A press conference held today in Cairo called upon the new Arab Summit to tackle the issue of political reform in the Arab world seriously. The speakers emphasized that the main issue is not the place or timing of the summit, rather the stance of the summit towards reform, discussion of the initiative of the civil society for reform and the participation of a representative delegation, as an observer, in the proceedings of the summit.
The press conference was held at the headquarters of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) today morning. It tackled the initiative of the First Arab Civil Forum which was held parallel to the Arab Summit on political reform in the Arab world. The said initiative is to be presented to the upcoming Arab Summit. Among the speakers were Bahey El Din Hassan, Director of the CIHRS, Hafez Abu Seada, Secretary General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Salah Eissa, editor-in-chief of Al Qahera newspaper, Hussein Abdel Razeq, the rapporteur of the Committee for Defending Democracy. The said speakers participated in the First Civil Forum.
The speakers tackled the general framework of the initiative highlighting the necessity of allowing the participation of the civil society in the issue of reform as it is not restricted to the governments only. The Arab civil society should play a role in decision making in the Arab states. The recommendations of the Forum confirmed the necessity of holding an annual summit for the NGOs regardless of convening the Arab summit. It also called for preparing for establishing a regional structure for the human rights organizations in the Arab world.
The participants emphasized that the recommendations stem from the inevitability of renewing the national project for political and democratic reform. Maintaining the status quo in the Arab world opens the door for foreign intervention which invokes the suppression of internal proposals for reform. Any delay of the process of reform results in the increase of extremism and terrorism.
The First Arab Civil Forum parallel to the Arab Summit was held in Beirut March 19th- 22nd 2004 upon an initiative by the CIHRS in cooperation with the Association for Defending Rights and Freedoms (ADL) and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations (Rights). In the said Forum, 52 NGOs FROM 13 Arab states proposed a detailed initiative tackling the fundamental principles for reform inside the Arab states on the one hand and the League of Arab States and the Charter on Human Rights on the other hand.
The fundamental principles of the initiative included: ending the state of emergency, abolishing exceptional laws and courts, releasing prisoners of conscience, ending the practice of torture, ensuring the freedom of forming political parties, trade unions and NGOs. Moreover, the initiative called for ensuring the freedom of opinion and expression and the circulation of information, banning the censorship of the religious institutions over political, intellectual, literary and artistic activity, combating corruption and abuse of public property. The Arab societies should enjoy civil representative regimes through free and fair elections. The rights of the nationalities, ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic minorities should be ensured. The Forum adopted such recommendations in a message directed to the Arab Kings and Presidents and a detailed document entitled “Second Independence” – resuming what was not achieved in the stage of “first” independence i.e. peoples’ self-rule. The message was submitted to the Arab officials and the Secretariat of the League of Arab States.
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