Under the threat of the imminent arrival of Hurricane Sandy, preparations continued for the arrival of seventy civil society and government representatives from twenty-two countries in the Broader Middle East and North Africa (“BMENA”) region to participate in the Sub-Ministerial Meeting of the 9th Forum for the Future on November 1-2, 2012, in Washington DC.
Although Sandy created havoc for many participants due to thousands of flight cancellations, in the end, only four of the civil society participants were unable to make the meeting on time.
The Sub-Ministerial Meeting was a two-day conference with two defined goals: 1) choosing specific priorities for civil society action, and 2) sharing those proposals with governments with a draft Forum for the Future declaration to be presented in Tunis in December. The first day was a meeting of civil society participants who, having participated in the two previous preparatory meetings, were tasked with crafting specific proposals for collaboration among regional civil society, private sector and governments. Over the course of 7 hours, participants worked to select priority issues from the BMENA themes of women’s empowerment, economic governance and entrepreneurship, and freedom of expression and association. By the end of the day, a set of concrete proposals were ready to be presented to the government representatives the following day.
The second day brought the three groups together at the Loy Henderson Auditorium of the U.S. Department of State. The meeting opened with welcoming remarks from Ambassador William J. Burns, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, and from Hèdi Ben Abbes, Tunisian Secretary of State for American and Asian Affairs. Over the course of the day, government representatives heard the proposals presented by three civil society representatives, who called for greater protection for freedom of expression and association, for legal and constitutional measures ensuring equality for women, and for the establishment of a legal framework for the development of small-medium size enterprises.
The Sub-Ministerial Meeting, which took place under extremely challenging circumstances, turned into what some participants—including some who have long been part of the BMENA process—described as the most successful ever.