IT WAS ENDLESSLY INFORMATIVE, AT times fiercely controversial and frequently volatile and loud--in essence just as a forum discussing the contentious issues of democracy, development and free trade might be expected to be. And, as a result, some refreshingly useful conclusions were reached at the 6th Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade, held in the Qatari capital in mid-April.
Some 750 delegates, including past presidents, political leaders, diplomats, businessmen, thinkers and writers from more than 70 countries gathered together for the event in Doha.
In his address to the conference Qatar's first deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, stressed that "democracy is not a slogan". It is, he observed, "a style which decent human life cannot be straight without. If we succeed in ways to support such style, then we can be secure from international terrorism."
Predictably given recent world events, the issue of terrorism loomed large on the agenda in Doha, along with issues relating to Iraq, the results of the democratic elections in Palestine, and the furore over Iran's attempts to achieve nuclear capability. Speakers from across the political spectrum voiced a series of diverse opinions, with most allowing themselves the intellectual immunity to get to the nitty-gritty of problems faced by the region and the wider world.
The connection between oppression and terrorism was cited by many influential speakers, not least the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani himself when, in a clear reference to western response to Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections, he observed: "Challenging the choices of people will only result in fuelling feelings of despair and generate waves of wrath. Moreover, opposing the popular, contradicts the spirit of democratic option that calls for compliance with what the majority decides."
Verbal support for the Palestinians was strong in Doha but as one visiting delegate told The Middle East: "The real test of support will be whether the fine words of various Arab governments translates into hard cash somewhere further down the line. The Palestinians have never been short of promises ..."
On the subject of the war in Iraq and Iran's pursuit of nuclear capability, discussion was particularly lively. British MP Clare Short, who resigned her position in the Cabinet as a result of Prime Minister Blair's decision to invade Iraq, was outspoken...