Using Non-violence to Build Inclusive Democracy and Respect for Human Rights: Shared Goals in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa
November 13, 2012
75 activists, bloggers, academics, journalists, and social leaders from Morocco, Egypt, Kuwait, Iran, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Romania, Italy, and Spain held a dialogue in Tunis about democratic transition in the region and laid the foundation for future joint regional action at biannual committee meetings intended to form a common global strategy.
What do an Egyptian journalist, a Palestinian feminist, a Tunisian blogger, a Syrian activist, and a Spanish quincemayista have in common? Furthermore, what do the religious and secular, men and women, young and old within a particular country have in common? Each has different ways of bringing their ideas and initiatives into practice, and “we have witnessed attempts…to divide us [citizens], to highlight what separates us instead of our bonds and shared values. Some of these attempts to divide us have succeeded,” lamented Spanish-Syrian activist Leila Nachawati. In spite of this, the three-day international conference, “The Democratic Transition in the MENA Region: From Revolution to an Active Citizenry, Non-violence, and Regional Solidarity,” that took place in Tunis from November 1st through 3rd, 2012 has proved that these individuals struggling for the future of their countries still have more in common than not. Each of these individuals are facing societal violence, ranging from that exercised by the state or economic trends to that inspired by gender or religion, and each are using non-violent methods to combat it.
In these past few years, social movements have emerged all over the globe with the common desire to build participative democracy and implement institutional mechanisms to give citizens further control over the political process. Says Italian Senator Francesco Martone, “What struck me in observing the mobilizations in Tunisia and in Tahrir Square was the clear evidence that those engaged were not necessarily aiming at conquering power, they were exerting their power as citizens and people.”
Whether the host country possesses a consolidated democracy or is just transitioning from decades of dictatorship, the world is seeing a growing separation between populations and the institutions that are supposed to represent them. Many of the factors that inspired the Arab Spring protest remain unsolved and the region continues to struggle with occasional violence that can damage the progress made by non-violent revolutionary actors who are simultaneously working towards a future of transitional justice, dialogue, and peace.
To address these ongoing issues, the meeting brought activists from MENA region together with their European counterparts to share and exchange their respective experiences and to find common points of reference. In the past, movements in both regions have successfully used the physical occupation of public space, digital activism and citizen journalism, as well as legal channels to challenge repressive practices and institutions. In the future, Arab activists can learn from the European experience by continuing to spread information digitally: not only by tweeting, Facebooking, and posting Youtube videos of successful campaigns, but also by creating alternative media sources to oppose the mass media that is funded by political interests. This can include establishing community radio stations and employing free-source technology that is less prone to government collusion and copyright laws. Using these communication platforms, movements should seek to relay information with a few simplified messages and especially work to highlight the connection between economic and political monopolies as well as focus on causes that affect everyone in the divided society’s future, such as creating a new constitution.
Luckily, in spite of the violence that threatens to pull them apart, many citizens throughout the region seem ready to work towards their common future. A January 2012 study conducted by the New Libya Foundation and Tufts University found that 75% of Libyans polled thought “it is possible to get a group of people who are very different from each other to work toward a common goal.” This is the only way that civil society movements in the MENA region can succeed, points out the President of the Foundation for the Future, Ms. Nabila Hamza. Non-violent movements must engage all sectors of society in dialogue, recognizing that moderate elements within each sector of society will moderate hard-liners when everyone is involved in the process of building a new country.
Using these shared lessons as a starting point, conference attendees brainstormed on ways they could collaborate to realize non-violent region action, keeping in mind different national priorities. Therefore, a committee will be formed to continue the work of this international conference to meet biannually and form a global agenda. This is the most important element necessary for non-violent movements to succeed and remain as pure in their methods as in their goals: to have a unified strategy made up of time-tested best practices, not simply reacting and defending against new state, gender, and religious violence.
Hosted by the Foundation for Future (FFF), Training and Research Institute in Romania (PATRIR) and the International Institute for Nonviolent Action (NOVACT), with the support of Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Anna Lindh Foundation.
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Local Governance and Civil Society in Tunisia
The Foundation for the Future Holds a Conference in Partnership with VNGi
on September 14th-15th, 2012 in Tunis. The Foundation for the Future, in partnership with VNGi, is holding a regional conference on “Local Governance and Civil Society
” in Tunis.
Although the issues of decentralisation
and local governance have already been discussed at length in Tunisia, this event is the first to tackle civil society’s role in addressing these issues. More than forty experts, at least half of whom are based outside of Tunisia, will address the two-day gathering. Participants will thus be presented with case studies, not only from Tunisia, but also from Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle East
. The event will also be welcoming one hundred organisations working on human rights promotion, civic empowerment, democracy promotion, and good governance as well as international donors and local representatives.
It is especially important to include civil society in the debate on local governance in Tunisia as the country participates in its first free elections and rewrites its constitution. Civil society’s participation must be bolstered to foster a truly participative
and consultative democratic system, made up of a nation of newly active citizens. To do this, the conference will provide Tunisian civil society with tools and best practices gleaned from external experiences shared during this innovative dialogue.
Therefore, the conference will not only build on the capacity of civil society actors
, international donors, and institutional actors to engage in local governance and networks but will also further the global debate on the topic. The Foundation for the Future hopes that the discussion strengthening Tunisian civil society on the ground will soon inform other Arab Spring countries in their democratic transitions.
The Foundation for the Future is an independent, multilateral, not-for-profit organization which aims to support civil society efforts in promoting democracy and human rights in the BMENA region, while maintaining the cultural characteristics of individual countries. Since 2011, the Foundation has been implementing a holistic program in Tunisia
to empower civil society in positively impacting the democratic transition and ensuring that all strata of the Tunisian society are involved in the process. The Foundation for the Future has also held Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations since 2011.
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