Notas de acontecimientos
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At the start of the workshop, a panel discussion of young European and Arab representatives from politics, media and culture addressed the mutual perceptions of Arabs and Europeans and their consequences. Benedict Pöttering, the vice president of the Youth of the European Peoples Party (YEPP), highlighted that in his opinion the Arab World and especially its youth had been literally absent in the mind maps of young Europeans.
However, Europeans were deeply impressed and moved by the sudden emergence of Arab youngsters fighting for freedom and democracy, in early 2011. Mirette Bakir, a scholar of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and a young artist based in Cairo, asserted this point of view. Since the extensive media coverage of the protests in Egypt, as an Egyptian she has been treated with more respect and interest by Europeans. Najem Wali, an Iraqi writer and journalist living in Berlin, stressed that the current Arab revolution is a unique and precious event: "There were many revolutions in the Arab world; however, this is the first time that our youth stands up against the old structures and fights for more individual freedom." But Wali criticized European tolerance (or indifference) towards extremist groups in the region, i.e. the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. Responding to that, the International Secretary of Nuevas Generaciones del Partido Popular, Maria Fuster (Spain), demanded a democratic and open-minded discussion with all parties involved in order to dismiss prior stereotypes.
Following the panel discussion, the participants themselves discussed the mutual perceptions of Arabs and Europeans. A huge difference was defined between the perceptions of politics on the one hand and perceptions of people on the other hand. Most of the participants articulated their strong interest in the other side and its culture. However, the majority had a rather negative image of the other side's politics. Arab participants interpreted European political interventions as cold-blooded and purely interest-driven. European governments and business corporations were blamed for having supported the old despotic regimes in the Arab region. Although the Arabian participants admired the European welfare system, they criticized European democracies as political systems that have lost their connection to basic values and beliefs. On the other hand, European participants were impressed by young Arabs who stand up for more freedom and democratic rule in their countries. However, they were also disappointed and partly frightened of the rise of extreme religious political groups in the aftermath of the Revolution.
Two thematic subgroups were formed where participants had in-depth discussions and developed specific theses, in order to present the results in the summary session. Group one dealt with the different images of Europeans and Arabs of each other. An overall conclusion of this group was that the Arab Spring changed the image of the Arab world for young Europeans and vice versa. Both sides have become more aware of each other, mainly because they can identify with the other side's demands and wishes. In that regard, especially stability and better economic opportunities were acknowledged as important common wishes for the future. In addition, Arab participants expressed their feeling of certain inferiority to Europeans. They feel that young people from Europe have more economical and political power and are generally better educated. The revolution, however, changed the self-perception of many Arab youngsters. The long-lasting protest and resistance against the old regimes empowered the youth and founded a common self-confidence crucial for communication with foreign partners at eye-level. The second task group dealt with practical measures to support the positive change of perceptions, also on the long run. To this end, various forms of cultural and economic exchange programs and projects were suggested, for instance: youth exchanges, workforce exchanges, or study programs based on circular migration schemes. In addition, participants asked for the foundation of a network of Arab cultural centers in Europe in order to foster communication and create respect and understanding among each other. In general, all suggested measures focused on the creation of increased opportunities to get to know the other side.
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