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Accepting the other
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 17 - 03 - 2005

Magda El-Ghitany reports on an initiative to promote the cultural chapter of the Barcelona Declaration
While the Euro-Mediterranean partners have earmarked 2005 as the year of the Mediterranean, Egypt is preparing for the opening of the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue Between Cultures, hosted by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in tandem with the Swedish Institute in Alexandria, and the most recent off-shoot of the 1995 Barcelona Declaration.
The Annah Lindh Foundation is scheduled to open officially next month. Partnering the Barcelona Declaration, it is meant to help counter the cultural communication gap that widened following 11 September. It will be based on equal partnerships from countries to the north and south of the Mediterranean.
As such, the Barcelona Declaration was one of the first attempts to highlight the need to promote closer cooperation between the European Union's 25 member states and 10 southern and eastern Mediterranean countries -- Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. It consists of three chapters, a blue print for a comprehensive partnership intended to cover security, economic and financial as well as cultural and social issues.
Regional and international developments have hampered the implementation of many aspects of the Barcelona Declaration, particularly on the political and economic fronts.
For many of the Mediterranean partner states the Arab-Israeli conflict and the threat posed by Israel's nuclear arsenal have proved insurmountable obstacles, while the attacks of 9/ 11 and the ensuing rise in international tension further complicated the picture.
"The Euro-Mediterranean partners had proposed some means that might facilitate dialogue between cultures and civilisations long before 9/11," says Mohamed Shaaban, an adviser to Egypt's foreign minister . Nevertheless, in the aftermath of 9/11, "the need to strengthen such dialogue became crucial."
Thus, in 2002, the first of several meetings at the foreign ministerial level was held and eventually the Anna Lindh Euro- Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue Between Cultures was established.
After squabbling about the location of the foundation's headquarters the joint Egyptian- Swedish proposal won over Italy, Malta and Cyprus.
"Basing the foundation in a southern Mediterranean state was essential in order to promote a sense of co-ownership," says Shaaban.
The foundation was named after the late foreign minister of Sweden who, together with Egypt, had laid out the proposal for it being housed in Alexandria. Lindh, who was killed by a lone assailant while shopping in a department store in 2003, was a dedicated advocate of cross cultural dialogue and a firm defender of the need for a fair and comprehensive Middle East peace.
The foundation aims at "disseminating" the goals of the 1995 Barcelona Declaration's third chapter, emphasising "the traditions of culture and civilisation throughout the Mediterranean region", and promoting "dialogue between these cultures... as an essential factor in bringing their peoples closer, promoting understanding between them and improving their perception of each other".
Egypt, Shaaban notes, has always recognised the importance of building bridges of understanding between cultures, particularly now that "the West perceives the Middle East as the root cause of violence and terror, a hotbed of terrorists." It is a perception, he says, that "stems out of prejudice and false stereotyping".
Barcelona's security and economic chapters have long had two institutes, EuroMeSco and FEMISE, to assist in implementing their recommendations.
The cultural chapter lacked such a similar network, a gap the Anna Lindh Foundation will now plug.
We needed to "establish a defined framework for cultural co-operation" that could institutionalise Barcelona's "proposals for the dialogue between cultures," says Shaaban.
"Anna Lindh will operate as a network to co- ordinate the efforts of dozens of civil society organisations and institutions that will participate in cultural projects in 35 countries," says Ute Devike Meinel, the foundation's chief consultant.
The foundation, Meinel explained, "will ensure that every project is a result of joint efforts between two or more countries from the European and the southern Mediterranean spheres", not just from one.
"The major goal of cultural dialogue is not to change the other," says Shaaban, but rather to make all sides understand, accept and co-exist peacefully. The foundation is about "acknowledging and accepting the other's differences".
That will be achieved, Meinel says, by a range of activities promoted by the foundation that includes organising seminars on Euro- Mediterranean relations, encouraging cultural tours by young people and facilitating musical and other cultural exchange programmes. The goal, she insists, is to allow people of both sides to have a "real chance to interact, know how to live with each other's differences which, hopefully, will help in promoting tolerance and understanding among cultures."


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