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Thinkers debate democracy in Doha
The fifth forum on Democracy and Free Trade held in Qatar has come to a close after politicians, academics and journalists debated th
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2005 05:43 GMT
Qatar's amir opened the Doha forum on democracy
The fifth forum on Democracy and Free Trade held in Qatar has come to a close after politicians, academics and journalists debated the meaning of democracy.

The forum, organised by the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, invited more than 500 influential thinkers from around the world to exchange ideas on democracy and free trade.

 

Themed sessions looked at the role of women in development and society; the Greater Middle East initiative; the social dimension and impact of free trade; the role of media in creating a democratic climate and the future of democracy and human rights in the Arab world.

 

But as participants of the conference mingled over hot cups of tea, some thought that perhaps the forum was more of an opportunity for Qatar to further put itself on the map rather than any real progress for democracy in the Arab world to be achieved.

 

Qatar's commitment

 

"It is a worthwhile effort by Qatar to show commitment to democracy and free trade, but I am not sure if the forum managed to bring the two camps together," said Sharif Nashashibi, chairman of London-based Arab Media Watch.

 

"I think people left this conference with the opinions they came here with. I doubt these talks will result in any concrete changes in policies."

 

"I think people left this conference with the opinions they came here with. I doubt these talks will result in any concrete changes in policies"

Sharif Nashashibi,
chairman of Arab Media Watch

But just as political opinions varied, so did views on the conference.

 

Iqbal Jhazbhay from the African National Congress' international affairs committee said the forum allowed participants to become aware of issues affecting those from different parts of the world. 

 

But Jhazbhay said it was over tea that participants really got a chance to express their views. "Each person gives feedback to issues discussed in the sessions, hoping for a more direct sense of change," he said.

 

The president of the Republic of Seychelles, Sir James Mancham, was pleased by the forum. He said: "It has disseminated a lot of information to the participants."

 

Women's voice

 

Nouzha Skalli, a Moroccan member of parliament, praised the opening session of the forum, which focused on the role of women in helping to build a democratic society. But she was disappointed in the overall involvement of women at the conference.

 

"If we continue to discuss the world seen by only men then we will only see a distorted world"

Nouzha Skalli,
Moroccan member of parliament

"Women have not participated in many of the debates," she said. "If we continue to discuss the world seen by only men, then we will only see a distorted world. Forums like this have to wake up and realise that women make up two-thirds of society.

 

"The role of women is very important for building democracy, and we must give women a voice, especially Arab women."

  

American way

 

Mansour Elagab, chairman for the Sudan Human Rights Organisation, said that although he thought the conference was a good idea, he was disappointed with the American panellists.

 

"You can see a clear difference between the British and American panellists. When a British person speaks, they have humility and have respect for others' intellect.

 

"But when an American spoke, they were not willing to work with us. They are unappreciative of the fact that other people have opinions too, and theirs is not always right."

 

"They are unappreciative of the fact that other people have opinions too, and theirs is not always right"

Mansour Elagab, Sudan Human Rights Organisation chairman

Nashashibi also criticised the American panellists for what he called their patronising approach.

 

"At the session on human rights in the Arab world, [former] General Wesley Clark's comment on US respect for human rights was really unfair," he said.

 

"What about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? He was not listening to our grievances. He was not talking to us but rather talking at us.

 

"It reinforced the lack of dialogue that exists between America and the Arab world. This conference just highlighted the US' unwillingness to listen to Arab opinions."

 

At the end of the conference, at least one goal was achieved. Jhazbhay said the forum had "helped to focus the mind" on important issues such as democracy, free trade and a free press.

Source:
Aljazeera
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