|Saad Eddien Ibrahim|
Doha: For many of those campaigning for democracy and freedom in the Arab world, the journey from Cyprus to Qatar has been long and tiring, but one that has eventually borne fruit after 23 years.
It was in Limassol in Cyprus in 1983 that some prominent Arab reformists, intellectuals, journalists and dissident leaders met, away from their homelands, and formed what became the first Arab human rights organisation.
Ever since these people have been meeting outside the Arab world with the last such meeting held in Paris a few years ago to press for the release of many journalists held illegally in Tunisia.
Present at the Cyprus meet 23 years ago was Saad Eddien Ibrahim, a much famed intellectual from Egypt and director of Ibn Khaldoun Centre (for social research and studies).
Freed from incarceration three years ago, Ibrahim was one of the panellists at the concluding session of the 6th Doha Forum on Democracy Development and Free Trade here on Thursday evening.
Qatar lit a candle of hope for the Arab pro-democracy groups to have free and frank discussions on political and social issues when it first organised a global convention on democracy and free trade in 2001.
And, a highlight was that these discussions could be held in presence of intellectuals, scribes and politicians from the rest of the world, the West, in particular.
In a few years since 2001, the forum on democracy and free trade has proved to be, in the words of some Arab participants, a meaningful annual interface between pro-democracy Arab intellectuals and leaders themselves and between them and their counterparts from the rest of the world.
“It was unimaginable a few years ago that so many of us would be able to meet in an Arab land and discuss such sensitive issues, but here we are,” said one Arab journalist not giving his name.
“This is the beauty of the 6th Doha Forum on Democracy Development and Free Trade that so many Arab dissidents and reformists have come under one roof to hold free and fair discussions,” said Saad Djebbar, a famous Algerian human rights lawyer based in the UK.
“Where in the Arab world, except Doha, do you think so many Arab dissident leaders and scribes can meet,” he asked. Djebbar is on the panel of lawyers which are defending mainly Arabs whose assets have been seized on charges of financially backing alleged terrorists.
And, at the concluding session of the 6th Doha forum, Saad Eddien Ibrahim himself recounted in brief how the Arab human rights watch was formed in Cyprus in the early 1980s.
A number of other prominent Arab leaders and intellectuals, aside from Ibrahim, were also present and they included former Sudanese foreign minister Mansour Khalid, and France-based Syrian Professor Burhanuddin Gallioni. To many of us it may appear that call for democracy and freedom in the Arab world caught momentum after 9/11 under pressure from the US.
The fact, however, is that public craving for democracy in this part of the world began after the humiliating defeat of the Arab coalition forces in the 1967 war against Israel.
The defeat, according to some Arab participants in the 6th Doha Forum, led to widespread frustration among the Arabs who blamed their regimes. In its aftermath a lot of political parties were born across the Arab world the nationalists first and Islamists later, gained in prominence.