True to its original full title, the Forum will offer a sweeping overview of issues regarding Democracy, Development and Free Trade in the Middle-East, the Arab countries and the world. More broadly, this international meeting will discuss critical political, economic, social, financial, strategic and human matters of pressing concern for a region witnessing some of the most substantial changes in its very long History.


The international guests of honor this year will include some current Heads of State and Government. The Forum will also feature other distinguished opinion leaders, eminent political thinkers, decision – makers and members of parliament, renowned businessmen, academics, media figures and international organizations. These participants will contribute to a free, learned and stimulating debate on each of the many topics on the Forum's agenda, with a focus on the Arab Spring, the global financial and economic crisis, International Cooperation, Global Economy, Development, Human Rights and Digital Media.


The 13th Doha Forum will be held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in the State of Qatar from 20-22 May, 2013. It will be attended by more than 600 participants representing over 80 countries and organizations.

Doha Forum Panellists Compare Experience Of Democratic Transitions In Europe And Consider Pace Of Institutional Reforms In Arab Spring States



  • ● Bernardino Leon: Post-Franco Spain chose reconciliation and integration during democratic transition
  • ● Former Egypt ambassador Fahmy: Egypt paying price for wrong path chosen in transition
  • ● Former Bulgarian FM: East European states held roundtables with former regime people
  • ● Tunisia’s Abdessalam: Old regime figures are still trying to undermine transition
  • ● Former U.S. official Posner: Need for change, leadership in Gulf region “before it’s too late”



Doha, 22 May 2013:  European officials speaking at the Doha Forum, in a session organised by the Brookings Doha Center on Wednesday, said European countries that went through democratic transitions like those being witnessed in the Arab world took an inclusive approach to former regime officials and mostly left issues of transitional justice to a later stage.


“Spain didn’t have a law to forbid politicians involved in the Franco regime from participating in political life, and the leader of the Spanish opposition for many years was a former minister with Franco, Manuel Fraga,” said Bernardino Leon, a Spaniard who is EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean.

“It’s better to leave these decisions to the people… Our advice is that an institutional and legal approach should be applied. If people are involved in crimes and tortures they should be prosecuted and judged, but the rest should be allowed to participate in political life, but every country has to take its own decision.”

Spain became a democracy after the 39-year-rule of General Francisco Franco ended with his death in 1975. A classic dictatorship, his rule was marked by censorship, jailing of dissidents, concentration camps, forced labour in prisons and the use of death penalty against regime opponents. Spain put off issues of justice for crimes under Franco in favour of reconciliation and his legacy has been the subject of heated debate over the past decade. Egypt and Tunisia are wrestling with similar issues after the uprisings of 2011.


Leon also suggested that Egypt’s judiciary take a softer approach in the transitional period – the Supreme Constitutional Court forced the dissolution of the first democratically-elected parliament last year, contributing to political and economic chaos that has beset the country under the control of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and its successful presidential candidate Mohammed Mursi.


“The judiciary is asking in some of these countries to be respected and that's fine, but it is in a transition and the judiciary has to understand you cannot change every law in a couple of months, so in that situation you have to apply general principles,” Leon said.


Michael Posner, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, said he had noted the same desire to leave transitional justice for a later stage in Argentina after the fall of military juntas in the early 1980s.  


“It’s very hard for people on the outside to dictate the timing or the way these things play out. I was involved in Argentina and there was a demand for a truth commission but it’s taken 25 years,” he said. “To me the key thing at this stage is that there has to be a going forward based on democratic principles. If it includes looking at the past then so be it, but often people have to deal with the immediate and then deal with the past, when time has passed and there’s a chance to reflect with less emotion.”


Nikolay Mladenov, former foreign minister of Bulgaria, said reconciliation had also been a major theme of transitions in East Europe in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist system. He noted that Serbia had tried the South African approach of “truth and reconciliation” committees at an early stage in its transition over the past decade but then set it aside as unwise for now.


“In our case, and in Poland and a couple of others, there was the concept of roundtables where different parties in society came to respect their views with representatives of the regime… to figure out an agreement on the transition period in its beginning,” he said, adding that constitutional arrangements made at that early period could prove detrimental in the long run.


“We need to be careful not to include provisions that could prove a hindrance to societies in the future,” he said, adding this happened in Bulgaria. “There was a strong push to have as much separation of powers as possible but in years later that proved difficult to manage with the judiciary and we had to address that .

“One of the differences with the Arab world is that we had a much stronger focus on social equality and social market economy, as we call it in Europe, than in the Arab world. In Europe in the 1990s it was about dismantling state-managed economies with a market one,” Mladenov added.


But Leon said one thing Arab governments would have to adjust to quickly to get back on their feet was transparent fiscal policies. “You need transparent budgets in the new stage to convince the international economic actors and investors that things are changing. So new budgets have to be transparent. Same with taxes and subsidies,” he said.


Former Egyptian ambassador Nabil Fahmy said Egypt had already made the mistake of engaging in competitive party politics before settling on a constitution. Parliamentary and presidential elections preceded a constitution that was rushed through by President Mursi and Islamists who dominated a constitutional assembly formed after early parliamentary elections in which Islamists also came out on top.


“What you need to do in a transition is not divide but bring people together, to define a constitution which includes all walks of life and points of view and then political parties operate within those parameters. But when you go into the process first and then try to do a constitution you pull the political forces apart… It will cause the transition to go on much longer,” Fahmy said.


“Our situation is much more polarised than it should be more than two years after the revolution. I’m still optimistic in the long-term but I have to say I’m quite disturbed in the short-term.”


Tunisia is also only now dealing with a constitution, after a drafting committee prepared a version that is now being put up for public debate – the year after elections that formed a constituent assembly and an Islamist-led government.


Rafik Abdessalam, former foreign minister in that government and member of the Islamist Ennahda party, said the draft constitution had deliberately avoided questions such as defining a role for Islamic Sharia law in order to maintain a political consensus. Like Egypt, Tunisia has seen political and social conflict between Islamists and a mix of liberal, leftist and labour unionist forces.


“On the constitution, we opted for consensus. We hope it will be democratic and allow an accommodation between the requirements of Islam and of modernity,” he said, citing Article 59 which defines Tunisia as an Islamic country with Arabic as its language. “We didn’t want to plunge the country into another ideological debate so we decided to embark on the transition with the least risk possible.”


But he defended efforts to ostracise members of the old regime. The ruling party of deposed ruler Zain al-Abidine Ben Ali has been banned, as has the ruling party of fallen Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

“Some of the parties today are still trying to take us back to the past. The post-Franco era worked in reintegration of old forces, but in our region we have a major rift between the old regimes and the new political systems, and that’s only natural in a post-revolutionary situation. We are still paying a high price for the behaviour of the old regime,” Abdessalam said.


Fahmy said it did not make sense to cast all players of former regimes aside since so many of them were not ideologically committed to them anyway.


“They were not ideological parties, they were parties of self-interest,” he said of Ben Ali’s RCD and Mubarak’s NDP. “The NDP was created by Sadat and the day he announced it, every member but four of his previous party had joined by 12 noon. If you decide to dismantle and burn everything to do with the past then you dismantle and burn everything that was the core of the country. Because they were not ideological parties you need to hold accountable (only) those who were corrupt and abusive.”  


Asked about the role of Gulf states in aiding Egypt and Tunisia as post-uprising states as well as their Islamist ruling parties, most of the panel said the Gulf needed to be aware that political change could not be held off from their patch in the long-term.


“Change is going to happen throughout the Arab world, whatever happens, between the government and the governed. Those who realise that will deal with that in a constructive fashion and come out more successfully than those who don't,” he said.


Posner said the Gulf states’ reaction to the protest movement in Bahrain – crushed when it first broke out in 2011 after the ousting of Mubarak and Ben Ali – had been a missed opportunity to make sure that change in the region would be smooth and non-threatening.


“I’ve been disappointed by GCC countries for not recognising that in the aftermath of the Pearl Roundabout events the government of Bahrain introduced a notion of reform… and undertook some of them but not the hardest ones. Interestingly the opposition was not calling for regime change but a stake of power and more democratic, open society,” he said. “The Gulf states should look to what’s happening there as a smooth way of change without overthrow. Very much in this region there is a need for leadership now before it’s too late.”

But Abdessalam, whose Ennahda party is close to Qatar, said Gulf states like Qatar were aiding change in the Arab world while others were afraid. Saudi Arabia is still host to Ben Ali who fled there on 14 January 2011 after a month of riots and protests that police tried to suppress around the country.


“Some in the Gulf are willing to support the new democracies, like Qatar; it’s on the right path. Others might be afraid of the new change. We had a number of Gulf writers speaking of the possibility of the Arab Spring becoming an autumn or winter. They did not even give us the chance that the spring can be successful,” he said. “The Gulf position is not homogeneous, some are afraid of change and have a dark vision of what’s happening in Tunisia and Egypt.”


The session of the Doha Forum, organised by the Brookings Doha Center, was the final plenary of the three-day event examining international current affairs.