When our forefathers, puffing their cigars in private clubs and coffee houses, started challenging the absolutist state powers of the 18th century, they could hardly have imagined the emergence on a global dimension of the “public sphere” they constructed. They would have needed a good deal of imagination to foresee where civil society would be after some 200 years.“Weak publics” – to borrow the term from Jürgen Habermas – including media, trade unions, business and industrial associations, or various non-governmental organizations have been exercising unprecedented influence or degrees of power in modern democracies. Civil societies do not counterbalance formally organized institutions of political systems only in the fields of social policies anymore; they increasingly become actors in for instance
The weak public sphere:
The representation of the wider population through non-governmental organizations and other aspects of the “weak public sphere” depends on the level of democracy in particular states. Yet the existence of civic organizations as new actors in societies – whether representing human rights in general, women's rights, consumers, the environment or others – can not be neglected. Without a vibrant civil society interactively immersed in regular dialogue and debate with official state authorities, no development of democratic societies is possible.
This seems to also be the understanding of participants in the sub-ministerial and civil society joint meeting that was hosted by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the United Arab Emirates in cooperation with Japan in Dubai. This meeting was, in fact, a forerunner to the already fifth conference of the Forum for the Future that will take place in Abu Dhabi in October.The Forum for the Future is an interactive partnership between countries of the Broader Middle East and North Africa, or BMENA, region, the Group of Eight, or G8, industrial nations and other partners. Democracy Assistance Dialogue, or DAD, is a mechanism that runs under the auspices of the Forum and brings together civil society and other organizations from various countries of the region, G8, the European Union and others with the respective governmental representatives in a rich discourse on democracy. Although the initiative has been crucified in Turkey with the acronym “BOP,” i.e. Greater Middle East Project, it doesn't deserve such a curse. Under the beautiful skyline of Dubai's endless variety of skyscrapers, a variety of civil society actors – that amounted to about 50 representatives from different NGOs and governments – engaged in political dialogue in a calm atmosphere, enabled largely by the Emirates' hospitality.
Turkey's constructive role:
Turkey has been playing a constructive role both at the governmental and civil society levels in this initiative since its inception, as it was one of the establishing partners of the DAD mechanism together with Italy and Yemen. At the sub-ministerial meeting in Dubai two Turkish NGOs, the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and the Global Political Trends Center/Istanbul Kültür University (GPoT) were present, apart from Turkey's official representation. One perhaps shouldn't expect any immediate miracles and be patient to see the concrete results of this interactive process. Yet an input to the democratic processes via contribution to the initiation of communicative action between civil societies and governments in the BMENA region seems to be crucial for recognizing diverse civic organizations as genuine allies in democracy building and maintenance. And while there have been many grievously mistaken attitudes adopted towards the Middle East during last few years, the Forum for the Future and its DAD mechanism undoubtedly are not part of them. On the contrary, they justify for all and full support.