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Theme 6: Citizens, Civil Society and Public Sector Reform in the Arab Region
It is now firmly established in the mind-set of many Arab countries that the civil society and the media can be strategic partners in the process of reform. The recent increase in activities conducted by the civil society in a number of Arab countries to safeguard human rights, uphold democratic principles and monitor public policies and government activities is a testimony to the changes that are taking hold in Arab societies. Recently enacted legislations in some countries have given the civil society recognized rights to assemble, to mobilize resources and express themselves within the boundaries of the law. Some have been strong in defending the rights of women and have been successful in resolving problems of citizenship and civil rights for women. A budding process of consultation between governments and civil society organizations augur well for the future and can be a foundation on which an effective public-private partnership can be established. Reform of governance is the responsibility of all the society and cannot be exclusively expected to succeed if it all depends on government policies and actions.

This is true of the media. While the degree of freedom given to the media varies from one Arab country to another, the influence and presence of the government is still paramount. Recent years have witnessed the establishment of free media organizations and political parties enjoy more rights, in some countries more than in others, to question government policies and clamour for accountability. Political parties have their own newspapers and express party views in political, economic and social affairs. The media has successfully uncovered pockets of corruption and exposed corrupt practices through investigative reporting and governments, in many cases, have pursued the corrupt.

Still more needs to be done before the civil society and media organizations could play an effective role in enhancing the reform of public institutions and the apparatus of governance. These organizations recognize that the freedom given to them is still limited and that their own capacity to play the cherished role is equally wanting. Though advanced information technology is offering them new opportunities for access to information and the open skies have made of the world significantly interconnected, their human resources need to be strengthened with new knowledge and skills to meet the challenges of the role the society expects of them. They can build on their newly acquired freedom if they develop their institutional capacity and build strong alliances with government, the private sector and the society at large.

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Theme Highlight

This Framework for Policy Dialogue includes priority issues gleaned from international experience in order to serve as a guide for policy discussion. Working Groups in Arab countries may find them useful; countries may change or add their own priority issues.

See also the Results and Recommendations of this Panel's meeting during the Dead Sea Conference 6-7 February 2005.