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An Arab Network Blossoms: Reflections on the 2014 MENA Knowledge Hub Training

At first, I thought that the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) knowledge hub training in Lebanon, “Fundamentals of Oil and Gas Governance in the Middle East and North Africa,” would simply be like the many other events I have attended on various issues. However, I realized from the presentation of the program and the opening messages that the organizers were serious and knew well what they were doing.

From the beginning, I understood that the organizers had chosen each participant for a reason. Members of the press, for instance, provide the space for advocacy strategies to move forward so as to mobilize the public. Activists from NGOs and civil society, despite their different interests – from civic action and corruption to sustainable development and the environment – ensure a diversity of ideas and a wealth of perspectives. Representatives from government agencies and public institutions bring to the table their close ties to the administration, their understanding of the inner workings of ministries and other authorities, and their firsthand knowledge of the latest developments in their countries, particularly in the oil and gas sector. Also, the many local experts act as eyewitnesses from the field, and international experts add value to the conversation.

The atmosphere was constructive and interactive. It was an opportunity for everyone to learn from the wide spectrum of experience—how Iraq created a multi-stakeholder group (MSG), how Tunisia rewrote its constitution after the Arab Spring, or how Lebanon faced the major challenges of gas extraction. It also presented recommendations for joint action by the so-called Arab Extractive Industries Anti-Corruption Association.

On a professional level, I believe the hub will help me crystallize a roadmap founded on the following points:

  • Focus on disseminating what I have learned

  • Endeavor to create a diverse and active group specialized in extractive issues to influence local and national public opinion; the group would include media, lawyers, fiscal experts and local environmental, civic and transparency activists

  • Strive to create a strong nucleus of stakeholders to advise decision-makers and attempt to promote the idea of forming an MSG in Tunisia

  • Discuss the possibility of creating a youth network of investigative journalists to collect facts on extractive issues

  • Hold training courses for civil society, parties and decision-makers from regional and local authorities on each and every component I received training in

This concerns the horizontal level. As for the vertical level, I will conduct a series of meetings with national officials, representatives of companies and various decision-makers to open communication channels with all stakeholders. I will build on the democratic climate, especially during the Tunisian elections, to introduce extractive sector governance into the electoral platforms of all concerned political groups. I will do this by inviting them to sign a code of honor that guarantees the implementation of the policy of governance in extractive industries, notably in oil and gas.

All these and other ideas would not see the light of day without completing the second part of this course in October. Furthermore, it is critical to collaborate with my fellow participants from Tunisia and to ensure the sharing of the workload, based on areas of expertise and special interests. The event brought us together with various participants from Lebanon, who assured us of their excitement to be working in an Arab network to ensure the implementation, development and crystallization of ideas.

On a personal level, I am proud to have been among such a prestigious lot of guests invited by NRGI to represent my country at the forum. I am glad to have met this group of multicultural and multiethnic attendees from different faiths and backgrounds. In Lebanon, my experience was as special and unique as the country and its people. I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to the success of this course.

Aymen Hershi

This posting is one of three participant perspectives from “Fundamentals of Oil and Gas Governance in the Middle East and North Africa,” a foundation course held over two separate weeks in June and October by NRGI and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS). This year marks the first such training on natural resource governance for civil society and media from Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Tunisia. To learn more about the knowledge hub, or to read the other participant perspectives, please visit our MENA hub page.

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