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French Version

Med Forum focuses on regional strategies Reform must begin from within’

Um Asaad is one of the 120 million people in the Middle East and North Africa who live on less than $2 a day. They were all in the core of discussions at this week’s 4th Mediterranean Development Forum, held in Amman.

Um Asaad is not in a position to secure a reasonable existence. The 53-year-old Jordanian widow is a housewife and a mother of four but she can hardly meet the demands of her children.

Um Asaad is one of the 120 million people in the Middle East and North Africa who live on less than $2 a day. They were all in the core of discussions at this week’s 4th Mediterranean Development Forum, held in Amman.

The 550 delegates gathering in the meeting didn’t know about Um Asaad’s problems. They have tackled, however, the prospects of solving such problems so that the region can achieve some form of social and economic development.

Unemployment forms 20 percent of the region’s population at a time when Arab youths are entering the labor market faster than jobs available.

The increasing global demand on the region’s oil exports failed in elevating its economic potentials. Economists warn trade relations between the region and other countries have been victimized in efforts to integrate Arab states in the global economy.

A World Bank report indicate the combined exports of Middle East and North African countries stand at some $40 billion—lower than that of Finland, whose population is 50 times smaller than the region.

Jean Louis Sarbib, the World Bank’s vice-president for the MENA region, believes this part of the world requires fundamental changes in its political and economic policy-making processes.

A growing and idle young population, stifled by the poverties of income and unemployment, is creating pressure for the region’s leadership on social, economic and political fronts,” he said. Sarbib reiterated development means freedom. “It is about creating an environment where people can participate in deciding their economic and social future.”

“Progress for all. Visions for the future” was the main theme of this year’s MDF session, the fourth since 1997 when it was first launched in Cairo as a result of the peace process. The forum is often regarded as the venue where politics and economics blend to work out strategies to have better perspectives.

Dr Rima Khalaf, UN assistant secretary-general, pointed talk of war in the region is hindering any prospects for development. “We need to believe that exotic pressures are not the only factor that hinders development,” she said. “It is the inadequate political and economic systems that count here.” “Progress for all. Visions for the future” was the forum’s main theme—a promising motif for all. But promises alone are not enough. Efforts to change these promises into actions seem more difficult. Political reforms in Jordan were developing slowly since they were launched in 1989. Though still not fully developed, these developments witnessed rapid changes.

“The concept of democracy in the Arab world is still not ripe to meet the demands of its nations,” said Mr Hani Hourani, director of the Urdun Al Jadid Research Center. “Democracy assures everyone the rights in participation and development.”

Khalaf stressed the need to begin reforms from within, focusing on three important points: Freedom, knowledge and women’s empowerment. “Out of the seven regions in the world, the Arab region falls at the bottom of the ladder with regards to freedom in the areas of civil liberty, political rights and independence of the media,” she noted. “The inhibition of this freedom is a key factor in weakening human development in the Arab world.” Each of the three points were tackled at lenght in the MDF discussions. Concerning freedom, participants agreed social and economic development can’t be enhanced if there is no proper infrastructure for wider political participation. This includes legislative and political systems in the Arab world. Sustainable development in the region was tackled through four workshops: Trade and investment, employment and unemployment, empowering local government institutions, and fostering digital inclusion.

Participants at the forum agreed broader political reforms lead to more freedom in all other fields. This includes education, health, employment and participation in the policy-making process.

Arab women are also vital for development. According to the Arab Human Development Report in 2002, the participation of Arab women in the workforce today stands at very low rates, much below the required levels. Almost 40 percent of the forum’s participants were women, a fact that reflects the dispirited mentalities among Arab nations to give women further participation in the policy-making process.

Such reforms need first political will from all Arab leaders to become a reality. These leaders should accept these reforms as a matter of life,” Hourani noted. He warned the region is about to face political, economic and social explosions if the growth deterioration continues. He suggested Arabs are waiting for the tempest to blow, something which will certainly affect every political and economic sector in the region.

Sarbib explained reforms are key for Arab nations to be integrated in the global economy. “In the current climate of uncertainty, the governments of the Middle East and North Africa are confronted with difficult decisions over questions of political openness for their people,” added Sarbib, who urged Arab governments to take lessons from the experience of other countries. Learning from others is good. Learning means we continue reform until the end. The year 2001 may well be recalled as a special one in the life of the media in the Middle East and North Africa. The regional media found its way to cyberspace, achieved much headway in international affairs and circulation of newspapers increased.

The mass media also has its role in the sustainable development. “I believe the role of the mass media today is becoming more vital than ever before,” Emadeddin Adib, the Egyptian well-known commentator speaking at the MDF’s ‘regional mediascape workshop.’ “It is becoming a matter of life or death for all people in their dealing with the media. If the media fails to live to their demands, it will eventually lose.” The workshop helped in developing a coherent picture of the general mediascape in the region as much as possible, identifying the challenges and ways to face them.

Ghassan Joha
The Star

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