Forum for the Future: A forum for whose future?

The seventh Forum for the Future commences Wednesday in Doha, Qatar, amid criticism from Arab human rights NGOs.

The forum was founded in June 2004 as an initiative by the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized states with the aim of promoting human rights, democratization, and political reform in the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) region.

Participating in the forum are representatives of 20 BMENA states, along with representatives from the G8, ten international partners, 250 participants from civil society organizations, and representatives of the business sector from BMENA and G8 countries.
In light of previous Forums for the Future however, Arab human rights NGOs have expressed skepticism regarding the upcoming forum in Qatar.
A press release issued by the independent Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) on Wednesday morning read: "Six years after the establishment of the forum, it remains more of a 'debate club' and less concerned with its primary mission: pressing for political reform and strengthening democracy and human rights in the Arab world. During these six years since it was founded, the situation in the region has deteriorated."
The CIHRS also criticized what it described as the marginalization of NGOs in favor of state actors in such forums. Arab governments and quasi-governmental institutions have been authorized to speak on behalf of civil society, while human rights defenders are prevented from participating in forum proceedings, the CIHRS said.
Other independent human rights groups in the region have criticized the Forum for the Future as being dominated by the same statesmen who are responsible for the region’s many human rights violations. They say the forum’s agenda should not be set by G8 states and/or Arab states behind closed doors.
In response to these grievances a parallel forum of Arab civil society groups and NGOs has been organized by the CIHRS, for the first time, to convene on 27-28 July in Cairo.
Some basic recommendations to resuscitate the Forum for the Future itself and enable it to yield concrete results in democratization and human rights include, according to the CIHRS, treating civil society organizations as full and equal partners in preparation for and during official meetings and "giving civil society organizations full responsibility for organizing their own preparatory meetings and contributions to the forum.”
Further criticism from within the Arab World and the EU has been leveled more generally against the BMENA initiative, which was launched on 8-10 June 2004 during a G8 summit at Sea Island, Georgia. Criticism has been directed toward the vagueness and lack of funding of the Forums for the Future.
The BMENA initiative is commonly perceived to be the successor of the failed “Greater Middle East Initiative” drawn up by the administration of former US President George W. Bush. This former initiative was deemed intrusive to the sovereignty of Arab states, and considered to be aimed at giving Israel a firmer foothold within the region, despite its illegal occupation and annexation of Arab territories.

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