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Cablegate: Mepi Alumni Meeting: A Civil Society Springboard

VZCZCXRO3743
RR RUEHDE
DE RUEHTU #0008/01 0030922
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 030922Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4259
RUEHMEP/THE MIDDLE EAST PARTNERSHIP INITIATIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 0332
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 0165
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1398
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1870
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0162
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0068
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 3355

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TUNIS 000008

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM KMPI GE PREL PGOV YM
SUBJECT: MEPI ALUMNI MEETING: A CIVIL SOCIETY SPRINGBOARD

Ref: a) 07 Sanaa 2313

b) 07 Tunis 109

Sensitive But Unclassified. Handle Accordingly.

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Taking a "two birds with one stone" approach, the MEPI
Regional Office in Tunis brought together select MEPI alumni holding
civic-activist profiles to beef-up a BMENA civil society event and to
hold a separate alumni meeting. The participants, from a dozen
Arab countries, spent one day preparing for the fourth Parallel
Civil Society Forum (PCSF) in Sanaa, which enhanced their contribution
and resulted in six of them being chosen by their peers to represent
civil society at the upcoming Forum for the Future ministerial meeting.
Following the PCSF, the MEPI alumni regrouped with MEPI staff
from Washington and Tunis to provide USG officials with a first-hand
evaluation of that event. Further discussions included a frank
exchange on the future of reform in the region and the appropriate
role for the United States. As MEPI continues to seek out ways to
sustain and build on relations made among the thousands of
civil society actors who have been involved in MEPI programs, this
alumni meeting served as an effective model for convening activists
from different fields around a single, galvanizing event.
End Summary.

-------------
THE SELECTION
-------------

2. (SBU) The MEPI Regional Office (RO) in Tunis, in coordination
with the RO in Abu Dhabi, invited 25 civil society activists to
participate in a MEPI alumni meeting called "Developing Networks and
Sharing Experiences" on the margins of the fourth annual
Civil Society Parallel Event (PCSF) to the Forum for the Future,
held Dec. 2-3, in Sanaa. The invitees had participated in previous
MEPI activities, such as the New Generations program for established
activists, the Leaders for Democracy Fellowship program for
emerging reformers, or as implementers of MEPI local grant projects.
They were invited for their experience and expertise in a variety of
fields, including law, media, human rights, and women's empowerment.

3. (SBU) In the end, 19 activists from 12 Arab countries and the
Palestinian Territories participated in the alumni meeting, as well
as the PCSF. They were joined by NEA DAS Kent Patton and five reps
from NEA/PI and the Tunis RO. The meeting achieved a number of key
objectives. First, it fit into MEPI's goal of building up alumni
activities for the thousands of actors throughout the region who have
taken part in MEPI programs over the past five years. Next, it
contributed to ongoing efforts to keep USG officials in contact with
alumni members, as well as putting and keeping them in contact with
each other. The meeting also served as a model for how to bring
alumni from different fields together around a galvanizing event, such
as the PCSF.

-----------
THE MEETING
-----------

4. (SBU) The purpose of the alumni meeting was twofold: 1) to
prepare participants for an active role in the PCSF, which took place
following the first day of the meeting; and 2) to provide them with an
opportunity to give the USG officials in attendance their views on
the PCSF once it ended, as well as recommendations for how the USG
might better advance democratic reform in the region. Toward the first
goal, the participants heard from MEPI officials and other civil
society actors about the process and outcomes of the previous Forum for
the Future and PCSF conferences held in 2004 in Morocco, 2005 in
Bahrain, and 2006 in Jordan. They then divided into teams, based on
their own interests and areas of expertise, to brainstorm on how they
could be most effective contributing to the PCSF.

5. (SBU) The MEPI alumni then took part in the two-day PCSF, where
they were involved in each of the six practical workshops, which
included promoting reforms around freedom of expression, the legal
environment for NGOs, education and labor markets, women and
political empowerment, youth and political participation, and the
private sector's role in democratic reform (Ref A). Their impact was
clearly evident, as one MEPI alumni member presided over the general
PCSF, while a second was chosen to chair the workshop on women and
political empowerment. Six of the MEPI alumni were elected

TUNIS 00000008 002 OF 002


by their peers to be among the 24 members of civil society who will
present the PCSF recommendations to the Forum for the Future delegates,
when it'S conference takes place in Sanaa in the first part of this
year.

---------------
THE POST-MORTEM
---------------

6. (SBU) Following the PCSF, the MEPI participants were brought back
together to evaluate the event and to provide recommendations for
future civil society activities, including next year's PCSF. On the
positive side, alumni agreed the overall participation at the PCSF
was excellent, with more than 300 civil society representatives from
all BMENA countries present and engaging in discussions of
controversial subjects that would not have been permitted by some of
their governments just a few years ago. The MEPI alumni also were
pleased to see how the participants stuck to the reform agenda rather
than getting side-tracked by discussions of Iraq, Israel, or other
topics, as had been the case in previous PCSF conferences (Ref B).
They also praised the preparations of the PCSF organizers and the
positive media coverage of the event. On the negative side,
there were complaints that many of the workshop sessions had too
many participants to be effective. If the workshop size cannot be
reduced, future meetings should at least look at tightening the
procedures and perhaps hiring professional moderators to increase
their efficiency.

7. (SBU) The overarching concern voiced by MEPI alumni members was
that while many good recommendations came out of the PCSF workshops,
they remain recommendations only. The challenge, they said, is in
finding mechanisms to compel the Arab governments attending the Forum
for the Future to adopt these recommendations in their respective
countries. One alumni member pointed out that while governments had
agreed to many of the recommendations regarding freedom of expression
at the last Forum, none of these suggestions was ever implemented and
the situation in most countries has actually worsened since last year.
A number of suggestions were made on how to hold governments
accountable, including monitoring promises against actual reform
achievements and shaming through the media those governments that
failed to live up to their commitments.

------------
THE USG ROLE
------------

8. (SBU) During the final session, the MEPI alumni offered
suggestions on how the USG might better promote democratic reform
in the region. Several of them thanked us for our assistance yet
warned against putting them in difficult or even dangerous positions.
They said it was critical for US officials to fully understand the
working environment in each country and to be careful in reaching
out to the true reformers rather than government-backed actors posing
as civil society activists. A number of participants faulted the USG
for remaining too close to oppressive leaders and for failing to be
consistent when dealing with states that fulfill American interests yet
violate human rights principles. Some complained of problems with US
NGOs and/or contracting companies, which they said do not coordinate
well with local organizations and often receive funding to implement
reform programs that local groups could better implement, thereby
taking funding opportunities away from them. Toward this end, several
of the participants reiterated how reform must emerge from the region,
without being imposed by the United States, but said the USG has a
role to play providing funds, expertise, and political support to
those trying to forge change.

-------
COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) The MEPI alumni meeting proved to be an effective venue for
bringing together civil society actors around a meaningful event
as part of our ongoing effort to strengthen a network of democratic
reformers in the region. There was a definite "esprit de corps"
that emerged by the end of the alumni event, with many participants
already discussing how they could continue to collaborate on a range
of reform matters. The impact of the alumni on the Civil Society
Parallel Event was also clear. Not only did they help improve the
quality of that conference, but we expect many of them will become
more active in the larger BMENA/Forum for the Future process.
GODEC

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