No qualitative or political inference to my post title – it's just a phrase, usually denoting the kind of people who show up at international conflabs like Davos and Aspen. That said, MEDays brought an impressive array of people from all walks and regions to Tangier, for the 4th consecutive year.
It was a Davos kind of "star power," or as one of the speakers put it, "if not A list, then at least B+" list of international political, economic, and intellectual personalities who gathered in Tangier this weekend. MEDays is the annual conference organized by the Rabat-based think tank Amadeus Institute.
A formidable organizational and programming feat, MEDays builds its annual meeting around topical themes, this year "The South in Global Governance." I can't speak to all of the plenary sessions, debates, panels, and briefings, but those that I attended on day 3 were uniformly informative, high-level, and highly relevant.
A panel of sub-Saharan African leaders (Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and ministers from Kenya, Niger, and Liberia) reflected on the challenges to democracy in societies emerging from dictatorship, war, and civil upheaval. "Stabilty and democracy are two sides of the same coin," said Tsvangirai. Democracy is not just scheduling elections.
Foreign Minister of Liberia, Dr. Toga McIntosh, addressed his country's monumental task of rebuilding – everything – after a disastrous civil war. Capacity in all areas was jump-started by actively recruiting overseas Liberians from the diaspora, McIntosh himself included. Rather than "parachuting" these expats into the war-torn country and hoping for the best, they were fully integrated into key positions.
Dr. Peter Nyong'o, Kenya's health minister, was particularly eloquent on the need to be wary of the "military industrial complex," the bane of African democracy. "We need to encourage American studies," he said, "especially in the arena of civilian control of the military." Despite encouraging trends in democratization, "the big money still goes to the military."
Though there didn't appear to be any US Government officials present this year (MEDays 2010 featured Congressman Keith Ellison), there was nonetheless a strong American showing: retired career diplomat and former US Ambassador to both Israel and Egypt Daniel Kurtzer; former CNN correspondent and Middle Eastern media consultant Octavia Nasr; and Prague-based Chairman of the Global Panel Foundation Marc Ellenbogen.
Probably the best line at the panel on the US and the Arab world was from Octavia Nasr, who recalled her childhood singing lessons in Lebanon. Her teacher gently told her that it wasn't how loud she sang, but how well she could hear her fellow choir members. That lesson in the importance of listening has stayed with her, and is a lesson that all sides in the Middle East would do well to heed.
But most of the time, we're too busy trying to hear our own raised voices.
Hats off to the Amadeus Institute for providing this opportunity to widen our horizons at a crucial time in world affairs.