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From the Street to the Political Arena

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Date: 15 January 2012

Remarks by Michelle Bachelet Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the High-level Meeting on Reform and Transitions to Democracy. Beirut, 15 January 2012.

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It is my pleasure to moderate this panel, From the Street to the Political Arena, under the theme of Pre-empting Civic Strife and a Return to Autocracy.

I am joined by distinguished panelists who will offer their viewpoints on various dimensions of this issue.

Before I introduce them, I would like to offer a few brief remarks.

There is no doubt that the uprisings and upheaval in the Arab World mark a transition and historic opportunity. It is a transition similar in its infectious and exhilarating nature to the regional transition in Eastern Europe and the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

And while it's true that we do not know what the future holds and how this transition will unfold, we do know that there is tremendous popular discontent with the status quo and a strong desire for freedom, democracy and better economic opportunities.

There are demands for a new social contract between the State and citizen — one that is inclusive, just and equitable, one in which people can participate.

We also know that this region has a large and growing youth population, and young people were at the frontline of the demonstrations. They are able to organize and transmit ideas, information and photographs through new and powerful forms of communication — through mobile phones and social media. And this is certainly a new development that has implications for the future.

We also saw women rising up as leaders in the protests on the streets. And now, for a transition to democracy, it is vital that the people who led and participated in protests are able, and have channels, to translate their leadership from the streets to their meaningful and sustained participation in the political arena.

Already we see that women and youth are being excluded from political processes and decision-making bodies. And UN Women is supporting women in the region, at their demand, to participate in the transition to democracy.

I know from my own experience as the former President of Chile, in strengthening institutions for democracy after dictatorship, that reform and transition to democracy must come from within each country itself and with the greatest participation of and consultation with civil society.

The greater the participation of the entire community, the stronger the institutions they build for the well-being of people and society.

The revolutions of 2011 are a historic opportunity for all people in the Arab world. Making the most of it will require courage, and willingness to change. And we are here today to share insights and experiences.

I would like to introduce our first speaker. He is Pavol Demes, of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He is a former foreign Policy Advisor to the President, and former Foreign Minister of the Slovak Republic. He will speak about The Transition of Popular Movements to Political Parties.

Now I would like to introduce Ely Ould Mahamed Vall, the former President of Mauritania, who will speak about Containing Counter-revolutionary Forces.

We will now turn to Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the Former President of Latvia, who will speak about Reforming the Security Apparatus.

Our final panelist is Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the former President of Sierra Leone, who will offer his insights on Reintegrating Former Combatants into Society.

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