In addition to the President of the Confederation, Micheline Calmy-Rey, and the author Nawal El Sadawi, there were a number of other participants at the conference from the Arab world, Israel, the EU, the US and Switzerland. In her capacity as standard-bearer and key representative of Egyptian civil society, El Sadawi gave a talk on the subject of "Creativity and Revolution". Six young men and women from Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen gave impressive accounts of how the changes impact on their lives and how they are working to achieve freedom, dignity and respect for their rights in their home countries under what are potentially life-threatening circumstances.
In her speech, the President of the Confederation praised the courage of these young people in the knowledge that many of them had paid a high price for their commitment. She also gave them the following words of encouragement: “By changing the Arab world, you are changing the whole world”. For too long, she argued, the West – including Europe – had relied on dictatorial regimes to preserve stability in the region. She put forward the view that this historical turning point required a transformation in the EU’s and Switzerland's relationship with these countries, a relationship which in the future would need to be infused with the spirit of partnership. In March this year, the Federal Council formulated a strategy for North Africa and the Middle East based on three pillars, which Ambassador Claude Wild, head of Political Affairs Division IV, outlined at the conference: democratisation and human rights, economic development, and protection and migration.
In the following three panel discussions, experts responded to numerous open questions from a variety of perspectives. For example, they discussed values, principles and models that might prove effective in the new societies, the new definition of the relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbours, hopes and expectations – including with respect to the EU and Switzerland – and possible approaches to supporting the transition process.
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