Lebanon’s Basecamp sets the pace for citizens’ initiatives in fragile states

 Lebanon’s Basecamp sets the pace for citizens’ initiatives in fragile states
Volunteers from across Lebanon have flocked to support Basecamp, an initiative offering everything from food deliveries to garbage collection, from home repairs to mental health support. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 November 2020

Lebanon’s Basecamp sets the pace for citizens’ initiatives in fragile states

 Lebanon’s Basecamp sets the pace for citizens’ initiatives in fragile states
  • Initiative first established during the Oct. 2019 protests pools talents and resources to offer humanitarian relief
  • Besides material assistance, volunteers provide mental health support to residents traumatized by the Beirut blast

BEIRUT: Volunteers from across Lebanon have flocked to support Basecamp, an initiative offering everything from food deliveries to garbage collection, from home repairs to mental health support.

Under the slogan “Together, we’re stronger; we are the real government,” Basecamp unites Embrace (Lebanon’s national mental health hotline), housing project Baytna Baytak, social justice movement Minteshreen and citizens’ organization Muwatin Lebnene.

“We came up with the idea of providing alternative housing for medical heroes and Red Cross members who were in touch with COVID-19 patients,” said Bouchra Boustany of Baytna Baytak.

“It was launched among people who met during the revolution (in Oct. 2019), and we organized alternative housing for 450 people.”

Following the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion, the hotlines reopened and members hit the streets once again to assist those affected.




Under the slogan “Together, we’re stronger; we are the real government,” Basecamp unites several of Lebanon’s volunteer services. (Supplied)

“The phone started ringing, and I realized people didn’t want to leave their houses because they were mainly elderly, and most of them have been here for ages,” Boustany said. “We are now (providing) alternative housing to around 20 percent of applicants, and 80 percent are only asking for house repairs.”

So far, Baytna Baytak has rehabilitated 225 homes, with 127 in progress and another 132 waiting on finance. “We have a double mission because COVID-19 is growing, so now we are receiving calls from medical heroes. Our aim is to reach 1,000 houses within Beirut alone,” Boustany said.

And reaching those who are living alone is a high priority. “Those people are really in pain, if not physically, then psychologically. They’re destroyed. What I am doing is part of a therapy — we just can’t let them down, and it’s a struggle because we don’t have any kind of hope that anything is going to be ok.”

Samer Makarem, a strategist at Minteshreen, describes the movement as a national response. “We saw a lot happening and people trying to do things on their own. We decided that the country really needs unity, with everyone pooling their talents. We had a food box initiative before the explosion, so we were very active on a social front.”

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Basecamp

The initiative coordinates the voluntary services of Embrace, Baytna Baytak, Minteshreen and Muwatin Lebnene.

Minteshreen’s intention is to form a political body to drive real political change, which Makarem says the country desperately needs. Following the blast, the organization worked on mapping operations across Beirut to dispatch the right people to the right places.

“It was very difficult to see your neighbors and compatriots being reduced to waiting in line for food boxes,” Makarem said. “None of us is trained in relief and emergency; we’re just citizens who love our country, and it felt like the right thing to do.”

“The trauma and emotional stress are there, and it’s pretty bleak to be in, unfortunately, but Basecamp was a beautiful experience.”

Muwatin Lebnene is another organization formed during the revolution to collect and recycle garbage, subsequently turning into a productive civic duty movement.

“When the blast took place, we also felt that we needed to be on the ground,” said Muwatin Lebnene member Peter Mouracade. “(By the second day after the explosion), hundreds of selfless volunteers were there to help as much as they could, but it was messy and chaotic.”

Basecamp was created to enable proper utilization of all resources and to coordinate activities, including the mapping of Beirut’s neighborhoods.




So far, Baytna Baytak has rehabilitated 225 homes, with 127 in progress and another 132 waiting on finance. (Supplied)

“We had access to 3,000 households and made sure we had all the data verified within the blast radius,” said Mouracade, who is also the managing director of the Toters delivery app and former CEO of the Beirut Marathon. “We also ensured we could recycle broken glass — we sorted close to 80 tonnes (88 US tons) of glass and provided shelter to those who no longer had a roof over their head.”

Basecamp has moved to a larger indoor facility in Gemmayze to provide an integrated solution. “We now have a huge warehouse, a medical center, an engineers’ station also dedicated to heritage preservation, and psychological relief on site (to dispatch where necessary),” Mouracade said.

“We helped rebuild close to 500 houses and provided food to 2,000 households. This is growing on a daily basis with the help of civil society, NGOs, the Lebanese diaspora and internationals who have been helping us.”

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This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Six loyalist fighters killed in Syria arms depot blast: monitor

Six loyalist fighters killed in Syria arms depot blast: monitor
Updated 11 sec ago

Six loyalist fighters killed in Syria arms depot blast: monitor

Six loyalist fighters killed in Syria arms depot blast: monitor
BEIRUT: Six members of a pro-government militia were killed Wednesday in an arms depot blast in the central Syrian province of Hama, a war monitor reported.
Seven other members of the National Defense Forces militia were wounded in the blast, the cause of which remains largely unclear, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Kuwait’s emir launches process for amnesty pardoning dissidents

Kuwait’s emir launches process for amnesty pardoning dissidents
Updated 20 October 2021

Kuwait’s emir launches process for amnesty pardoning dissidents

Kuwait’s emir launches process for amnesty pardoning dissidents
  • This could potentially end a months-long standoff with opposition

KUWAIT: Kuwait’s ruling emir on Wednesday paved the way for an amnesty pardoning dissidents that has been a major condition of opposition lawmakers to end a months-long standoff with the appointed government that has paralyzed legislative work.
Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah tasked the parliament speaker, the prime minister and the head of the supreme judicial council to recommend the conditions and terms of the amnesty ahead of it being issued by decree, Sheikh Nawaf’s office said.


Syrian army shelling kills at least 11 civilians

Syrian army shelling kills at least 11 civilians
Updated 20 October 2021

Syrian army shelling kills at least 11 civilians

Syrian army shelling kills at least 11 civilians
  • Among the casualties were several school children

AMMAN: At least 11 civilians died on Wednesday in a Syrian army shelling of residential areas of rebel-held Ariha city, witnesses and rescue workers said.
The shelling from Syrian army outposts, which came shortly after a roadside bomb killed at least 13 military personnel in Damascus, fell on residential areas in the city in Idlib province.
Among the casualties were several school children, witnesses and medical workers in the opposition enclave said.


13 killed in Damascus army bus bombing: state media

13 killed in Damascus army bus bombing: state media
Updated 20 October 2021

13 killed in Damascus army bus bombing: state media

13 killed in Damascus army bus bombing: state media
  • Images released by SANA showed a burning bus

DAMASCUS: A bomb attack on an army bus in Damascus killed at least 13 people Wednesday in the bloodiest such attack in years, the SANA state news agency reported.
“A terrorist bombing using two explosive devices targeted a passing bus” on a key bridge in the capital, the news agency said, reporting an initial casualty toll of 13 dead and three wounded.
Images released by SANA showed a burning bus and what it said was a bomb squad defusing a third device that had been planted in the same area.
Damascus had been mostly spared such violence in recent years, especially since troops and allied militia retook the last significant rebel bastion near the capital in 2018.


Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists

Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists
Updated 20 October 2021

Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists

Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists
  • Civil society members stage a sit-in outside the Justice Palace to show ‘solidarity with the judiciary’

BEIRUT: Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the August 2020 port explosion, resumed investigations on Tuesday after being notified by the Lebanese Civil Court of Cassation of its second decision to reject the request submitted by the defendant in the case of MP Ali Hassan Khalil.

Normal service resumed at the Justice Palace in Beirut after a long vacation. The Lebanese army guarding roads leading to the palace and Ain Remaneh, which was the arena of bloody events on Thursday, over protests to dismiss Bitar from the case. The repercussions of these events have affected the political scene, its parties and the people.

Civil society activists under the auspices of the “Lebanese Opposition Front” staged a sit-in outside the Justice Palace to show “solidarity with the Judiciary carrying out its national duties and support for Judge Bitar to face the threats.”

Speaking on behalf of the protestors, activist Dr. Ziad Abdel Samad said: “A free and sovereign state cannot exist without a legitimate authority, judiciary and justice.”

Abdel Samad urged “the defendants to appear before Judge Bitar, because the innocent normally show up and defend themselves instead of resorting to threats.”

“We have reached this low point today because of a ruling elite allied with the Hezbollah statelet, protected by illegal arms.

“They want to dismiss Judge Bitar in all arbitrary ways and threats because he has come so close to the truth after they managed to dismiss the former judge, hiding behind their immunities because they know they are involved in the crime.”

Abdel Samad claimed that “those making threats are involved in the crime.”

Regarding the Tayouneh events that took place last week, he said: “They took to the streets to demonstrate peacefully, as they claimed, but they almost got us into a new civil war as a result of the hatred and conspiracies against Lebanon.”

Lawyer May Al-Khansa, known for her affiliation with Hezbollah, submitted a report at the Lebanese Civil Court of Cassation against the leader of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, Judge Bitar and “all those who appear in the investigation to be involved, accomplices or partners in crimes of terrorism and terrorism funding, undermining the state’s authority, inciting a strife, and other crimes against the law and the Lebanese Constitution.”

Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah on Monday night waged an unprecedented campaign of accusations and incitement against the Lebanese Forces party and its leader.    

Nasrallah accused them of being “the biggest threat for the presence of Christians in Lebanon” and said they were “forming alliances with Daesh.”

In a clear threat to Geagea and his party, Nasrallah bragged in his speech of having “100,000 trained fighters,” calling on Christians to “stand against this murderer.”

Nasrallah accused Bitar of “carrying out a foreign agenda targeting Hezbollah in the Beirut port crime” and of “being supported by embassies and authorities, turning him into a dictator.”

During the parliamentary session on Tuesday, no contact was made between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces. However, a handshake was spotted between the Lebanese Forces’ MP Pierre Abu Assi and the Amal Movement’s MP Hani Kobeissi.

Minister of Culture Mohammed Mortada, who represents Hezbollah, said “Hezbollah’s ministers will attend the ministerial session if Prime Minister Najib Mikati calls for one, but the justice minister and the judiciary must find a solution to the issue of lack of trust in Bitar.”

Several calls were made on Monday night between different political groups to prevent escalation and calm the situation.

Efforts are being made to reach a settlement that allows Bitar to keep his position and for defendants in the Beirut port case — who are former ministers and MPs — to be referred to the Supreme Judicial Council for prosecution.

Elsewhere, parliament dropped the proposal of a women’s quota ensuring female participation through  a minimum of 26 seats.

It passed a move to allow expats to vote for the 128 MPs and dropped the decision to allocate six additional seats representing them.

The parliament’s decision angered Gebran Bassil, who heads the Strong Lebanon parliamentary bloc. Following the parliamentary session, Bassil referred to “a political game in the matter of expats’ right to vote, which we will not allow to happen.”