Thursday, December 13, 2012
The Jefferson Institute gathered human rights activists from the broader Middle East region to discuss challenges, constraints, and opportunities that NGOs throughout the region face in advocating for democratic values in their transitional societies. The activist attended the 9th BMENA Forum for the Future, an international venue that provides a space for partners, supportive countries and organizations to engage in political, economic and social reform on an annual basis. The open dialogue allowed the activists to voice their concerns for human rights as reform is reshaping the region. Although much of the Middle East and North Africa have taken a turn in a positive direction, such a massive overhaul of society is by no means smooth, and the protection of fundamental human rights often fails to keep up with the pace of reform.JI’s participants advocated for transparency and good governance, democratic participation, legal reform, and women's empowerment, and collaborated together to synchronize civil society recommendations to participating governments and organizations. Following the Forum, attending participants selected a group of thirty activists that would represent civil society at the Sub-Ministerial Meeting that took place over the following two days. JI’s participant, Seif El Khawanky, was among those selected to participate, and was given the opportunity to share his input on the upcoming vote on Egypt’s draft constitution and the fragile political environment that has taken hold in the country since the revolution.
Seif, and the rest of JI’s activists were invited to participate in the State Department’s Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society roundtable that allowed them to share their concerns and visions for the future with high-level US policymakers and the Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rafik Abdessalem. The dialogue was moderated by US Assistant Secretary of State, Michael Posner, and led by the highest ranked Foreign Service Officer in the United States and the current Deputy Secretary of State, William Burns. The roundtable, attended by a dozen activists from the wider MENA region, underscored that each country has its own distinct challenges and democratic obstacles, but also accentuated the fact that common hurdles to consolidating democracy and establishing a just and pluralistic society are shared throughout this post-revolutionary space.
The roundtable spurred a thoughtful policy debate, punctuated by JI’s participant’s in-depth insight on local matters, including Sufian Khalfalla’s concern with security for civil society activists throughout Libya and Muamar Orabi’s distress with the abstractions to freedom of speech in the Palestinian territories.