Washington, March 15 Representatives
of civil society from ten Muslim countries in the Middle East
and Africa are converging on Tarrytown, New York for a conference
that will explore ways of advancing teaching about democracy
in their region. The March 18-20 gathering is hosted by the
Pocantico Conference Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
It is organized by the Council for a Community of Democracies
in collaboration with the Washington-based Center for the
Study of Islam and Democracy and the New York-based American
Forum for Global Education.
Some thirty participants ranging from Turkey
and Iran to Senegal and Nigeria will share ideas and propose
strategies on advancing democracy education in the Middle
East and Muslim Africa. They will interact with representatives
from American and European nongovernmental organizations with
experience in the field. Noted Egyptian democracy advocate
Saad Ibrahim will give a keynote address on March 19 offering
participants insights into how recent events in Egypt, Lebanon,
Iraq and even Saudi Arabia can be encouraged to blossom into
a sustained democracy movement for the Arab world.
Conference participants will hear from Turkish,
Senegalese and Nigerian experts on how the values of democracy
and citizen participation in the democratic political processes
of their countries are promoted in their schools. Participants
from Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Libya will explore
barriers and opportunities to the promotion of democracy through
institutions of civil society and in their educational systems.
An important agenda item will be the question of religion
and how Islamic principles can be interpreted in ways compatible
with democratic values and ideas and how those values can
be presented in the context of Muslim societies.
The conference’s major objective will
be to produce recommendations for the Ministers of the more
than 100 countries expected to attend the Third Ministerial
Conference of the Community of Democracies to be held in Santiago,
Chile from April 28-30. The Pocantico participants are expected
to appeal to the Ministers to endorse the importance of democracy
education as fundamental for the development of democracy
in the Arab world and Muslim Africa and to ask that donors
provide resources to implement their proposed strategy.
Speaking of the significance of the Conference,
the Executive Director of the Council for a Community of Democracies,
Robert LaGamma noted that promotion of democracy education
in the Arab world would greatly advance the dialogue about
democracy in that part of the world where democracy and democratic
ideas have made the least progress. He noted that there were
some signs of democratic stirrings in the Arab world, a process
that has been encouraged in the West but also by the recommendations
of the United Nations Development Program. He cited past UNDP
reports that identified a “freedom gap” and a
“knowledge deficit” that prevented the region
from making economic and social progress while all other world
regions were experiencing waves of democratization. LaGamma
added that it was the hope of Pocantico participants that
the movement known as the Community of Democracies would assist
in promoting democracy in the region. He also called for Americans
and Europeans to work together on advancing democracy education
in the Arab world and Muslim Africa.