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Reports on Conference

Name of Event:  'The Future of Arab Spring: Local, Regional & International Perspectives'
Date:  December 10-11, 2012
Venue:  Sapru House, New Delhi

Indian Council of World Affairs has organized a two-day international conference on The Future of Arab Spring: Local, Regional & International Perspectives in collaboration with New York-based International Research Network on Religion and Democracy (IRNRD) and Delhi-Based Countries Research Centre (DCRC) at Sapru House, New Delhi, on 10-11 December 2012.

A galaxy of 21 scholars from fourteen countries, including Europe, West Asia and North Africa (WANA), , Israel Egypt, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, and from the USA, UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, India, Italy participated in the two-day brainstorming deliberations. During the two-day conference more than 15 papers presented in six business sessions. Each session was followed by an intense round of question and answer, comments and interventions. Presence of practitioners (ambassadors), both from India and Arab countries and a host of national and international media and journalists made the conference informative and lively.

The conference was inaugurated by Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, Director General of the Indian Council of World Affairs. In his opening remarks, Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, Director General, ICWA, observed that the developments in the Arab world in the past two years have changed the contours of political and socio-cultural landscape of the region. He underlined that the Arab world, which strategically significant for India, is undergoing transition and that has generated democratic impulses for the people in the region. The DG, ICWA, expressed the hope that two-day deliberations on the issues of West Asia and North Africa (WANA) would contribute in our greater understanding of the region.

Major themes of the conference were twofold, first, to analyze the ongoing process of the Arab Spring in theoretical perspective of the International Relations; and, second, to analyze the future implications of the Arab Spring at local, regional and global levels. A significant part of the conference was devoted to the possible future implications of the Arab Spring. During the two-day brainstorming, majority of experts agreed that the wave of transformation in the region is still going on; however, it is yet to be observed in what way the sequences would unfold. The participants opined that the Arab Spring is a 'process' and not an 'event'. Nevertheless, the developments in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, where the pro-democratic forces succeeded in changing the authoritarian regimes, provide some clues to understand the region as well as its future consequences. For instance, a couple of speakers analysed Egypt, particularly how the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of Muslim Brotherhood, is active in erasing the vestiges of the old regime and moving ahead in drafting a new constitution. However, views expressed by the scholars and interventions made by the participants clearly highlighted three issues, Sharia, definition and position of minority and status of women, would be the litmus test for the success of democracy in the region. They also agreed that the process of democracy in these countries is unlikely to be reversed; nevertheless, capacity buildings such as democratic institutions, preparing the masses for civic responsibility and a constitution-abiding military force are important ingredients to make democracy an easy, smooth and speedy transition in these countries.

There was a separate session to discuss India's policy on West Asia, the evolving situation in the region and its impact on the country's energy security, diaspora, trade and maritime security. The participants from India and abroad were unanimous that the region is vital for India's sustained economic development. They highlighted the region's significance for India and were of the view that peace and stability would bring economic benefits for India and for the region as well. The growing economic prospects in India also offer opportunities to cash-rich Gulf economies; the sovereign wealth fund can target the vast Indian market, particularly the infrastructure sector, which has a capacity to absorb around $1.5 to 2 trillion. The Gulf countries could benefit from India's advance education, IT, biotechnology and medical tourism.

Participants were of the view that India, being the largest democracy in the world, can be a model for the WANA countries, which have begun their democratic journey. Some scholars also pointed out that India should share its democratic experiences when such a demand is put to it.

The papers presented during the conference will be published in due course.

Report by:    Dr. Zakir Hussain, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.