CAIRO: Liberal International, the world federation of liberal and progressive democratic political parties, held a conference in Cairo aimed at launching the Middle East Liberal Democracy Network. It was founded in 1947 as a gathering of liberal parties from around the world, creating a network to promote and strengthen liberalism worldwide. Members of the organization include both liberal and social liberal parties.
Liberal International has become a network to promote liberalism, individual freedom, human rights, the rule of law, tolerance, equality of opportunity, social justice, free trade and a market economy. The current president of the organization is the British Liberal Democrat Lord Alderdice.
The organization now has a number of activities around the world varying from campaigning to release Syrian democracy campaigners to holding conferences and workshops to promote the role of women in political parties.
The problems of the Middle East affect us all, and if we really believe that liberalism has answers for our human dilemmas then we must take liberalism to the places that need it most, said Lord Alderdice, the president of Liberal International in his presidential speech in May 2005.
The conference was sponsored by other liberalism-promoting organizations. The Liberal Democrats from the United Kingdom, Democraten 66 from the Netherlands, the People s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) from the Netherlands and the branch of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Cairo were the sponsors.
Two groups were invited to the conference: the speakers, who were liberals from the Middle East, and Europeans from different liberal organizations in Europe. The European participation was to establish dialogue and understanding of different groups, to observe the discussions that Middle Eastern liberals have and to exchange experiences with Middle Eastern liberals.
The participants also discussed development and how it relates to democracy. As most discussions about the Middle East go, the discussion included security issues and its relation with terrorism and democracy in the Middle East.
The conference aimed to introduce Middle Eastern liberals to each other to create a network of Middle Eastern liberals, giving them the chance to coordinate and work together in the future.
The organizations participating wrote the Cairo Declaration, where they agreed to work together and with Liberal International in promoting understanding between different groups and in promoting liberal values of certain topics they agree on, including the rule of law, free market, human rights, individual freedoms, women’s rights and minority rights.
Reaching the masses will be the second step after the network starts to work together. The network, which agreed on the Cairo Declaration, will meet twice a year to find a platform and discuss future plans, says Arno Keller, the regional director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The foundation is an independent German political foundation founded in 1958 to promote liberalism across the globe and cooperates with governments and civil society organizations.
The conference did not include representatives from either the El-Ghad or Al-Wafd Liberal parties from Egypt. We re not involved in the country s politics – we cooperate with the government and with civil society organizations, not political parties. We ve been active for 25 years in Egypt now. Currently we re working with the national youth council in training young people in management. We also have a program to train journalists, says Keller.
In recent years, international organizations have held a number of conferences in the Middle East. The topics and discussions differ but the outcome is almost the same. The conferences are usually successful in the course of mutual understanding and creating dialogue between cultures to the people who attend them. Their participants are primarily politicians and intellectuals, but the question is whether these conferences will be successful in reaching the masses.
Either they will continue to be held behind closed doors, or they will be able to function and build something concrete.