Forum for the Future in Tunisia

Calling for sustainable democracy, sustainable prosperity, and sustainable security and peace U.S. Deputy Secretary William J. Burns brought to a close the 9th Forum for the Future in Tunis, Tunisia last week. Deputy Secretary Burns attended in Secretary Hillary Clinton’s absence after she took ill last week.

As a participant and observer, the Forum delivered all the elements of high drama:  heighten security, colorful visuals provided by the traditional attires of the Gulf countries, flashing lights from dozens of photographers and television reporters, dozens of principals and aides exuding a sense of accomplishment, and most importantly, a last minute agreement on the 2012 Forum’s Final Declaration.

Agreement on a final document was not assured, as previous Forums have concluded without approval. This year’s Final Declaration outlines a broad vision for the road ahead that salutes the progress and promise achieved during the year; acknowledges the current problems in the area; and stresses the importance of government-citizen dialogue as relevant and necessary for the region. But most importantly, the Declaration captures the reaffirmation by Foreign Ministers to strengthen the respect for rights to peacefully assemble; the importance of respecting the rule of law; full and equal participation of all people regardless of race, sex or religion; strong and sustainable support for women; and the urgent need for increased economic opportunity, job creation, and broad-based, private sector-led growth focusing on women and youth.

The Forum was a two-part event: first – two days dedicated to a civil society and private sector meeting to draft its own recommendations to the governments, and then – two days dedicated to finalizing the language of the Declaration by the subministers of foreign affairs, and the grand finale, the Forum itself.

The civil society and private sector meeting was under the leadership of the League of Women Voters and after two grueling days of statements, counterstatements, and cajoling, the participants reached agreement on their recommendations.

The ultimate surprise of the Forum was the unscheduled participation by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Tunisia, Mr. Hamadi Jebali, who arrived preceded by dozens of body guards and who after brief remarks agreed to pose for a group picture.

This was a unique – and perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity for the League of Women Voters. It is not an exaggeration to state that, perhaps for the first time in the history of the League, its name and history of non-partisan work, has been brought to the attention of over four hundred delegates from 33 countries from the Broader Middle East and North Africa region in English, French and Arabic.