Cablegate: Civil Society Success: Finally Hitting the Target at The

DE RUEHTU #0007/01 0030922
R 030922Z JAN 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Civil Society Success: Finally Hitting the Target at the
BMENA Parallel Civil Society Event

Ref: a) 07 Sanaa 2313

b) 07 Tunis 109

Sensitive But Unclassified. Handle accordingly.


1. (SBU) This year's BMENA Parallel Civil Society Forum
(PCSF - ref a) - an annual event that prepares civil society
participation in the annual Forum for the Future ministerial meeting -
was a significant improvement over its predecessors. Last year's
parallel forum in Jordan was particularly weak: bad organization,
lack of focus, a rival civil-society event that opposed the whole
BMENA process, and no concrete results or conclusions. Following last
year's experience, ref b laid out a number of recommendations to
improve these events, including early engagement and support for the
local organizer, better selection of participants and moderators,
and a focus on concrete results. Many of these recommendations were
implemented, with MEPI support, and resulted in a professional,
focused event that clearly advanced civil society's role and agenda
within the BMENA process. Most of the credit goes to the Yemeni
organizer, the Human Rights Information and Training Center (HRITC)
and the ROYG for its full support of the civil society event.
Both were engaged, organized and willing to accept outside
help/advice. The signal achievements of the event were:

-- the adoption of a "State of Democracy Report," assessing
democratic reforms in the region, which is slated to be updated

-- creation of a steering committee of prominent civil society
figures to act as an interface with the G8 regarding BMENA follow-up;

-- establishment of a rotating organizing committee, made up of the
previous, current and upcoming organizers of the PCSF, to ensure
continuity and quality.
End Summary.

Picking up the Pieces

2. (SBU) The 2006 third PCSF in Amman revealed the shortcomings of
holding an annual civil- society event without a structure in place
to ensure continuity, advance planning and quality control. Although
the event was attended by 350 civil society representatives (a
majority from Jordan), many leading figures were missing, Islamists
appeared heavily represented and few participants seemed aware of the
purpose of the event. Sessions were poorly organized and poorly
managed and, for the most part, drifted off topic and devolved into
lamentations/complaints about either governments in the region or
regional hot-button issues. The third PCSF produced no concrete
conclusions or other positive results to speak of. Because of this
poor showing by the official PCSF, public attention shifted to a rival
anti-BMENA, anti-US gathering, "The Anti-hegemony Conference" held
one day later, which focused much of its time on Iraq and Palestine.
This rival conference was no better organized or concrete in its
results, but the very existence of the two events highlighted how
easily civil society can become fragmented and ineffective.

Laying the groundwork for improvement

3. (SBU) Following last year's negative experience, we laid out in
ref B a number of recommendations to improve these events. Many of
these recommendations were implemented, with MEPI support, and
resulted in a professional, focused event that clearly advanced civil
society's role and agenda within the BMENA process. The most
important reason was the early selection of the Yemeni Human Rights
Information and Training Center (HRITC) as the organizer, with the
full support of the ROYG. HRITC held several meetings with key
regional civil society reps to strategize for the PCSF, including a
May 2-3 gathering in Amman funded by MEPI and attended by then-NEA
DAS Carpenter.

4. (SBU) NEA/PI remained in close contact with HRITC behind the
scenes and provided significant funding for its organizing activities.
HRITC established a strong coalition of 28 Yemeni civil society

TUNIS 00000007 002 OF 002

organizations and included them in preparations, which headed
off any possibility of a "rival" civil society event. Participant
selection for the PCSF was the other key ingredient, as the turnout
included an overall higher caliber of civil society representatives,
including a large number of prominent figures from across the region.
Septel reports on a group of MEPI alumni who prepared in advance for
the PCSF and made a significant contribution to the proceedings.

Night and Day

5. (SBU) The fourth PCSF in Sana'a was professional and focused.
Thematic panel discussions, interactive working groups and plenary
sessions made the gathering more interesting and efficient.
Participants seemed pleased with the agenda, which focused on
concrete reform topics, and spent their time debating the way ahead
rather than complaining about extraneous issues. Recommendations
were practical and led to the development of work plans to present to
foreign ministers of the region and the G8 during the upcoming Forum
for the Future. Working groups selected their own delegates
to the represent them at that ministerial meeting.

Concrete Results

6. (SBU) The Sanaa PCSF produced significant accomplishments on both
the administrative and substantive front. It agreed to a new
institutional structure for communication, follow up and organizing
events. This includes a steering committee that will be the civil
society interface with the G8 presidency on follow-up to civil society
recommendations. (Comment: The Steering Committee is a welcome
innovation, although we expect that selection of its membership could
be treacherous. End comment.) There also will be an organizing
committee -- made up of the previous, current and upcoming PCSF's
organizers -- to oversee preparation of future PCSFs.

7. (SBU) Substantively, the PCSF produced a potentially landmark
document as an answer to previous recommendations to monitor reform
progress. The concise "State of Democracy" Report assesses democratic
reforms in the region over the past three years. This report helps to
benchmark reform progress on two key topics: freedom of association
and organization, and the legal environment of NGOs. Given the large
number of reform issues, participants stressed the need to produce
an annual report on a small number of critical reform areas as a means
to change the dynamic of interaction between governments and civil
society at the Forum for the Future. In past years, civil
society presented its recommendations; governments took note, but
felt no pressure to take further action on the recommendations. It
is hoped that an annual report will expose governments who are not
supporting real reform. Participants recognized that maintaining a
set of reform indicators will be very challenging. Nonetheless, they
felt it important to be able to effectively benchmark progress and
ensure continuity throughout the Forum for the Future process.

Comment: Back on Track - For Now

8. (SBU) All involved in supporting the PCSF rightly should be
pleased with the results. The new institutional structures agreed to
should make future events easier, but it will be important to ensure
they receive adequate attention and support from the new Japanese
G8 Presidency and the host of the next Forum for the Future. As
with this year, early selection of the next organizer and early
consultations with key players will be the prerequisites for building
on this year's success.


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