The Forum for the Future is a unique platform bringing together governments, the private sector and civil society groups from throughout the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) region with G-8 states to work together on political, social, and economic reform. The United States and the Republic of Tunisia co-chair the 2012 Forum.
On December 13, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem of Tunisia hosted G-8 and BMENA ministers and government leaders, as well as 45 civil society and private sector regional leaders, at the 2012 Forum for the Future to discuss this year’s themes: women’s empowerment, economic governance and entrepreneurship, and freedom of expression and association. The parties engaged directly on these critical issues, all central to the success of ongoing reform efforts and stability and prosperity across the region. The Forum for the Future Declaration, adopted by consensus, reflects shared principles and priorities across the three themes.
The United States applauds the many initiatives launched by Forum participants, and encourages all governments to work with civil society and the private sector to address the pressing issues facing their societies. The U.S. is proud to announce a number of initiatives as part of our participation in this year’s Forum, subject to the availability of appropriated funds:
• In recognition of our enduring support for civil society in the region, the United States plans to support the launch of the MENA Partnership for Democracy and Development (MPD). Funded by public and private donations and run by an independent board and secretariat, MPD would provide an international clearinghouse of service providers, experts, and experienced practitioners to those in the region working for reform and democratic transition. Civil society organizations, advocacy groups, business associations, and public institutions will all be included. The U.S. is happy to work with our partners in supporting this initiative.
• Throughout the Forum process, civil society voiced the challenges they face across the region. Freedom of expression and association is essential to meeting these challenges, and the United States will continue to support the right of civil society and media organizations to form and operate freely. To further this goal, in 2013 the United States will establish a new Journalist Response Fund to provide training to at-risk journalists, bloggers, and citizen journalists, and to offer emergency assistance to journalists facing difficulties or repression. The U.S. will also increase training to support the professionalization of the media in the region.
• The United States will launch the Freedom of Association Index, a new, easy-to-understand tool to measure the ease of forming and operating an NGO in countries around the world, comparable to the World Bank’s ease of “Doing Business” report. This tool will help NGOs advocate for legal changes and will help countries enact new rules to benefit the health of civil society.
• Knowing that economies will not prosper until all citizens have an equal opportunity to contribute, Tunisia and the United States propose the creation of the Arab Women’s Entrepreneurship Alliance (AWEA), a region-wide partnership to address the barriers faced by women-owned and –operated businesses. By joining AWEA, governments, companies, and civil society commit to the principles of inclusive economic opportunity for all and to improving the business climate for female entrepreneurs. As part of the Alliance, Tunisia calls for the creation of a regional investment fund for women-owned businesses and the MENA Council of American Chambers of Commerce proposes a business leadership academy for women and youth entrepreneurs. The United States is prepared to advance AWEA’s goals through our ongoing assistance programs.
• In honor of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the United States will establish the Christopher Stevens Youth Network, a new youth exchange program to promote peace, conflict resolution, and community building in the Middle East and North Africa. The Network will connect high school students and educators in the region with their peers in the United States. The Network will reach approximately 10,000 students and 400 educators in 20 countries, and will include an opportunity for students to take part in a three-week exchange in mid-2013 focusing on peace-building, civil society, and conflict resolution.