A delegation of Bridging the Gulf Foundation participated in the Seventh Forum for the Future Meeting on 11- 12-13 January 2011 hosted in Doha, Qatar. High-level officials from 20 countries of the Middle East and North Africa and the Group of Eight and 10 international partners took part. In addition 250 participants from civil society organisations were present as well as representatives of the business sector in the Middle East and the Group of Eight. Progress was examined in the realm of political reforms and human rights promotion in the region.
The Bridging the Gulf Foundation delegation contributed to the Civil Society Forum, organised in coordination with the co-chairs by the National Human Right Committee (NHRC) and the Arab Democracy Foundation (ADF), held on 11 January. The purpose of the Civil Society Forum, which gathered together around 250 representatives from democracy advocates and civil society activists from the MENA Region, was to prepare a common Civil Society platform of principles and goals to be presented during the Ministerial meeting of 12-13 January 2011, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, and Canadian Foreign Minister, as well as several Arab Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Ministers of Spain and Afghanistan and representatives of the Foreign Ministers of Hungary and Switzerland, and of the Japanese parliament. The aim of the platform would be to promote political reforms and human rights in the Region as well as to foster co-operation on these issues between civil society and governments in a legitimate, open, and constructive framework.
A unique platform for high-level consultation and coordination between key interlocutors
The G8-BMENA process offers a unique platform for high-level consultation and coordination between key interlocutors: region's governments, civil society and the private sector plus partners from the international community. Some participants were sceptical due to the fact that many recommendations remained in the stage of wishful thought, without concrete translation into reality. Others were keen to see more hard talk and commitments from local governments and involved partners to implement the agreed recommendations. Yet many past Forum for the Future participants and observers noted the evolution regarding the role played by civil society. Where once, civil society participated on the sidelines in parallel fora, they now occupy seats as full partners during the Forum. Qatar was successful in fostering and allowing this interaction. And while discussions on democracy as an element of political reform remained a key pillar of Forum focus, discussions encompassed a greater spectrum of diverse areas for government-civil society-private sector cooperation.
Co-Chairs this year Canada and Qatar have sought this year to further the evolution of this relationship by deepening the level of engagement in the run-up to the Forum of the Future. They endorsed Italy and Morocco's innovation of 2009 by supporting the organization of three regional preparatory workshops, under the coordination of the Qatar National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), the Arab Democracy Foundation (ADF), and Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC). These workshops included "Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts and Democratic Transition", organized by NHRC/ADF in Doha, May 29-30 Bridging the Gulf Foundation for human security in the Gulf region was also involved in this workshop; "The Private Sector's Role in the Area of Social Responsibility", organized by the Global Political Trends Center and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, in Istanbul, October 9-10; and "Youth Participation", organized by the Arab NGO Network for Development in Beirut, October 18-20.
According to the Co-Chairs, they both were keen to strengthen government participation at these workshops, and recommended to civil society coordinators the creation of a format for open and respectful dialogue between participants, leading to the preparation of practical, constructive and results-oriented recommendations for discussion with ministers at the Forum (see recommendations). Civil society coordinators also sought to broaden the range of civil society representation at the workshops to include other areas of focus, specifically targeting young people, the research community, and organizations not previously involved in G8-BMENA activities. The active participation of host-government keynote speakers and of a number of senior-level government representatives particularly helped in these conversations by providing a policy perspective regarding opportunities for partnership.
The need to revitalize the process of the G8-BMENA
As conclusion we can stress that the Seventh Forum for the Future Co-Chairs Canada and Qatar have tried by all means to revitalize the process of the G8-BMENA launched in 2004, particularly by deepening the level of government-civil society dialogue before and during the Forum for the Future. Seeking also to strengthen linkages with the private sector.
Co-Chairs reviewed and reaffirmed the founding principles of the G8-BMENA Initiative, as outlined in the Sea Island Partnership for Progress G8 Statement, which include:
• Strengthening the commitment of the International Community to peace and stability in the region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa is essential.
• Successful reform depends on the countries in the region, and change should not and cannot be imposed from outside.
• Each country is unique and their diversity should be respected. Engagement must respond to local conditions and be based on local ownership. Each society will reach its own conclusions about the pace and scope of change. Yet distinctiveness, important as it is, must not be exploited to prevent reform.
• Support for reform will need to involve governments, business leaders and civil societies from the region as full partners in this common effort.
• Supporting reform in the region, for the benefit of all its citizens, is a long-term effort, and requires the G8 and the region to make a generational commitment.
According to the Co-Chairs Canada and Qatar this commitment has not changed, and the G8-BMENA Initiative continues to be based on genuine cooperation with and between the region's governments, as well as private sector and civil society representatives, to strengthen freedom, democracy, and prosperity for all. The values embodied in the Initiative are universal. Human dignity, freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law, economic opportunity, and social justice are universal aspirations and are reflected in relevant international documents, such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
According to the co- chairs Qatar and Canada, support for political, economic and social reform in the region, as undertaken through G8-BMENA activities including the Forum for the Future, will continue to complement other bilateral and multilateral cooperation programs such as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, the US Middle East Partnership Initiative, and the Japan-Arab Economic Forum.
Conclusion: Stronger and real partnership with civil society as key to reform and stabilisation of the region
The 7th Forum for the Future in Doha presents a key opportunity to discuss and pursue reforms addressing the issues that have inhibited regional political, economic and social development. While past models have served us well, Co-Chairs this year were keen to restructure the format of the Forum, to insert a greater element of genuine dialogue into the meeting, and created expanded and more effective interactive participation between governments, civil society, and the private sector.
Following the November 8th subministerial meeting in Ottawa, the Doha forum for the future anticipated holding a further such officials-level meeting in Doha on January 12th, in order to finalise the Forum agenda and documents for the ministerial meeting. The meetings were fruitful and successful so far, all were keen to see more concrete steps and recommendations translated into reality looking forward to working with France and their Co-Chair partner in managing an effective transition between G8 Presidencies, and carrying forward the strong momentum put in place towards revitalizing the G8-BMENA Initiative with a stronger and real partnership with civil society as key to reform and stabilisation of the region.
Last but not least, the State of Qatar proposed the establishment of a regional center for human security to carry out research and studies in the overall human security issues in the region and make practical proposals for policy makers. The proposal was included in the speech delivered by HE Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani at the opening of the 7th Forum for the Future G8-BMENA. This step was perceived by many as clear signal of the importance and the linkage between the need for security and human development See also.