Special Reports

Aljazeera Forum’s 7th conference

By Our Own Correspondent

Doha (Qatar): The three-day 7th Aljazeera Forum annual conference was held here during 16-18 March. Over the past eight years, this forum has become an important international meeting place to discuss issues facing the world, in general, and the Arab World, in particular. Around three hundred participants from around the world took part in the deliberations of this multifaceted conference and its workshops. They included statesmen, politicians, journalists, writers, thinkers, historians and academicians.
Workshop on sectarianism, MG Editor on extreme right
Workshop on sectarianism, MG Editor on extreme right

This year's conference included former Bosnian President Haris Silajdžic, Iraqi vice president Tariq Al-Hashimi, Salah Abdel Maqsood, Mustafa Al-Khalfi and Ali Al-'Umrani, the Egytian, Moroccan and Yemeni information ministers respectively, Dr Khalid Al-'Atiya, the Qatari minister for international relations, Ataullah Mohajirani, Iranian minister of culture and Islamic affairs, Palestinian human rights activist Mustafa Al-Barghouti and the celeberated British journalist David Hearst of The Guardian. There were two participants from India: Prof. Brijesh Pant of Jawaharlal Nejru University and Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, Editor of The Milli Gazette.

Egyptian and Moroccan ministers being felicitated
Egyptian and Moroccan ministers being felicitated

The main theme of the conference was "The Arab World in a period of transition - opportunities and challenges".  Important issues discussed included the security challenges in the Arab world after the "Arab Spring", media transformation caused by these revolutions, the Syrian problem and the rising powers in the region.

There was complete freedom during the conference deliberations. Ideas, at times highly conflicting, were debated and exchanged in an air of total tolerance - something unheard of in the Arab World.

Wadah Khanfar (left),
Prof Brijesh Pant speaking at workshop on economic challenges

On the first day, a number of workshops were held on civil liberties, human rights, relevance of Aljazeera.net, Aljazeera Research Centre, sectarianism in the region and beyond, rising powers in the world like India, China and Russia. Zafarul-Islam Khan spoke about sectarianism (communalism) in South Asia while Prof Brijesh Pant spoke about the economic relations between the rising powers, especially India and the Arab World. Prof Pant said that lack of economic security led Tunisia's Buazizi to burn himself which proved the first spark in the revolution that swept his country and beyond. Turkey's Gazwan Masrli explained how his country not only overcame its economic impasse but has steadily moved forward from the 26th most powerful economy in 2002 to the 17th last year.

Director General of Aljazeera Network Shaikh Ahmad bin Jasim Aal Thani announced that soon Aljazeera will launch its Turkish channel from Istanbul and that preparations for a French channel are in an advanced stage. Aljazeera has already launched its Balkan channel in November 2011. He said, Aljazeera aims at building bridges with other cultures and peoples all over the world. Shaikh Ahmad said that Aljazeera has secured rights to broadcast its news channel to reach 42 million homes in the United States.

Iran and its relationship with the Arab region was a contentious subject raised again and again during the conference. In the face of an all-out attack, the Iranians behaved extremely cool, replying to all questions about Iran's nuclear power, hegemonic tendencies, occupation of Arab islands in the Gulf, relations with the neighbours, etc. The atmosphere was so hot that once a moderator asked an Iranian strategic expert, Abdul Amir Moosavi, how many centuries it will take for Iran to mend its ties with the Arab World? Yet, the reply was reasoned without even raising voice. The Iranian expert reminded the audience that it is Iran which is the target of Arab attacks from Saddam Husain's war on Iran to the Arab, especially Gulf, support to the American sanctions, to the ill-founded claims that Iran is spreading the Shi'i maslak in the Arab world, to the Iranian support to the Syrian regime. He said the problems of Iran with the West started the day the Israeli flag was lowered and the Palestinian flag was raised on the Israeli embassy in Tehran. He said that the Iranian nuclear programme goes back to the Shah's era when the Americans had signed all the agreements with him to provide him with reactors and nucelar technology and thousands of experts but when the regime changed, the US changed its policy and left leaving everything in disarray. He stressed that the Iran power will never be used against neighbours.

Speakers in general agreed that the Arab World is still undergoing a phase of change and that the final political shape is yet to come. Speakers noted that a new phenomenon, sectarianism, is emerging in the Arab world. Qatari minister Al-'Atiyah said that most Arab regimes, cushioned by security apparatus, had lost their path. Some had to fall like pack of cards while others quickly corrected themselves.

Al-Jazeera's former director general Wadah Khanfar observed that all living forces in the Arab world are rising powers, whether they have already grasped power or not. He said that Islamic powers have for the time being taken over the reigns of power. But for success, continuation and completion of the dreams of the Arab Spring, these powers must ally with other powers of their societies. He stressed that other powers too should accept the triumph of the Islamic powers and deal with them as an essential part of their societies which cannot be wished away. He said, "Islamists lack practical experience and they must realize that experience and real delivery are the criterion of success, not slogans." Khanfar warned that in the event of failure, sectarian wars will erupt where no one will be a winner. He said that Arabs, Iran and Turkey should come together to find solutions before the US and western powers step in to divide the region as it suits their interests.

Turkish member of Parliament Amirullah Isler said that the problem of the countries of the Arab Spring stems from the fact that ballot box results are not being respected by the losers.

Iranian minister Mohajirani said that the sectarian problem is a creation of the Americans and the Israelis who aim at dividing the region into statelets as they have already done with Sudan and want to do with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.

Qatari minister Al-'Atiyah said that Qatar believes that the Iranian power is in the strategic interest of the region. He said that Qatar, despite differences with Iran over Syria, keeps good relations with Iran.

Arab strategic thinker Dr. Azmi Bishara delivered a powerful keynote address "On Revolution and the Transitional Phase" on the second day which put into contest the Arab urge for change. (An English translation of Bishara’s address may be read here: http://english.dohainstitute.org/content/233a0308-d7b9-406d-b6ef-456177fed58c)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 April 2013 on page no. 13

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