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Communications For Change

Unity in Diversity, in Qatar! In a period of flux throughout the Middle East, and a time of turmoil within the Gulf, centring on relations between Qatar on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain on the other, it is perhaps surprising that a conference on National Unity and Social Coexistence should take place at all, let alone in Doha this week. Yet take place it did, from 2nd to 3rd April, under the sponsorship of The Qatari Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs, led by Dr Ghaith Bin Mubarak Al-Kuwari. Even more surprising, perhaps, was the nature of the event. From the attractive conference paperwork, to the plush surrounding of the Ritz Carlton in Doha, this had all the trappings of a pro-forma event, in which the same people make the same pro-forma statements as at the previous Convention, before slumping back into plush armchairs and toying again with their smart-phones. Nothing could have been further from the case.

Communications For Change

The Conference brought together people from radically different backgrounds - Arab and African Muslims, Christians, Shia, Sunni, and Kurds, Druze with radically divergent views on existence and coexistence, and radically diverse dress: from western styled suits to bearded, with a panoply of ethnic dress and regalia. Yet they all embraced the conference aim of encouraging an open, scholarly dialogue on religious and ethnic pluralism and enhanced coexistence; building bridges amongst all groups and communities in the Arab world. The cast of eminent speakers ranged from Dr Rashad Hussein, US Special Envoy to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and Prof Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, former Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, via Sh Rachid al-Ghannouchi, Assistant SecretaryGeneral of the International Union of Muslim Scholars - and leader of Tunisias Islamist al-Nahda Party - to George Sabra, Abdulbaset Sieda, and Ahmad Mouatha al-Khatib al-Hasani - all prominent members of the Syrian Opposition, including ex-Syrian prime minister Dr Riyad Hijab The discussions were passionate, focused, erudite, articulate and hugely interesting, and almost without exception in Arabic. Almost as importantly as the discussion was the dissemination: the conference was live-streamed on Mubasher Live, and livetweeted in Arabic and English with the hashtag #NUCQatar, @NUC_Conf_ar, @NUC_Conf_eng. For the first time in a long time, the fabled Arab Street could see and hear existential debate about the future of their region discussed, live and uncensored.

Communications For Change

The conference paperwork noted that The Arabs have traditionally adopted and developed a variety of means to manage their differences, creating tolerant environments of pluralistic coexistence, and for this reason, the most poignant and enthralling - session was the fourth, on the Syrian revolution: political or societal conflict? Inspired by the venue and the audience both present and in ethereal, the speakers from the Syrian opposition were confident, proud, dignified. They spoke with such eloquence and charisma that many of their audience were overwhelmed by their presentations: the breadth and depth of information in an era when Syrias suffering has been ritualised and fetishised; the numbing shock and deep hurt at being abandoned by the international community. They addressed the Conference on all key issues from history, role of religion and coexistence to the youth and their aspirations of a free and democratic Syria. They also spoke at length of the role of Syrian women, their historic participation in all areas of Syrian life and their leading role and great suffering within the revolution. But most surprising, was their direct appeal to the Assad regime, to release women and children imprisoned in their jails, and to ease the cruel suffering of Syrian families. And a separate appeal to the Alawites of Syria, with whom they shared a long and peaceful history before the sectarianism of the Assad regime. Truly the Opposition embraced the ideal, and lived the values, of the Conference aim: to confront hatred, bigotry and all manifestations of sectarian tension, which tend to be based on flawed readings of doctrinal heritage and tradition, and often motivated by political expediency. 04/04/2014