Reform and Transformation in the Middle East and North Africa

Past Program

Dec 16 - Dec 19, 2011

The Challenges of Transition: Sharing Experience


2011 has witnessed a dramatic wave of largely non-violent popular protest right across the Arab world. In January and February the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes were both swept away, and almost every other government in the region has since come under intense pressure. The main mobilizing slogans of these movements have focused on non-sectarian values such as freedom, individual dignity, democracy and economic justice. Now the region faces the enormous challenge of translating these into practical and sustainable policies and institutions.

A striking feature of the movements for change has been the role played by the younger generation, not only as rank-and-file demonstrators but also, crucially, in providing leadership, notably through imaginative use of new media. These young leaders will also have a crucial role to play in the post-revolutionary context. The necessary reforms can only be carried through by the peoples of the region themselves, but they will need all the help they can get. And those who wish to help must be ready to look at the Middle East with new eyes, discarding many of the preconceptions that have hitherto shaped (and mis-shaped) policy towards the region.

The Salzburg Global Seminar is well placed to play a leading role in this effort, both because of its experience in involving emerging leaders from very different backgrounds in interactive discussion of policy issues, and because of its range of worldwide contacts. A particularly relevant asset in this context may be the Seminar's experience of working with individuals and institutions in central and eastern Europe, which dates back to the later years of the cold war, when its location in neutral Austria made Salzburg a useful meeting-point for scholars and policy-makers from "east and west". After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Seminar built on this experience by hosting many meetings at which young east and central Europeans learned more about the practice of free economies and free societies. Also relevant are the Seminar's longstanding focus on the rule of law (now crystallized in the Lloyd N. Cutler Center), and its more recent emphasis on media development and media literacy (notably through the annual three-week Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change).

With this in mind, the Salzburg Global Seminar aims, over at least the next three years, to organize a series of meetings devoted to Reform and Transformation in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), of which this seminar for approximately 35-40 participants will be the first. Our plan is that 20-30 of the participants will be carefully selected emerging leaders, decision-makers and/or opinion-shapers from transition countries in the MENA region - people who are playing key roles in the political upheaval and/or are likely to have key responsibilities in the far-reaching process of reform which will inevitably follow it in many different fields of public life: political parties, elections, media, law courts and law enforcement, economic policy, advancement of women, voluntary organizations, philanthropy, etc. The other ten will be people who have played similar roles in democratic transitions elsewhere or, in one or two cases, have been witnesses and analysts of such transitions. The object will not be to draw facile analogies or ignore the profound differences between the political, cultural, economic and social contexts of events happening in different countries or continents, but rather to establish a forum in which different experiences can be compared and analyzed, with an eye open for possible lessons to be learnt, good practices to be followed, and pitfalls to be avoided.

The Salzburg Global Seminar welcomes applications and recommendations of participants from those closely related to the session theme. Please send to: