A roadmap for democracy and renewal in the Arab world
Education and respect for human rights underpin a “roadmap” aimed at supporting the Arab world’s transition to democracy, developed at an international round table organized by UNESCO at its Paris Headquarters on 21 June.
The “roadmap” defines the conditions necessary for the successful establishment of democratic states. Along with education and human rights, it focuses on issues of governance, democratic institutions, citizenship, the active involvement of women and young people, socio-economic development and freedom of expression.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova opened the round table, in the presence of Abdou Diouf, Secretary-General of La Francophonie, Nickolay Mladenov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Nassif Hitti, Representative of the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, and some 250 participants including experts, academics and civil society leaders specialized in, or from, the Arab region.
In her opening speech, the Director-General described recent events in the Arab States as a major democratic and social revolution and stressed the important role UNESCO had to play in this time of transition.
“Democracy and freedom of expression need education and literacy that open the way for all to be informed, to express ideas, to find a job,” the Director-General said. “Democracy assumes that people have the means to protect their heritage and their culture from the thieves who exploit misery and steal identities. To develop, democracy needs justice, equality between citizens and reduced poverty.”
“In this challenging context, it is vital that the international community extends all the support it can bring to these societies undergoing transformation processes.”
Participants included President of the Arab Institute of Human Rights Abdelbasset Ben Hassen, lawyer at the Tunisian Supreme Court and the International Criminal Court, Alya Cherif Chammari and French senator Robert Badinter. They all stressed that every effort must be made to avoid simplifying the complex issues in the process of transition towards democracy. Actions, they said, must be sustainable in order to meet the challenges of founding, restoration or preservation of democracies. It is also essential that priority be given to the role of women and youth as major political actors.
Discussions during the day-long event marked the start of ongoing dialogue with a range of actors to support transition and complement the activities already begun by UNESCO in the Arab region.
Thus, UNESCO has already begun work in Tunisia and Egypt to strengthen media freedoms, provide media professionals with pre-electoral assistance. In Egypt, the Organization is also involved in helping young people to participate in political decision-making, the protection of cultural heritage and accompanying the government in its efforts to promote literacy and integrate a connected world.
In many countries of the Arab World, activities are developed in the framework of UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme to reduce the gap between social realities and government policies by promoting action-oriented research on social transformations. An example of this type of activity is a three-day regional workshop on “Policy Research in Designing, Monitoring and Evaluating Social Protection and Cash Transfer Policies and Mechanisms in the Arab Region” that will be held in Beirut, from 27 to 29 June.
The workshop will function as a forum for knowledge sharing among regional and international researchers and policy makers together with experts from United Nations agencies and civil society.