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Plural Security in Beirut: Pilot Study Visit


Maastricht School of Management, Utrecht University, Clingendael Institute, University of Amsterdam and The Graduate Institute, Geneva


A group of six researchers, each specialized in either urban studies, security provision, or local governance, teamed up to conduct a study trip looking at local security provision in Beirut, from 16 to 20 March 2015. The team represented various members of the Platform, and were affiliated with The Clingendael Institute, Utrecht University’s Centre for Conflict Studies, the Centre for Urban Studies of the University of Amsterdam, the Graduate Institute, Geneva and the Maastricht School of Management. - Partnering with Beirut-based peace organizations and research programmes, the team engaged a broad array of Beirut residents and security actors with varying relations to formal state institutions. Through interviews and first hand observation, the team explored how such actors negotiate and assert their various roles in maintaining community level security. This study trip was directly supported by the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law.


In the neighborhoods of Beirut, Lebanon, various actors take on the role of maintaining security and providing their communities with a predictable system of order. This is especially the case in neighborhoods where government security actors, such as the Lebanese Armed Forces or the Internal Security Forces, are either not reliably present and/or have not gained sufficient trust from local residents and communities.

In some instances, such actors act as unarmed watch brigades, monitoring security incidents or potential disturbances in their neighborhoods and report irregularities to those with the local authority to intervene. In other cases, they exert coercive force that is not regulated by official Lebanese state authority. These actors are often viewed as primary providers of security in their neighborhood and thus maintain strong popular legitimacy.

Meanwhile, the state retains its role as the sole actor mandated for advancing security as a public good, and ensuring security is equally guaranteed to all its citizens. This is particularly true of local-level government, such as mayors, district administrators and local councils. These actors may be inclined toward engaging local security providers, and are able to initiate local-level collective action and resource mobilization. With these points in mind, there is room for more pragmatism in searching for ways in which local governments can productively engage informal security actors and service providers in their communities.

Aim of the study

The aim of the study trip was to directly observe: 1) how security and order is enforced by a variety of actors; 2) how these different actors interact, if they do; and 3) how they are able to assert their priorities and concerns through that engagement. Interviews were held with over 35 residents of five neighborhoods within the greater metropolitan Beirut (Na'baa; Hamra; Burj al Barajneh; Sinn el Fil; and Zokak el Blat). The team engaged experts and actors, including: Policy experts & academics; NGOs & practitioners; Representatives of Beirut Municipality; Syrian refugees; representatives of major political parties (representing Shia, Sunni, Druze, and Christian communities); community mobilizers and activists; local analysts and journalists; Lebanese artists; youth leaders; and neighborhood 'mokhtars' in order to learn from their respective experiences. The Beirut mission represents the first joint effort of the Plural Security in the City research network. Findings from the trip will be applied to inform and refine future research in other cities around the globe. The larger aim of this initiative is to contribute to a growing stock of empirical evidence on local governments’ engagement with non-state security provision in urban contexts, and how it may provide opportunities to work toward positive citizen security outcomes.