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Cablegate: Civil Society's Forum for the Future Preparatory Meeting

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R 250835Z NOV 09 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 085Q
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 1646

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RABAT 000929

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (ADDED SIGNATURE)

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TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KDEM XF XA MA
SUBJECT: CIVIL SOCIETY'S FORUM FOR THE FUTURE PREPARATORY MEETING

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SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.

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SUMMARY
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1. (U) Over 150 participants from the Broader Middle East and North
Africa (BMENA) region attended the Civil Society (CS) preparatory
meeting to the Forum for the Future (FFF) led by the Moroccan
Organization for Human Rights (OMDH) and the Italian NGO No Peace
Without Justice (NPWJ) in Casablanca, Morocco on October 31 and
November 1, 2009. Three workshop reports on the global financial
crisis, democracy and local governance, and human security concept
greatly contributed to the 2009 FFF. However, these reports did not
address CS concerns, like the legal environment of NGOs, freedom of
expression and corruption. Despite a protest and uncertainty over
commitment, the audience underlined the crucial role of the USG to
revitalize democratization and protect reformers in BMENA and
reaffirmed that the Forum was the centerpiece of BMENA reform
initiatives. Despite long-standing disagreement with US policies in
Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, CS leaders from the region
acknowledge, more than ever before, the role of the Middle East
Partnership Initiative (MEPI) in empowering reformers and advancing
democratization.

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CONFERENCE TOPICS AND DISCUSSION
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2. (SBU) The civil society preparatory meeting was the culmination
of three thematic workshops held respectively in Beirut, Rabat and
Doha in September-October 2009 that addressed issues on the global
financial crisis, democracy and local governance, and human
development and human security . Participants acknowledged that
work done in 2009 was thoughtful and insightful but remains
insufficient in addressing reform priorities important to civil
society. Participants expressed concern about numerous obstacles
and setbacks against reform and enforcement of legislation against
CS. "The NGO legal environment is considered as a key topic that
sets the frame for democratization in the region." said Mr. Slah
Jourchi, coordinator of Network of Democrats in the Arab World.

3. (SBU) Participants pointed out positive impacts from the FFF's
first five years, but noted it had difficulty achieving broad
political reform. "Most Arab regimes have not taken actions that
are consistent with their declarations to engage in democratic
reform," said Mr. Ezzedine Al-Asbahi Director of the Yemeni Human
Rights Information and Training Center.

4. (U) Many participants repeated recommendations from previous FFFs
on the legal environment for CS, political pluralism, elections,
rule of law, independent media, corruption and transparency,
political empowerment for women and youth. There continues to be
high expectation for the USG's leadership role in support of the FFF
process. The audience agreed that President Obama's Cairo speech
increased positive interpretations of the USG's desire to promote
democratic reform. However, action and resultsQave not matched the
good intentions.

--------------------------------------------- -------
CS MEPI GRANTS CONTRIBUTION
--------------------------------------------- -------

5. (U) Two MEPI alumni gave presentations in the second session.
Permanent Peace Movement (Lebanon) presented the first one about a
field-study on benchmarking democratic reform progress in the BMENA
region conducted in 10 Arab countries. Discussion on this study and
the accomplishments and efficiency of the FFF process coalesced
around recognizing the FFF's positive impact in fostering democratic
reform, in varying degrees, across the region. One speaker noted
that the process has contributed to promoting dialogue between civil
society and governments, while another said that the FFF has created
a new regional dynamic which positively influences the local
political environment.

6. (SBU) The second presentation by Mr. Amine Ghali, Program
Director of Kawakibi Center, publicized the impact of their advocacy
campaign on promoting an enabling legal environment for civil
society in the region through the implementation of the Partnership
Document Note: The "Partnership between G8 and BMENA Goverments and
Civil Society" document as presented at the 2008 Forum in Abu Dhabi
and outlines a set of universal standards and democratic principles
to structure the relationship between governments and civil society.
End Note). Coalitions led by Kawakibi Center and its national
partners are using the momentum created around this campaign to
encourage governments to reform the NGO laws along the principles in
the Partnership Document. The two CS MEPI grants provided valuable
contributions to significant and relevant discussion on the FFF's
core issues.

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USG ENGAGEMENT TO ENHANCE FFF's MOMENTUM
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7. (U) While most participants agreed that many NGOs in BMENA
welcome the Forum's distinctive relationship with CS, some also
feared that the USG is no longer giving high-level attention to
democratization in BMENA. (Comment: These reactions may have
changed after Secretary Clinton's Marrakech speech. End Comment.)
The audience thanked donors and particularly MEPI, but underscored
the need for additional financial resources to enhance the momentum
gained on the reform agenda through the FFF. Skeptics questioned
whether the G8 countries still see real value in continuing the FFF
process and if the USG and others were willing to work with CS to
implement previous recommendations. Some were dismayed at the lack
of governments and CS follow-up to the four previous Forums.

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ANTI-FFF DEMONSTRATION
----------------------

8. (SBU) The Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), which is
critical of U.S. foreign policies in the region, led an anti-U.S.
gathering on November 2, 2009 from 5 pm to 6 pm in front of the
Congress Palace of Marrakech calling for a boycott of the sixth FFF
and the CS preparatory meeting. (Comment: Anti-American groups
commonly harass events with high-level USG presence as experienced
in previous FFFs. End Comment.) They rejected the FFF as Western
dominance and condemned the foreign model of democracy citing
failings in Iraq and Afghanistan. They deem USG efforts to promote
democracy as hypocritical, referring to perceived American
indifference to Palestinians and support for Israel. Most Arab CSOs
attending the FFF believe that those dogmatically anti-American
groups will not be helpful to reform.

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ORGANIZATIONAL PROBLEMS
-----------------------

9. (SBU) OMDH's failure to organize and run the conference in a
professional manner had a negative impact on the general ambiance
and the outcome of the civil society preparatory meeting. Late
invitations prevented many civil society participants from attending
since they were unable to obtain visas or make travel arrangements
on short notice.. The majority of participants expressed their
frustration over poor management of the conference, lack of working
documents, erratic agenda, non-existent logistics, and absence of a
final statement at the meeting end. Some activists voiced doubts
about the usefulness of the CS preparatory meetings if hosted and
managed by incompetent partners.

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CS RECOMMENDATIONS
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10. (U) CSOs felt that BMENA governments do not take the FFF process
or CS partnership seriously. The FFF has become a show for the G8.
Participants made an urgent call for partner governments to deeply
believe in and commit to the spirit of partnership. Previous CS
recommendations need to be turned into practical project plans,
time-bound and tailored according to specific country needs. Civil
society criticized its failure to come up with practical mechanisms
to interact regularly with their own governments on a national
level. One eminent CS participant said that the failure to resolve
the Arab-Israeli conflict prevented the United States from gaining
credibility as an advocate of democracy in the Middle East.
Participants see the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict as having a
negative impact on the credibility of USG. Most participants argue
that there is an urgent need to address the organization of the
CSpreparatory meeting. They urged the USG and G8 countries to
consider establishing a permanent secretariat to provide information
for CS.

JACKSON

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