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Update from the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue

The International Institute for Sustained Dialogue (www.sustaineddialogue.org) is directed by NCDD Board member Hal Saunders. Recently we got a report from Randa Slim, IISD vice president, on two exciting IISD initiatives in the Middle East. Click on the link below to read about the Arab-American-European Dialogue and the Arab Democracy Barometer Project, both sponsored by IISD.

* The Arab-American-European Dialogue, now in its second year of operation, is a group consisting of individuals from the Arab Near East, from Europe and from the United States who have been brought together in their personal capacities by the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue in a continuing series of meetings. Arab participants are people who have the pulse of and influence on the Arab street. The aim of this sustained dialogue is to analyze currently adversarial relationships and to work together to devise ways of assisting the evolution of those relationships in constructive and mutually beneficial directions.

The dialogue group holds three meetings every year, each of which is focused on one major discussion topic. The first meeting in 2005 focused on the problems and challenges of reform in the Arab world. The second meeting this year tackled the relationship between state, religion and society in both Western and Arab/Islamic societies. The dialogue is about to hold its final meeting for this year, and the focus will be on a basket of issues dealing with terrorism, resistance, violence and its roots.

A dialogue delegation will visit Rome and London next month to conduct briefings of its deliberations and lessons learned for policymakers, academic centers, media and civil society organizations in both European capitals.

Plans for next year are under way. The dialogue executive committee will meet at the end of this month to chart next year’s strategic objectives and activities including outreach initiatives in the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. One such initiative might include the launching of a dialogue monthly newsletter tracking the most important political developments and reform activities in the Arab region.

* In collaboration with the Council on Public Policy Education, IISD has launched its second initiative in the Middle East known as the Arab Democracy Barometer Project. The following is an excerpt from the project proposal:

Building on the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) four reports on the Arab region, the Arab Democracy Barometer project will be a first in the Arab region with the clear objective of studying and assessing democratic development and democratic evolution from an Arab perspective in order to show in which domains local, regional and international organizations and institutions should put their efforts. This will be done through the establishment of a regional research network whose goal is to produce an annual Arab Democracy Barometer to study the status of democracy regionally using a number of well-defined and well-measured indices. It is the first such initiative in the region in that it will consist only of Arab researchers who will develop their own methodological approach and their own assessment indices. In this respect, the work of the Kettering Foundation on deliberative politics and democratic political thinking and action will assist in the development of a conceptual and assessment framework for this barometer.

The project research network will include action researchers/reflective practitioners/civil society activists from seven different Arab countries. A team of three will work as a research unit in each country. We will focus on the following Arab countries which, in our opinion, represent the geographical, political, and cultural diversity that characterizes the Arab world: Lebanon, Jordan (Levant), Egypt (heart of the Arab world and the largest country in the Arab region), Yemen, Bahrain (Gulf), Morocco and Algeria (North Africa).

We are in the process of drafting the project conceptual framework, and interviewing potential members of the research network. In addition, a paper reviewing local and international democracy-promotion initiatives that have been undertaken to-date in the Arab region is also being completed. A first meeting of the network will take place in Beirut, Lebanon, next March.

Amy Lang
Amy Lang is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. She wrote her dissertation on British Columbia’s groundbreaking Citizens’ Assembly process, and is currently doing follow-up research on the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly.

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