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article imageThe World Social Forum wraps up in Tunisia

By Ken Hanly     Apr 4, 2013 in World
Tunis - The World Social Forum was held for the first time ever in an Arab country,, in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. The four day gathering of thousands of activists from 124 countries discussed a host of topics from climate change to international finance.
Many organizations present intended to express their opposition to austerity measures in Europe, increasing global debt, International Monetary Policies, and unemployment throughout parts of Africa, the middle east and some parts of Europe.
While the Arab presence was strong, Algeria banned 96 Algerian civil rights activists from attending the forum. Palestinian activists also had problems. Many had to wait for hours in Egypt before being "deported" to Tunisia or the Gaza strip. The meeting was held between March 26th and 30th.
The very first World Social Forum was held in Porto Allegre Brazil from January 25th to 30th 2001 attended by 12,000 people from around the world. It is in part meant to be a rival to the annual World Economic Forum that usually meets in Davos , Switzerland in January The forum is meant to bring activists and NGO's from around the world to a forum which tries to develop alternatives to the top-down run system. The forum brings together groups from widely diverse movements around the globe, to discuss, create linkages, and develop proposals for action.
Many Tunisians were overjoyed that they were chosen as the site for the Forum. Sossi Sadek a 2nd year engineering student said "This was like a dream come true. To see our university overflowing with over 50,000 people from Africa, Europe, Latin America, the United States, the Middle East -- it was extraordinary. I came away with new ideas and new friends that will surely have a great impact on my life." Tunisia was chosen as the site of this year's forum because of its role in starting the Arab Spring uprisings.
This year's forum met when there were new student protest movements in Quebec, and Chile. There were also increased mobilizations to counter climate change, Occupy groups in the US and elsewhere, and massive economic protests throughout parts of Europe. There was a special "Climate Space" in which issues such as food , water, and the rights of indigenous people's were discussed. Some groups denounced GMO's and the use of biofuels as solutions to food and energy problems.
The groups had sessions dealing with austerity policies demanded by global financial institutions and discussed democratic alternatives. These policies are relevant not only to parts of Europe but to Tunisia itself and Egypt.
. There were evident clashes between secularist and Islamist groups at the meetings. Women's groups in particular challenged Arab regime's records on women's rights. Hamouda Soubhi from Morocco said: "The new regimes want constitutions to be more religious, and women all over the region are taking a stand against this". A young Egyptian activist added: "When we have situations like in Egypt where women are raped while attending demonstrations, we obviously have unfinished revolutions and need this kind of gathering to re-inspire us,"
Tunisian secularists exploited the forum as a means of criticizing the moderate Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia. Government supporters at the meeting said that Ennahda was a tolerant moderate party and that forum members should talk with government supporters rather than just about them. The pro-government attendees claimed the secular viewpoint was over-represented at the forum.
There was division also with respect to Syria. Supporters of President al-Assad shouted at supporters of the opposition. The situation was so volatile that those discussing Syria left the campus at which the forum was held to meet elsewhere for security reasons. In spite of the clashes organizers were able to boast the whole forum went off without the need for police intervention and there were no serious injuries in spite of the confrontations.
Participants were asked to evaluate the forum before they left. Many complained of poor planning and logistics. Almost 20 per cent of workshops failed to take place. Translation services rarely worked, sessions did not start on time, some speakers spoke too long leaving little time for discussion. Others complained that there was too much emphasis upon criticism and not enough on setting out alternatives. One participant summed up the issue:"If slogans could win,the left would be in power. Chanting 'smash capitalism' might make us feel good, but it doesn't provide a path forward." However many appreciated the chance to meet and discuss between sessions with other activists from different parts of the globe who had different perspectives and different experiences to share. The participants agreed almost unanimously that the forums should continue
A Tunisian student Eyad Bilad said: "Where else could we possibly come together like this and inspire each other to create another world. For all those who have died struggling for justice, we must continue to learn from each other how to build a world that does not respond to the greed of dictators, bankers or corporations, but to the needs of simple people like Mohamed Bouazizi."
Bouazizi was the Tunisian fruit vendor whose self-immolation helped start the Arab Spring revolts.
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