Cairo International Democratic Transitions Forum
Experiences of other countries in the South, can inform transitions to democracy in the Arab region
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark and Prime Minister of Egypt HE Essam Sharaf, inaugurated today the “International Forum on Pathways of Democratic Transitions: International Experiences, Lessons Learnt and the Road Ahead”. The two-day forum aims to share experiences of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America which have undergone democratic transitions in recent years to enrich on-going debates on democracy and development in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab states region.
“We look forward to hearing the contributions of participants in this distinguished Forum. While the details of democratic transitions will differ from one country and one historical moment to another, there are similarities and lessons learned which can guide us,” HE Essam Sharaf said in opening the event. “I hope that this Forum will give us a closer look at best practices in dealing with such transitional phases,” he added.
Kicking off sessions of the conference, former president Michelle Bachelet of Chile and former president B.J Habibie of Indonesia, expanded upon their own experiences with transition in their countries and shared insights on their contribution. So did African National Congress Senior Negotiator in post-Apartheid South Africa, Mac Maharaj and former Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Amorim, in the following keynote session.
“Transition in each country is a unique process which must respond to the aspirations of its people. Across many transitions, however, similar questions have arisen on how to manage the pace of change, broaden political participation, determine economic models, and tackle inequalities. This gathering offers an opportunity to hear first-hand from people who have been prominent in transitions in their own countries elsewhere and gain insights from their experience,” Helen Clark said.
Topical sessions of the first day of the conference offered the opportunity for senior former officials from South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, and Mexico, to share and reflect on their experiences with representatives of government and civil society from Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, and Morocco, on the topics of: “Negotiating Transition Processes: Values, Voice and New Avenues of Participation” and the “Role of Political Parties & Social Movements.”
Students from the Universities of Cairo, Alexandria, and Assiut in Egypt, and from the University of Jordan, followed the proceedings of the forum over the course of the day through video streaming and were able to contribute their thoughts and questions to the session speakers and discussants through email.
“The experiences of transitions in countries from other regions of the world, especially in the South, provide a reservoir of lessons to be tapped and utilized, as appropriate,” said Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States, who added “We hope that the dialogue we started today will be of benefit to Arab countries that are currently shaping their future.”
The second day of the conference will feature two topical sessions that will focus on “Justice & Human Rights” and “Macro-Economic Transformations & Overcoming Socio-Economic Disparities.” Concluding roundtables will allow for in-depth examination of key transitional issues discussed over the course of the two days, including writing constitutions and bills of rights; moving from social movements to political parties and strengthening existing political parties; transitional governments; managing expectations of quick results; forming pacts, fronts and coalitions to foster national unity; and lessons learned from first post-transition elections.