Conference to shed light on civil society in Middle East

As the Middle East undergoes a massive social and political transformation triggered by the Arab Spring two years ago, Gaziantep Zirve University will host a conference titled “Middle East Civil Society Dialogue,” scheduled to kick off on Saturday, bringing Turkish and Arab intellectuals to discuss the role of civil society in the political landscape in the region.

Comprising Turkish intellectuals from both Turkey and around the world, Arab and Western commentators, activists and professors will join the two-day event. Intellectuals from the Middle East and Turkey will engage in debates surrounding the theme of civil society in politics and social affairs in a number of sessions, including “Nongovernmental Organizations after Arab Spring,” “NGOs, Religion and State,” “Local Governments-Civil Society” and “Contribution of Nongovernmental Organizations to Economic Development.”

During the Arab Spring, regime changes took place in many countries, including Tunisia and Egypt, as well as in Libya, where NATO intervened militarily.

Civil Society groups, rights groups and nongovernmental organizations played a significant role in the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. The Arab Spring paved the way for broader social participation in political affairs and led to the emergence of vibrant civil society, which insists on taking part in decision-making process to decide the future of their countries.

Women’s rights, the consolidation of democracy, freedom of expression and the press, the youth, social justice and welfare are among the major themes that civil society groups are handling across the region.

The website publicizing the Middle East Civil Society Dialogue defines the major objective of the event as discussing this new social actor; civil society, which has proven its strong existence not only at the national level but also on the global scale; and its implications for the political system and actors in the region.

Sponsored and backed by the United Cities and Local Governments of the Middle East and West Asia (UCLG-MEWA), an Istanbul-based regional cooperation body, Gaziantep Zirve University, the Sehitkamil Municipality and the Gaziantep Governor’s Office, the conference and workshop aim to answer a number of questions surrounding the newborn civil society in Middle Eastern politics and to enhance dialogue between nongovernmental organizations across the region in order to strengthen democratic culture, peace and tolerance.

Gaziantep Zirve University one-and-a-half years ago hosted another major conference on the topic.

A large gathering of Turkish and Arab intellectuals discussing the uncertain political trajectories of post-revolution Arab states kicked into gear in the southeastern Turkish city near the border with Syria -- a country that has put Turkey's assertive foreign policy to a difficult test. Titled “The Future of the Middle East after the ‘Arab Spring’ and Turkey,” the event focused on the Arab Spring and its aftermath, reviewing its ensuing effects on the political regimes of the region.