember some of it, the shelling and the battles that happened between Bab Al Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. I hope it will stay a memory and not be repeated. This festival I'm participating in is very good and is changing the image of Tripoli, and it's showing us the talents of the youth, in Jabal and Tabbaneh and the whole of Tripoli,'' Hebbawi said.
Hanging on the walls of the cafe are artworks by the youths participating in the project, showing off their talent and documenting their lives, past and present.
One painting included a line from the Beetles' song ''All you need is love'', displayed next to a drawing of a map of Lebanon.
A local activist said the project helped the youths escape the everyday reality, adding that these young people needed jobs to stay out of trouble.
"In order to forget, you have to resolve the issue of unemployment. We have a 70 percent level of unemployment. It is a volcano. This alone will continue to remind the youths of the incidents and the bad things. If these youths have work, then they will go to work and come back home tired and want to rest, they won't be thinking about making trouble or about the past. They will start looking forward, to the future, how to buy a car, how to buy a house, and secure a decent living for their families. This festival is good and is offering a chance for people to escape the situation they are currently living in," said Khaled Shakhshid, President of the Tabbaneh Youth Council Association.
The project seems to have brought peace to the area. There has been no fighting between the two neighbourhoods since January 2015 - a feat considering prior to that the tension between the two sides had worsened due to the civil war in Syria which spilled over to the streets of Tripoli.
Lebanese actor Michel Abu Suleiman helped the youths produce a play about their lives as part of the project, and saw how they learned to love and accept each other instead of making war.
"They are rapping, they are making music, they are dancing and acting. Instead of carrying a gun, they are carrying a guitar and instead of acting like they like each other, they are acting with each other and they really like each other. I have been working on this for a year and a half and I am very proud of the work we have done," said Abu Suleiman.
At the festival, singers and rappers from the two neighbourhoods appeared together on stage and performed songs inspired by their memories of the fighting and the lessons learned.
Syria, which had a military presence in Lebanon for 29 years before pulling out in 2005, is now in the sixth year of its own civil war. Sectarian strife has spilled over from Syria and exacerbated similar tensions in Lebanon.
For the first three years of Syria's conflict, Tripoli, about 30 km from the Syrian border, saw frequent clashes between Sunni Muslim insurgents and groups supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's minority Alawite sect.
But the clashes, which left hundreds dead and wounded, ceased in 2014 after a deal was reached that allowed a prominent Alawite leader to flee to Syria.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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