The second meeting of the Socialist International Special Committee on the Arab World took place in Istanbul on 23-24 March 2012, hosted by the Republican People's Party, CHP (list of participants
). Discussions centred on empowering the progressive actors to secure the success of the transitions at a turning point in the region, with special focus also on the ongoing humanitarian and political crises in Syria, where daily violence and massacres have caused much consternation and anguish within the social democratic movement and the wider international community.
Chairing the meeting, SI President George Papandreou thanked the CHP for their hospitality and underlined his commitment to Greek-Turkish cooperation. Speaking from the perspective of his home country, which had had its own successful transition from authoritarian rule, he emphasised the need for democracy to be kept alive at all times everywhere in the world. He explained that the meeting in Istanbul was an opportunity to find a unified voice from the forces of the democratic left, showing solidarity with those struggling for democratic rights and freedoms and elaborating strategies for enhanced cooperation and action.
In his opening address, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the CHP, echoed the sentiments of the SI president on cooperation between their two countries and extended a warm welcome on behalf of his party to all participants. He outlined the need to ensure that the objectives of the democratic movements in the Arab world were fully realised, and not appropriated by external powers for their own interests. The indispensability of democracy was fully understood by the CHP, he commented, as the party was working hard to defend democratic rights and freedoms in Turkey.
SI Secretary General Luis Ayala introduced the work of the committee and of the International on the Arab world, referring to the role of the organisation in accompanying protests, revolutions and the process of democratisation over the previous 14 months. For all the advances made by the people in those countries during that time, there remained many challenges, he added, and the International would continue to work alongside its partners in the Arab world to maintain the momentum for change. He reported on his recent visit to Yemen to meet with the new authorities responsible for the democratic transition in that country.
Representatives of the opposition Syrian National Council reported on the situation in their country and asked the International to keep up its political support for their cause. They stressed the necessity that humanitarian assistance be provided to those in desperate need in Syria and that the international pressure on the regime be stepped up to open the way for the Syrian people to decide by themselves a democratic future.
Participants were united in their condemnation of the Assad regime and desire to see an immediate end to violence to pave the way for Syria's democratic future. Calls were made for the Syrian opposition to unite and present a clear and strong alternative to the regime. Support was expressed for the United Nations and Arab League initiatives, and the six-point plan which was endorsed by the presidential statement of the UN Security Council on 21 March. Equally the need for a solution that avoids further bloodshed was emphasised, as well as the need to open the way for free and fair elections to take place as soon as possible.
The importance for the International of continuing to be present alongside the democratic actors in the Arab world and with those who share the organisation's values and principles was stressed, as this kind of support is needed for the growth of healthy, effective new democracies.
Participants from Egypt pointed to the divided nature of the political landscape, with no consensus on the path of future change. In this context, presidential elections in May and June will be critical and must be held under free and fair conditions. In Tunisia the important task of writing the new constitution is underway, and it was underlined that this document should reflect and acknowledge the equal rights and inclusion of people of different genders, religions and ethnicities, as well as minorities.
With reference to Yemen, the meeting heard that many challenges remain for the new transitional government which must be allowed to carry out its work free of interference from the former regime. Crucial to this process is the national dialogue which will search for consensual solutions to the country’s pressing problems. With regard to Morocco, the recent elections under a new constitutional framework were acknowledged. More power has been given to elected representatives including the USFP, now in opposition, which can better fulfil its role of holding the new government to account.
The exchanges also recognised the important role played in Lebanon by the PSP in advancing the democratic agenda in the region and ensuring the political stability of the country. The role of President Jalal Talabani in Iraq was recognised, with the conviction that recent attacks will not weaken the resolve of the SI member party in that country to achieve peace, stability and economic prosperity for the people.
Past experiences of SI member parties, which have led transitions in their own countries, it was underlined, would be beneficial for the definition of a social democratic blueprint to ensure their success in the Arab world. These transitions need to remain faithful to the values of the uprisings, among them the guarantee of free and fair elections, justice for those persecuted and equal rights and opportunities for all citizens, recognising the contribution of women and youth.
Equally, the ability of the Socialist International to enhance cooperation between social democratic forces in the region was also a feature of the discussions, emphasised by the presence for the first time in an SI meeting of a representative from Bahrain. There, many democratic activists including Ebrahim Sharif, the Wa'ad secretary general, have been imprisoned for their democratic struggle, and the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry into the violent reaction of the authorities to last year's demonstrations have yet to be fully implemented.
Participants also resolved to explore further ways in which the global social democratic movement could assist its members, as it recently has done by using the legal and political expertise within the movement to contribute to the preparation of the transitional justice law in Yemen. The law will provide the legal framework for reparations for violations of the rights of citizens and the settlement of the state's responsibility to those who have been wronged under the authoritarian regime.
The same type of cooperation will be given in relation to the establishment and building of the new state institutions in some of the new democracies. The Socialist International will continue to follow attentively the electoral processes in the Arab world, with the presence in some cases of observer delegations to accompany and monitor these crucial processes, including the landmark Egyptian presidential elections in May.
Participants also agreed that dialogue and partnerships between social democrats and other actors united by their pursuit of democracy across the Arab world should be encouraged. The goal of this collaboration would be to contribute to the unity of opposition forces committed to ending authoritarianism and to the advent of democratic elections.
In the review of forthcoming electoral processes in the Arab world, a number of situations were highlighted. Among them was Mauritania where significant steps are needed to ensure that schedule elections take place under free and fair conditions, the key demand of SI member the RFD and of the Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (COD), of which the RFD is part. The COD has been demanding the installation of a transitional government to ensure the transparency of the electoral process.
The meeting took note that in Algeria, SI member the FFS, which had not participated in elections for 15 years due to a lack of trust in the process, would present candidates for the forthcoming parliamentary elections, and expressed its support for the party. Elections to the new Constitutional Assembly in Libya planned for June this year were viewed as a historic opportunity for the people to freely exercise their democratic right as they launch the process of defining that country's constitution.
Palestinian elections this year are an important moment to advance towards the unity of the Palestinian political institutions, and the meeting supported calls for the urgent realisation of an independent State of Palestine. The pressing need for negotiations to bring about a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara conflict under the auspices of the United Nations was addressed and support reiterated for the rights of the Sahrawi people to self-determination. The SI will continue to work with its Moroccan members and the Polisario Front on this issue.
At the end of the exchanges a declaration
was adopted, incorporating and reflecting the discussions and decisions of the meeting and outlining the full support and solidarity of the International to the progressive actors in realising their democratic objectives in the Arab world.