Southern Alliance

Where humanity has progressed, the chances for new reconciliation are often most fertile

Opinion | Jorge Sampaio | October 2008

Looking back on the recent launch of the Union for the Mediterranean in Paris last, it is important to consider the potential of this partnership.  As a bridge between cultures, the Mediterranean region has historically been pulled by contending interests. Its geopolitical role—not to mention its economic and cultural influence—cannot be ignored.

For the Alliance of Civilizations, a UN project promoting mutual respect and understanding between nations and communities, the Mediterranean region is critical.  The Alliance focuses on places where societal divides are most significant. In the Mediterranean, the need to address these divides is clearly growing in urgency, with many negotiable disputes at risk of becoming intractable identity conflicts.

But the opportunities here for reconciliation and cooperation are also among the most fertile, where past constructive exchanges have allowed humanity to take great leaps forward. Here, in the Mediterranean region, the question that the Alliance is most interested in answering is: How can we live together among different peoples, while respecting our differences?  With this goal, the Alliance plans projects related to youth, education, and migration, creating partnerships with governments, the private sector, media, and civil society.

If we succeed, we will have taken a step forward on the path to peace and stability. By demonstrating the mutual benefit of cooperation, the countries bordering the Mediterranean will also be able to raise a barrier against intolerance, religious fundamentalism and extremism. The stakes are considerable, and we must go beyond declarations of intent. Complementing one another, the Alliance and the Union must develop joint policies that promote cultural diversity.

Already, the Alliance is coordinating several projects aimed at strengthening dialogue and development in countries around the Mediterranean. One of these is ‘Silatech,’ a youth employment initiative run in partnership with major international corporations. In addition, to support media involvement, the Alliance has implemented the Global Experts Finder, to foster a more nuanced understanding of key societal, cultural, and religious issues.

The Mediterranean region represents a kind of experiment in dialogue between cultures and religions. We have every interest in seeing these exchanges advance on a basis of reciprocity and transparency. The Alliance of Civilizations is a critical part of this endeavor. And while political problems call for political solutions – the settlement of armed conflict, for instance, is beyond the jurisdiction of the Alliance – even so, the Alliance has a significant preventive and reconciliatory role to play, and in this regard, is an instrument for the consolidation of peace.

The success of the Union for the Mediterranean’s depends on multilateralism and shared development. That is why the Union and the Alliance must be mutually strengthened and their actions developed in close collaboration.  The stakes are too high to not give these worthwhile efforts our full support.


Jorge Sampaio is the former President of the Portuguese Republic (1996-2006) and United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations

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