With much of the Middle East in free fall, ISIS on the upswing, and some Arab countries rapidly becoming failed states, there is a surprising country that is resolutely and valiantly refusing this fate – Lebanon.
At last November’s ATFL board meeting, the board decided to work on three major challenges to Lebanon and the US-Lebanon relationship: support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and security services, broadening Lebanon’s capacity to cope with the enormous numbers of refugees from Syria, and protecting vulnerable religious communities in the Middle East.
This new interactive website give us the opportunity to provide details of ATFL’s program which highlight the many challenges we are taking on in order to enhance US - Lebanon relationship and contribute to the stability and humanitarian needs of Lebanon
First of all, we are educating the US government on the importance of providing much needed assistance to the LAF, which is on the front line opposing both ISIL and the al-Qaeda franchise that are destabilizing the region and wrecking havoc on civilian populations. While the US should not directly enter the fray, it can certainly expand its support by continuing tosupply much needed armaments, strengthen the LAF’s air platform capacity to confront the extremists in the rugged mountains, and expedite delivery to the LAF and security forces. The costs are minimal when compared to US defense-spending in other areas of the Middle East, and unlike the accusations that the militaries in some Middle East countries lack the will to fight against ISIL, the LAF has successfully shown this will.
Unlike the security situation, some steps can be taken in the immediate future to address the humanitarian needs of the refugees and the host communities that are growing daily. For example, the ATFL recently made a commitment at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Marrakech – in partnership with TidWit, a private e-leaning company - to build an e-learning platform that will enable Syrian refugee children and disadvantaged Lebanese children alike to access substantive, low-cost on-line learning environments – around $20 per student compared to $2000 per student in a classroom setting. Additionally, ATFL hopes to promote social entrepreneurship projects that will result in sustainable business models for young entrepreneurs between the ages of 25-35 to provide services to refugees and marginalized Lebanese communities.
ATFL will continue to educate American policymakers on the need for increased US assistance to Lebanese communities and urge the US and international donors to fulfill their pledges of support. The scope of the need is evident – almost one-third of the inhabitants of Lebanon are Syrians, mostly refugees – an unsustainable situation if not addressed proactively. We will seek innovative solutions and secure resources to provide relief and services to the Lebanese communities and the refugees.
One of the core dynamics of the Lebanese identity is its multicultural, multi-religious, and multiethnic heritage, now under threat because of regional turbulence. ATFL works with like-minded NGOs and agencies to protect vulnerable religious communities throughout the Middle East. This will require broad educational efforts with the US and governments in the region to press for relief for those affected by intolerance and persecution, and to coordinate more effectively to counter extremist ideologies and interdict finances and ease of movement for extremists and militant forces that threaten these communities.
We recognize that these three priorities are not going to be resolved in the next year. They are at the top of our agenda because of their singular importance at this moment in serving our mission of supporting the US-Lebanon relationship and preserving the unity and independence of Lebanon. Hopefully, other Lebanese-Americans, friends of Lebanon, and those concerned with refugees and religious freedom will join us in these most important efforts.
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