Andalusia, in southern Spain, saw harmonious coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews for between five and seven hundred years in the Middle Ages. Its capital, Cordoba, was then the largest and richest city in Western Europe.
Cordoba therefore provided an ideal setting for the ninth session of the Nyon Process, from 21st to 23rdJanuary 2013. This dialogue and search for possible joint action began before the Arab Spring, or Awakening, and continues to bring together people who might otherwise not meet. It bridges the Sunni/Shia divide, and includes American evangelicals and Jews, also European secular and religious leaders. Between sessions the conversation is kept up by video link; while “Forward Thinking”, the London-based facilitator, is also assisting national internal dialogues in Egypt and Tunisia.
I have vivid memories of meetings and explorations that took place in Eastern Europe and Russia, following the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union. There were many similarities with what is now happening after the fall of major dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The emerging movements and political parties need to share experiences and to consult with their counterparts in Europe and America.
The background to these conversations includes unresolved conflict between Israel and Palestine, civil war in Syria, acute difficulties over power-sharing in Iraq, fighting in Mali, tensions inside Gulf states and efforts to bring in new constitutions in Egypt and elsewhere.
The meeting in Cordoba encouraged maximum links between Middle-Eastern and European parliamentarians and political parties. It touched on economic development for the benefit of the many young unemployed people. It urged the media and civil groups to engage across frontiers, focussing on positive opportunities rather than just security situations. It would like to see national reconciliation between rival Palestinian groups, since 2013 may be the last chance for agreement on two states in Israel and Palestine. It touched on the role and status of women, and discussed the need for mutual respect between majorities and minorities of all kinds. The last relationship was perhaps the major theme of the session.