Civil resistance seizes the moment
24 February, 2011
Robert Grant, Programme Director, writes:
Wilton Park conferences, bringing senior stakeholders and experts to the UK from many different corners of the world, most often require significant advance planning. Occasionally, a conference whose date is set many months in advance can somewhat fortuitously end up perfectly timed to coincide with rapidly breaking, critical developments related to the issue at hand. As just one example, in January 2009 we held a conference on maritime security. Somali piracy experienced a massive spike during the preceding fall, and the hijacking in November 2008 of the Saudi oil tanker the Sirius Star, which took it to a new level of technical sophistication, prompted a tongue in cheek email to us asking whether Wilton Park would stop at nothing in order to publicise a conference! Most dramatically, our long standing, annual British German Forum was taking place in 1989 at the precise moment the Berlin Wall came down.
Looking forward, Wilton Parks forthcoming conference, Civil resistance popular movements challenging oppression: policy issues for the international community, will be held on 30 March 1 April with momentous political ferment sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East. Discussion of these developments will run through most of the conference sessions. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leading Egyptian political dissident and Co-Founder of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, is amongst the confirmed conference speakers, as is Maria Stephan, who edited a 2010 book entitled Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization, and Governance in the Middle East. Professor Sir Adam Roberts, President of the British Academy and co-editor of a recent volume on the political impact of civil resistance movements from Gandhi to the present, is chairing the conference and will be the opening speaker (see more conference details).
Wilton Parks partner for the conference is the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) in Washington DC. The centres mission is to analyse and disseminate knowledge of strategy and tactics for nonviolent civil resistance, and it has very much been in the news of late (New York Times). The conference discussions should be both fascinating and timely, situating the current political ferment in North Africa and the Middle East within the context of the rich history of civil resistance movements and their impact as drivers of political change, and considering how the international community might effectively and properly assist these movements.