An update from David in Amman, via email:


Hi all,

The AID/POMED Amman conference "U.S. Democracy Strategy: An American-Jordanian Dialogue" is going quite well.  I’ve included below some of the highlights — please feel free to copy them or rephrase them for use on AID or POMED blogs or any other media outlet etc.  This is not a comprehensive report, as it’s 3:45 a.m. and I have to be back at the conference early tomorrow, but I wanted to give you something you can use.

The conference’s opening ceremony featured an address by His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal.  Prince Hassan’s speech focused on the importance of guaranteeing political freedom and participation within Jordan, and also on the consequences of American foreign policy on the region.  Honored guests at the opening ceremony included former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.  The conference participants, 50 young American and Jordanian leaders, had a brief opportunity to talk informally with Prince Hassan after his speech.  (A group picture is attached; sorry it is kind of small, we may have a better one later.)

The conference included panel discussions from guest speakers, small group discussions among the participants, and skills workshops with the theme of "Bringing the World Home."

The first day of the conference was covered in all of Jordan’s daily newspapers, including:
The Jordan Times:
Al-Dustour:  (below the fold, left side)
and also Al-Rai and al-Arab al-Yawm.   

The first panel discussion, on "Measuring Democracy," featured:

  • Mohammad Arslan, Member of Parliament,
  • Zarqa Darwish, Consultant, Arab Civic Education Network (Arab Civitas)
  • Mara Galaty, Democracy Officer, United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Ali Bibi, Director of Planning and Initiatives and Director of the Office of the Minister, Ministry of Political Development
  • Her Excellency Laila Sharaf, member of the Upper House of Parliament

Mara Galaty described four "pillars of democracy":  participation, accountability, transparency, and peaceful change.  Several of the participants’ small groups adopted her framework and pillars as the foundation for their analysis of how political reform should be evaluated.  She generously agreed to attend the small group discussions immediately following the panel, discussing in-depth with one of the groups how they would recommend evaluating democracy promotion efforts.

Laila Sharaf described American successes in promoting democracy in the Middle East, such as a changed international discourse, increased rights of women, more open sources of information, and socioeconomic development; and she also discussed shortcomings and failures of U.S. programs, including an American focus almost exclusively on elections, allowing conutries to fake democracy; American inconsistency in claiming to support democracy yet refusing to engage a Hamas government; and American human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

The second panel, on "Engaging Political Islam," featured remarks from:

  • Marwan al-Fa’ouri, President of the Centrist Forum for Thought and Culture 
  • Ahmed Shannaq, Secretary-General, National Constitutional Party
  • Mohamed Masalha, Fmr. Chair of the Department of Political Science, University of Jordan; President, Jordan Environmental Society; President, Damia Center for Parliamentary Studies (moderator)

Zaki Bani-Irshaid, the Secretary-General of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), had confirmed that he would attend the panel, but cancelled two hours ahead of it.  He offered to send IAF parliamentary deputy Ja’far al-Hourani to speak instead.  The conference organizing committee declined the offer because Ja’far al-Hourani was one of the IAF parliamentarians who chose to attend the funeral of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  We support the freedom of expression and we seek to engage a wide range of voices, but we felt uncomfortable hosting a figure who made that political choice.

Participants praised the third panel as one of the highlights of the conference thus far.  The panel included a diverse range of voices on women’s democratic participation, including:

  • Ibtesam Al-Atiyat, Program Officer, United Nations University International Leadership Institute
  • Roula Attar, Resident Country Director for Jordan, National Democratic Institute
  • Arwa Kaylani, President of the Women’s Branch and member of the Shura Council, Islamic Action Front
  • Her Excellency Asma Khader, Secretary-General, Jordanian National Commission for Women

Roula Attar gave a detailed presentation about the National Democratic Institute’s programs in Jordan, stressing the goal of encouraging women’s campaigning in Jordan Ibtesam Al-Atiyat differed, arguing that women should cooperate to promote women’s issues once elected.  Arwa Kaylani strongly supported women taking a more active role in politics and in their party governance, quoting the Qur’anic verse that God will change nothing if people do not change themselves.  She criticized the current women’s quota as a system with a flawed implementation, and recommended a proportional representation instead.  We were honored to have Roula and Arwa volunteer their time to stay after the panel for the small group discussions.

The fourth panel included

  • Mohamed Abu Rumman, Columnist, Al-Ghad
  • Paul McCarthy, Resident Country Director for Jordan, International Republican Institute
  • Gregor Meiering, Middle East and North Africa Coordinator, Open Society Institute
  • Sabri Samirah, former Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Jordan

Paul McCarthy presented an extended Powerpoint presentation on one of the International Republican Institute’s most recent polling results, which show in part that Jordanians are prioritizing domestic more than regional issues at the moment.  Gregor Meiering’s comments focused on the political impacts of Jordan’s economic transformtion, and Sabri Samirah presented his view that the U.S. has been inconsistent in supporting democracy in the Middle East.

Laurel Rapp has given two excellent workshops, one on "Talking about Global Issues with your Peers," and the other on "Organizing an International Discussion."  These workshops are based on AID materials from the "Bringing the World Home" model, successfully telling young Americans how to bring back the knowledge they have learned about the world to thier home campuses or communities.

The participants have met numerous times in small group discussions to suggest recommendations for how the U.S. could improve its democracy promotion policies.  The participants have now drafted conference recommendations, which will be voted upon on Sunday morning.  The closing address will be delivered by Christopher Henzel, Political Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Jordan.