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“The representative institutions have a key role to play in the Arab Spring”

“The representative institutions have a key role to play in the Arab Spring”Strasbourg

08.11.2013 – “The representative institutions, such as Parliaments and Constituent Assemblies, have a key role to play in the transformation process launched by the Arab Spring”, today said João B. Mota Amaral (Portugal, EPP/CD), Vice-Chairperson of PACE’s Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy and former Speaker of the Parliament of Portugal, summing up the interventions of the Conference on "Political changes in the South Mediterranean and the Middle East: the role of representative institutions”, organised on 8 November in Lisbon by PACE’s Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy.

“In 2011, mass popular movements in Tunisia and Egypt set in motion the process of political transformation which is now known as ‘the Arab Spring’. The people in a number of countries stood up in a quest for freedom, dignity and equality, against social injustice and political persecution, and against corrupt and oppressive rule. They expressed a clear will to enjoy fundamental freedoms and to have a say on their own future – in other words, to see their countries transformed into democracies.”

“Even if in varying forms, with different degrees of anticipation by the authorities and with uneven results, this process has extended to, or influenced, almost the whole region of South Mediterranean and Middle East. It has brought about high hopes and expectations, both throughout the region and beyond,” Mr Mota Amaral said.

“The PACE welcomed this process with enthusiasm and offered its support, including through the prospect of offering partner for democracy status to parliaments in the emerging democracies of the region. It also served as a bridge between the countries in transition and the Council of Europe expert body on constitutional and legal reforms, the Venice Commission.

“However, change doesn’t come overnight, and requires hard work. The will of the people expressed on streets and squares needs to be transformed into legal acts through democratic process and legitimate institutions. Representative institutions, such as Parliaments and Constituent Assemblies, offer an optimal framework to transform the will of the general public into political decisions, and should be actors of change, while at the same time ensuring respect of the general interest,” he added.

“It is a duty of politicians and institutions not to fail to peoples’ expectations. Otherwise, they will be swept away by new rounds of mass protests, which could eventually degenerate into terror, violence and war. We cannot afford for this to happen again. The civil war going on in Syria for more than two and a half years, with its devastating humanitarian consequences both in the country and in the neighbouring countries, is the tragic demonstration of how wrong things can go if the politicians fail the peoples’ expectations.

“Building democracy is never an accomplished process; it is always ‘work in progress’, be it in Europe, or in the Mediterranean, or elsewhere. It is a long path full of traps. We have a better chance of avoiding such traps if we go it together, and if we can rely on the experience of friends.”

“Our conference today in Lisbon has included exchanges with speakers and representatives of parliaments of Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, of the National Constituent Assembly of Tunisia, of the Palestinian National Council and representatives of Egyptian political forces. It is but a step on the path to democracy. Let us continue further along it. The Assembly is genuinely committed to pursuing the dialogue with our colleagues from neighbouring regions, and stands ready to continue sharing our experience”, Mr Mota Amaral concluded.

The conference, organised by the PACE with the support of the European Union, at the Ismaili Centre in Lisbon, was opened with speeches by the Speaker of the Portuguese Parliament Assunção Esteves, PACE President Jean-Claude Mignon, and the Speakers of the Moroccan House of Representatives and House of Councillors, Karim Ghellab and Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah.

The hundred or so participants included the Speakers and representatives of the parliaments of Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the National Constituent Assembly of Tunisia, the Palestinian National Council, representatives of the political forces in Egypt and members of the PACE Political Affairs Committee.