x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Condoleezza Rice expected to attend UAE reform summit

The US secretary of state is among those expected at the meeting to discuss political, economic, and social reform in the region.

ABU DHABI // The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) industrial countries are among those expected in the UAE next month for a meeting to discuss political, economic and social reform in the region. The fifth annual Forum for the Future will be held in Abu Dhabi and Dubai from Oct 15 to 19, and will be attended by 180 representatives from governments, civil society organisations and businesses across the Broader Middle East and North Africa region (BMENA) - which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey - and the G8.

The event aims to strengthen democracy and the participation of civil society in decision-making. It also aims to provide an arena for informal and open debate, and an opportunity for regional businesses, charities and governments to decide on a collective agenda and common platform for progress. "The objective is to find partnerships between governments, civil society, the private sector and the community to address issues such as education reform, unemployment [and] the empowerment of women," said Dr Tareq al Heidan, assistant undersecretary for political affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The UAE hopes to bring more focus to humanitarian and energy issues at the upcoming meeting. "This forum will follow up what has been discussed in previous years and continue working on consolidating development," Dr Heidan said. "One of the main things that the UAE would like to bring to the table is our initiatives on clean energy." Abu Dhabi's Masdar initiative, aimed at positioning the emirate as a global leader in alternative energy and sustainable development, is a "pioneering" project, he said. The initiative includes the construction of a "green zone" in Abu Dhabi, designed to have a minimal carbon footprint.

The UAE is also keen to highlight the important role of humanitarian organisations such as the Red Crescent and the Zayed Foundation for Charitable and Humanitarian Works, Dr Heidan said. The aims of the forum, particularly the empowerment of women, correspond to the general policy of the UAE, Dr Heiden added. Earlier this month the UAE's first two female ambassadors were sworn in. "Women are now playing a very important role. They are now taking more leading roles in the country," he said.

The first three days of the event will be held in Dubai, where non-governmental organisations and business figures will voice their goals for reform in the region, and their concerns about achieving it. Those discussions will be followed by two days of meetings between officials and ministers in the capital. The foreign ministers of Germany, Japan and Yemen are among those scheduled to address the meetings, which will be co-chaired by the UAE and Japan, which currently holds the G8 presidency.

The event was launched following a 2004 summit between G8 countries and BMENA representatives. First held in Morocco, the forum has also been hosted by Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain. Past achievements include the establishment of a permanent foundation to support the work of non-governmental organisations to foster democracy and freedom in the region. Preparatory meetings held in Dubai in June and attended by 150 delegates from 38 countries, including representatives from major bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and EU.