The Middle East Forum for the Future

The "forum for the future" constitutes an unprecedented and significant opportunity to address the Middle East reform at the international level. It is very important to consider the Middle East reform as an item on the international agenda and make advantage of any available international effort.

I need some time to evaluate the "forum for the future" comprehensively but there are some points I want to highlight.

The U.S. has succeeded in putting the Middle East reform on the international agenda to be an international objective, in the wide meaning. Highlighting this subject internationally is very helpful in prompting related course of action in the Middle East and helpful too, in initiating the real international commitment.

The international commitment and related efforts are still a matter of policy, the single policy of each state, which normally motivated by interests. The international order is still lagging to tackle this objective. Promoting democracy as international task has emerged in the international arena before the international order is developed and equipped to perform it. I could suggest two reasons behind this shortfall; the U.S. post-cold war policies accompanied by a somewhat chaotic post-cold war international order, and the second reason is the weakness of the European powers to play a role of leading powers in the world-level challenges. However, after the recent changes accompanied by Bush administration policies, I think the international order has the developing foundations, and then the prospects to get forward in that way.

The U.S. is in pursuit to internationalize and institutionalize the international support of democratization through the engagement with the other world powers and the international institutions like the U.N.

The engagement and collaboration with many concerned states, especially the Middle Eastern ones, are significant and effectual conclusion of "forum for the future." This engagement put the Middle East regimes in a position in which they face the world in addition to their peoples simultaneously.

Bringing the Middle East civil society representatives and institutions to the same table is, in my view, the foremost achievement and a really creative action by the U.S.
Strengthening and spotlighting the civil society like that would make a significant difference necessary to make progress in the democratization process. I still believe that the civil society is a key factor in this pursuit.

Background and related information:

(Source: International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)

Rice Travels to Bahrain for Conference on Middle East Reforms

State's Cheney, Fried say need for Mideast reform broadly recognized

By Phillip Kurata
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels to Bahrain November 11-12 to participate in an international conference on supporting democratic, educational and economic reforms in the broader Middle East.

"The Forum for the Future brings together governments, civil society groups from the region, and international organizations all seeking to support democracy, free market economic reforms, progressive economic policies, education throughout the broader Middle East," said Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried in Washington November 9.

At the forum, Rice plans to announce two new initiatives -- the Foundation for the Future and the Fund for the Future, which are financed primarily by the United States, but also by European and Middle Eastern countries.

The Foundation for the Future, supported by $35 million from the United States, $2 million from Europe, $1 million from Jordan and $6 million from other countries, will make grants to nongovernmental organizations working to democratize the Middle East, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Liz Cheney said in the same briefing.

Cheney said that she expects more announcements of contributions during or after the conference. She said the foundation has been set up as a result of the Democratic Assistance Dialogue in Rabat, Morocco, held in December 2004, when civil society activists and governments came together for the first time to talk about civil society's needs from governments.

"The civil society groups have asked for a foundation, some sort of entity that is not connected with any one government, that can provide support for their efforts to help to open up their societies," Cheney said.

Cheney said the headquarters of the foundation and fund will be located in the Middle East but did not disclose the country.

The Fund for the Future, underwritten by $50 million from the United States, $20 million from Egypt, $20 million from Morocco and $1 million from Denmark, will support entrepreneurship in the Middle East, modeled on enterprise funds that successfully were used in central and eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Fried said.

Cheney said the fund will provide primarily equity investments and some loan capital to small and medium-size enterprises across the broader Middle East.

The Bahrain conference is the second Forum for the Future, following up on the work launched at the first forum held in Morocco in December 2004. (See related fact sheet.)

Fried said the first forum generated a great deal of debate about whether democracy and reform were even possible to implant in the region.

"That question has been answered because the peoples of the region themselves have answered it. In the region in the past year we have seen elections. We have seen the people of Lebanon standing up and demanding freedom and sovereignty. We have seen civil society groups which will be present in abundance in Bahrain speaking to an agenda of reform," he said.

Cheney said that the elections in the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the new family code in Morocco enshrining the rights of women are indications that the governments in the Middle East recognize the need to democratize.

She said the focus of the reform issue debate in the broader Middle East is not whether to reform, but rather how and when to do so to respond to popular pressure.

"The curtain of fear is lifting. It is a process that will be difficult. It is a process that may take a long time, but in many ways once people begin to have a voice and once people recognize that they can demand that voice, it becomes much harder for governments who want to silence them to use the traditional tools to do that," she added.

Cheney made a special appeal to Syria to release democratic activist Kamal Labwani who recently visited the United States as a guest of the State Department and was jailed after his return to Damascus November 8.

"Forum for the Future" To Address Political Reform, Education

Bahrain hosts second annual forum meeting November 11 and 12

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Political rights and educational opportunities will be the two main items on the agenda when government officials and representatives of civil society groups from the Group of Eight (G8) nations, along with the countries of the broader Middle East and North Africa, gather for the second Forum for the Future in Manama, Bahrain, November 11 and 12.

“Knowledge and education, broadly speaking, is going to be a third of the agenda, but the remaining two-thirds are dealing with civil society and political reform. So there will be sections on human rights, women’s empowerment, anti-corruption,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Scott Carpenter told Bahraini reporters during an October 31 videoconference.

“There’s going to be a real opportunity for discussion and debate about where the region is on these various issues,” Carpenter said, adding that he also expected “a fair share of criticism as well of our various positions on things. This is going to be a real dialogue, a real give and take.”

Foreign ministers from most of the G8 nations and countries of the broader Middle East and North Africa region will be in attendance along with numerous other government officials and representatives of civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations.

The G8 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia.

Carpenter said that Bahrain, as the host country, and the United Kingdom, as current president of the G8, prepared the agenda for the forum. He noted that the agenda “fully reflects the willingness of Bahrain, as host, to discuss issues related to political reform, women’s empowerment, human rights, rule of law – these issues, rather than simply talking about economic development.

“These are difficult issues to discuss. They’re sensitive. But they’re fully in line with, for instance, the Arab Human Development Report’s most recent report.”

The most recent Arab Human Development Report is the third in a series of reports prepared by a group of Arab researchers under the auspices of the United Nations Development Program. It focuses on the challenges of political reform in the Arab world, specifically criticizing the lack of individual freedom and good governance. (See related article.)

Carpenter praised the progress that governments and civil society groups from the region have made in addressing the issues of political reform since the first Forum for the Future met in Rabat, Morocco, in December 2004. (See related article.)

He noted in particular the recent meetings of the Democracy Assistance Dialogue, an initiative launched at the Rabat Forum, in which participants outlined the need for mechanisms to support democratic reforms in the region. Carpenter said that this demonstrates how the momentum for political reform is originating within the region. (See related article.)

The U.S. official acknowledged that people in the region are preoccupied with numerous challenges -- the political process in Iraq, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the recent findings of the United Nations’ Mehlis report implicating Syrian officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri -- but he said there is a recognition within the region of the need for political and economic reform independent of those issues.

“There’s a consensus that problems and the challenge of reform is something that transcends in many ways these particular issues,” Carpenter said. It’s a question of “whether or not reform is possible in the region, whether the millions of jobs that need to be created over the next 10 years are going to be there for the young people who are coming up, whether people can get access to quality education that is going to give them the skills they need to compete in a globalized economy, whether or not governments are going to unleash the potential of their citizenry by expanding political and economic freedom.”

He said that these sorts of reforms are absolutely necessary “or the demographics in the region are such that the problems that would be created by failure are too dreadful to contemplate.”

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