Alia Al-Dalli: Arab Governance Week

29 Nov 2012

Closing remarks for Alia Al-Dalli
Manager of the United Nations Development Programme Regional Centre in Cairo

Arab Governance Week

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

This has been a long journey. But, it has not concluded. It commenced with acts of civil resistance against colonialist powers, continued on 17 December 2010 with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, sustained by contagion of protest throughout the region, and maintains an uninterrupted flow in the streets of Cairo and elsewhere.  As has been noted throughout our event, transitions are fluid and non-linear. For example, for many decades the focus of democratic governance was on elections as the central tenet of democracy.  We as a community of development specialists were wrong to look at only once process as the representation of political participation.  Elections are timebound intermittent processes.  Social accountability is exercised on a continuous basis – we see it manifested through the media, the judiciary, public hearings, campaigns and demonstrations.  It was well put by Winston Churchill in 1942 when he said “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

We are delighted to have marked this – perhaps – end of the beginning with our own long journey, a whole four days of intensive deliberations at our Arab Governance Week. From a very personal perspective, but believe that I echo the sentiments of my colleagues, it has been an honor. The discussions have been substantive and engaging, the exchanges and network opportunities have been flowing, the logistics flawless, and the participation of all exemplary.

I am also glad to inform you that I have received several messages from the Director of the Regional Bureau of Arab States and the Head of the Democratic Governance Team at our Headquarter in New York that they are looking forward to the results and recommendations of this conference because they will form a very important part of the UNDP policy in the coming phase. I would also like to record that we met 25 times in expanded and parallel meetings, media meetings, theoretical and practical meetings and we exchanged experiences and yet we still managed to move from one subject to another in a smooth and cooperative manner.

Furthermore, your participation and contributions were not limited to the discussions held in this conference room only but actually we have reached a wider audience through Live Streaming and Twitter and up till today, we have reached 350.000 followers.

For this, I thank you all. For your patience, commitment, and deep involvement.

However, the question is always, what next? We have been diligently recording your comments and inputs. Aside from the country delegation presentations, the following recommendations were forthcoming and key actions were identified.

During the first day of the event we were discussing the challenge of moving from a situation where the citizens have traditionally been dependent on the State to one of mutual accountability between the state and citizen. It was argued that basic awareness among all stakeholders (government, private sectors, civil society, including media and citizens at large) about the importance of social accountability, is necessary. The culture of respecting and fulfilling human rights needs to be fostered, increasing citizens knowledge of their rights as these are the basic values to which a government can be held accountable. The importance of improving and regulating free access to information as a condition for improved transparency and accountability was emphasised. Balanced legislation that protects the freedom of association and the independence and integrity of NGOs and the media, but at the same time stimulates a responsible and constructive attitude of these actors would be important as well. The capacity of these actors to play their role in the process of holding government accountable, needs to be strengthened, to ensure that NGOs and the media also become more transparent and accountable to their constituencies. It also became clear that neither of 3 actors could drive the change alone. Representatives of CSOs, media and government all agreed that cooperation between 3 actors is essential.

In countries with a more open and truly representative government that is seen to be legitimate and trusted, government itself could take a lead in bringing various actors together. In other countries, with more repressive and defensive government, civil society and the media should joint hands and continue to put pressure on government to demand for increased accountability. In the Arab region, with a long tradition of state dominance, civil society and the media will have to work hard to establish their equal, recognised and respected position.

Discussions in the parallel stream on governance assessments revolved around challenges and opportunities of accessing, collecting and analysing data about governance on local, national and regional levels, and using it to influence policy change. In addition to advancing access to information legislation, capacity of state institutions to manage information and enforce monitoring mechanisms needs to be strengthened. There is a need for a shift from a culture of secrecy to one of transparency which entails a fundamental change in mind-sets of politicians and bureaucrats, as well as building public awareness to encourage active exercise of the right to know. While access to information is importance, to ability to critically analyse information, by civil society and citizens at large, also needs to be fostered.

In the transformation process towards more democratic societies in the Arab region, governance assessments can play an important role in the introduction of democratic values and principles at various levels of society. Local governance assessments that are done in a highly participatory manner actively involving citizens, can empower citizens by informing them about their human rights and establish an initial but very critical means of communication between citizens and their government at local level, where the state and citizens interact directly. Special consideration should be made for addressing the interests of constituencies that are often excluded from formal governance processes, such as women and youth. 

Discussions of the parallel stream on the Universal Periodic Review showed that the main challenge in our region is the need to change perceptions.

First, perception about what the UPR really is: The UPR is a process for accountability to the people, and not just to the human rights council in Geneva! It opens the door to effective collaboration with civil society, and from there with the people they serve.

Perception about the relation between State and civil society should be: There is a critical need for increased dialogue between States and civil society – this requires a longer term “education” process to change years of antagonistic relations.

Perception about the role and responsibilities of civil society: civil society does not have the monopoly of advocacy and should engage more with the media for better outreach to the people.

As mentioned on several occasions, the responsibility does not rely solely on the shoulders of the 3 actors, State, civil society and media. The UN can certainly support them on this challenging work by bringing examples of good practices from other countries or regions where these changes are possible, and by supporting confidence building initiatives where State and civil society are both partners in joint projects.

These actions must be collective. It will involve all of us. I cannot commit to your follow-up but based on the convection illustrated in the last four days, we believe that it will be forthcoming. I can, however, commit to providing the continuous support of the Regional Center in Cairo, UNDP. You have now been introduced to the very impressive, albeit limited, staff and thus please call upon us for any needs.

And, speaking of staff, I would like to take my final closing words by giving my most sincere appreciation to the all of the RCC colleagues. As this was truly a team effort, I am unable to name them individually.  But, and think we all agree, Mitra, Nina, and Rym (stand up!) deserve a special commendation for their tireless effort over the past six months in pulling this together almost single handedly. Beyond that, we have had a terrific operations team that have catered to every need. The ushers, working as volunteers, have also been invaluable as well as the translators. Thank you.

Lastly, thanks to our partners OHCHR, UNWOMEN, and IDEA for their noteworthy support in this endeavor. And thank you to all of the participants that have traveled far to be with us for this special event.

I will stop here and hope that you might be able to see some of this fascinating city. In the Arab awakening, the core aim was to overcome regimes that were founded on a political and economic elite, and in their place build a future based on inclusion, rights and dignity. Therefore, let’s continue the long journey and trust that it will take us down the right path.

Thank you and safe journey.

 

Alia Al-Dalli
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Manager of the United Nations Development Programme Regional Center in Cairo.

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