Special Reports

Istanbul World Political Forum

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By our own correspondent

Istanbul: During 18-19 May, Turkey witnessed a spectacular event seldom seen in Asia and Africa. Hundreds of opinion-makers from around the world converged on this historic city connecting Asia with Europe to discuss almost all burring issues of the world today. They included statesmen, politicians, ministers, members of Parliaments, professors, journalists, businessmen, clerics and experts in various fields. Over two days, divided into 28 sessions (four sessions ran simultaneously) problems like the Arab Spring, oil security, terrorism, NATO, supremacy in Africa, world economy, women in politics, regional and international politics, Israel-Iran spat, family, UN structure, cultural diversity, Eurozone's financial problems, hunger and Somalian experience, education, Syria, Capitalism, Russia, environment, digital media, global debt crisis and Just Global Order were discussed by experts. Even Religion as a unifying force had a separate session. This Davos-like Forum is organised by the Turkish Foundation, an autonomous body which has the patronage of the Turkish Prime Ministry. Earlier, this forum was called "Leaders of Change" but in 2011, the name was changed to "Istanbul World Political Forum".

The aim of the Forum is to provide an annual platform for discussing and resolving international conflicts, and to enhance Turkey's "soft power" status in the world in general and the Middle East in particular. Turkey, now a member of G20 thanks to its rapid economic progress and stability, is fast emerging as a world leader.

This year's conference had hundreds of participants from 48 countries in addition to thousands of Turkish citizens of all backgrounds who participated in various sessions.

The Conference was held in Istanbul's grand Congress Centre which in itself is an embodiment of the kind of place Turkey is trying to carve out for itself in today's world.

The Congress started with a joint session. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushhagur said his country would experience a fair election for the first time in history next month, and will finally secure its new constitution. Abushhagur said, "Turkey inspired Libya with its democracy...The Arab World is changing and changing for the better.”

Ahmad Harara, a young Egyptian activist, who lost both his eyes to Police rubber bullets during the Egyptian revolution, said the Arab Spring was still continuing, despite the restrictions of the army and extremist movements. Harara, who was chosen as the "Man of 2011" by Time magazine, had "freedom" written on his protective eye patch. "We demand social justice, freedom and equality. Hundreds of people were under torture, military courts judged revolutionists, thousands of people were lost," he said adding that the "Revolution still continues because the demands of the people have not been met until now. Every month hundreds are martyred and thousands have disappeared. Torture goes on in prisons. He said the revolution goes on in all parts of the country and will continue until a democratic and civilised state is established which does not differentiate between people on the basis of religion and geography.

Denis MacShane, British MP and former minister, said that the world is moving east and Istanbul is at the right place. "Turkey as a whole has transformed and has become a world exemplar," he said adding that "Turkey of today is a nation of tomorrow." He said the Arab Spring is a bigger event than the end of Apartheid and fall of Communism.

IWPF's head, Ahmet Eyüp Özgüç, drew attention to the mission of the forum by saying it was "open to all who consider themselves among the 99 percent of the world." Earlier Turkey's Deputy PM Atalay had said that the forum is an Alliance of Civilizations and "Turkey is the main pillar of this Alliance."

Former Prime Minister of Lebanon Fouad Siniora said Arabs would prove Islam was compatible with democracy, and that the Arab Spring would ultimately bring change to the Arab world.  Siniora said the popular movements in the Arab world since the Tunisian uprising have made considerable achievements, particularly in breaking the barrier of fear. Brave women and men took to the streets protesting against oppression and marginalization, wanting to regain their dignity and freedom and to end the idea that the Arab world is an exception to democratic rule," he said adding that the world should not fear the rise of Islamic majorities in the Arab world. "Diversification, which should have been an element of power, was turned into an element of division by the dictatorships who portrayed themselves as the guardians of minorities' rights."

The prevailing atmosphere of talks in sessions and discussions outside was one of suspicion and mild hostility to the US and Israel though the Turks tried to balance it by inviting a larger number of Americans and Israelis as well as Europeans compared to other countries in Asia and Africa.

MG editor Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan was the sole participant from India. He moderated the session on "Religion is a unifying force". He asserted that religion is a great unifier between people but it becomes a divider when it is misused for political purposes like the Crusades, Zionism, Hindutva and Al-Qaeda (see text on page 20 in this issue of MG). Azebaijan's Shaikhul Islam Allahsukar Pashazade, Jordanian Minister of Youth Muhammad Nouh and Mr. Tsimalis representing the Patriarch Bartholomeos of Istanbul, Indonesian journalist Muhammad Antony and the Turkish thinker Abdur Rahman Dilipak participated in this session.

Dr Khan was also invited by Istanbul's Kemerburgaz University to participate in a conference on contemporary political thought on 16 May attended by its teachers and students. This is one of around 30 modern universities found in Istanbul today.  Dr Khan spoke on India-Pakistan-China relations (the text of this lecture will appear in the next issue of MG). Other speakers at the conference were United States' John Stilides, France's Prof. Jean-Piero Filiu and London LSE's Prof. Paul Taylor.

Booklets and brochures of the Forum show a bridge connecting between continents which is an apt illustration of what Turkey is trying to do through this forum whose importance will only grow in coming years.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 June 2012 on page no. 13

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