Ebrahim Moosa – Cii News (30 August 2012)
The Afro Middle East Centre’s(AMEC) Middle East and North Africa(MENA) uprisings conference has concluded after 3 days of vigorous discussion and debate on the challenges facing the ‘new’ Middle East. The event, which brought together prominent international thinkers, academics and politicians attempted to provide an understanding of what the uprisings meant for democracy in the region, as well as the implications of the events on regional and global powers. Also on the agenda was the phenomenon of political Islam and explaining what its emergence would mean for democracy in the region. With a significant representation from South African government and civil society structures, the event also sought to explore what the uprisings meant for South Africa and the wider African continent.
Speaking at the conference’s conclusion on Wednesday, AMEC Executive Director Naeem Jeenah commended participants for the diverse perspectives shared during the event. He acknowledged that the intensity of the presentations sometimes precluded additional discussion and debate on contentious issues and suggested that some developments in the region still remain too clouded to reach definitive judgements. Nonetheless, Jeenah said he hoped the event would assist in providing a broad framework for understanding the uprisings.
During the conference, uncertainty over events in Syria emerged as one of the major points of deliberation amongst delegates. Whilst many expressed concern over foreign meddling in Syria, some participants, including members of the Syrian National Council(SNC), criticised Western powers for not being proactive enough in assisting the Syrian population. Foreign policy expert Phyllis Bennis characterised the conflict as being multi-faceted and noted that internal players, regional powers and global superpowers were all competing for sovereignty and influence in the region. Bennis suggested a cessation of arms supplies to all parties in the conflict as a critical first step in restoring law and order- a position that was challenged by members of the Syrian opposition who advocated continued militarisation to achieve a ‘balance of arms.’ Most delegates agreed that the outcome of the Syrian uprising was pivotal in determining the trajectory of the entire ‘Arab Spring.’
The final day of the event also saw some experts shedding light on the economic transitions that needed to accompany the revolutions. As the organisers noted, “in a globalised world dominated by neoliberal economic ideologies, [did] effecting a revolution necessarily imply substantive ideological and social transformation that [would] overturn neoliberalism?” Others opined that the revolutions should not be understood in isolation from the ongoing global financial decline and the US sponsored global ‘War on Terror.’ The influence of AFRICOM on the African continent was also highlighted.
Separately, Jeenah revealed how the conference had become the target of intense background lobbying by groups which lambasted it as an anti-Israel talk-shop. He said the participation of Deputy Minister of International Relations, Ebrahim Ebrahim – whose recent comments have sparked anger in Israel – at the conference had also raised some antagonism.
Speaking at the event, former Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad said he believed the yardstick for evaluating the success of the Arab uprisings would be to consider whether the new regimes actively pursue justice for the Palestinians. For his part Jeenah, paraphrasing former South African president Nelson Mandela, said “Egyptians, Bahrainis, Syrians, Yemenis, Libyans, Tunisians and all Arabs would not be truly free, until Palestinians too gain their freedom.”AMEC, Arab Spring, Ebrahim Moosa, Essop Pahad, Naeem Jeenah, Palestine, Phyllis Bennis, Syria