Decision-makers should start partnership with civil society:Change of heart and mind needed [Archives:2004/703/Viewpoint]

January 15 2004

The splendid 2-day inter-governmental Regional Conference on Democracy, Human Rights and the Role of the International Criminal Court held in Sanaa on Sunday was indeed an opportunity to know our priorities and what is needed from all parties involved, i.e., decision-makers in Arab governments and the civil society community.
I have been able to conclude that one of the first things to be done by our politicians is simply to eliminate their old way of thinking and bring about a change in hearts and minds concerning the relationship between the government and the civil society organizations.
Just as many Western governments started involving community-based organizations in activities that were once believed to be part of the government duties, Arab governments must also follow suit, otherwise they will not be able to carry out their responsibilities efficiently.
In a meeting with members of the European delegation, in countering what he may have felt is criticism for not doing enough for the rural community, a government representative defended the government fiercely by saying that it has been working around the clock in providing whatever it can of services to the remote areas with the little resources it has. Then I responded by saying that it is the government that put itself in this situation because it always looked at the civil society and non-governmental organizations suspiciously and instead of letting them assist the government in carrying on its duties, it sometimes marginalizes and hinders their programs to reach out to the grassroots community.
It should be clear to Arab governments that the human development indicators published last year, showed that their performance in raising the quality of life of civilians is the poorest in the world. It also showed that Arabs have the least developed rural areas and the least skilled and educated rural community. Does this have to do with the way Arab regimes are looking at and dealing with the civil society community? I believe so.
The change is deeply needed today in order to raise the standard of living of Arabs so that they can cope with the global trends that promote education, science, freedom, and democracy. Without involving non-governmental bodies in the development process, Arabs will continue to lag behind in all fields of life, and I won't be surprised if the next Arab human development reports continue to provide negative indicators.
The matter is in the hands of our Arab regimes, whose delegates have shown great enthusiasm during the Sana'a conference concerning the idea of cooperating with NGOs and other non-governmental bodies.
Will they change their mentality and form partnership with civil society?
We'll wait and see.