The Role of Media and Civil Society in Achieving Democratic Practices

Impact of Culture on New Generations
Bibliotheca Alexandrina – Alexandria, Egypt
2 March 2008

Allow me first to say that democracy is not a starting point in the evolution of society, rather it is something that develops in the later stages. When responsible individuals and groups play their role in supporting and encouraging civil society, when the leaders of civil society and of the state agree that there is no conflict between them, only then will Egyptians be able to build a strong nation immune to external pressures. Only then will Egyptians be able to build a real democracy.

By virtue of my experience with the Egyptian state as an adviser to President Sadat during my tenures as director of foreign information for the Presidency of the Republic during the War of October 1973, and director of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet for Infrastructure Projects with Western Europe in 1979, as well as my experience as president of the Committee for Interfaith Dialogue at the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, and president and vice-president of the Arab Students’ Union in France for 5 years, I have learned that the burden shouldered by many Arab states has become too heavy to bear. Realistically speaking, the kinds of tasks that civil society could well handle would greatly ease the pressure on those Arab States. We must ensure that the state supplies civil society with the necessary legislation and support to allow democracy to thrive.

Speaking about civil society and knowing that Dr. Abdel Aziz Hegazy, a distinguished figure in the modern history of Egypt, has become the president of the Federation of NGO’s in Egypt, I am optimistic about the future of Egyptian civil society, and would like to tell Dr. Hegazy that we all support him and are by his side.

As for the media, my profession for more than twenty years in Egypt and abroad, I pay tribute to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and Dr. Ismail Serageldin who has gathered today media professionals and representatives of civil society to discuss our journey towards democracy.

As I said at the beginning, democracy will be an end rather than a starting point for us. Democracy is part of an overall atmosphere. And one of the greatest influences on society’s atmosphere is the media. There will be neither democracy nor an active civil society unless the general public understands how importance these are.

Media is the means by which we will overcome the language of conferences. That language reaches only hundreds or perhaps a few thousand people, whereas media influences millions of TV viewers and radio listeners. Such influence is greatly important and greatly risky, especially when TV becomes the school and media professionals become the teachers.

I know we are discussing controversial topics when we talk about the excesses of the media on the one hand, and what could be called the abuses of the ruling authority on the other hand. To fully examine this subject, I would suggest holding a roundtable of twenty top media professionals from the Arab world, twenty representatives from civil society, and twenty information officers from Arab governments to work together to define principles for the reconciliation of the freedom of expression and the right to have one’s values and symbols respected.

We all have a spirit of responsibility that leads us to protect the rights of others, and there is no better place than the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to represent that spirit of honesty, intelligence and the serious search for improvement.

Finally, I would like to say that we will not get anywhere without paying the price. I don’t want to sound overly optimistic, so I tell you we will face a fierce battle if we want to persuade the media that influences the development of civil society to help democracy to thrive. However, it will be a noble battle worthy of sacrifice.

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