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Oliver and Julian held meetings in Brussels with officials on the Middle East and North Africa, to discuss developments in the region and the work of Forward Thinking.

Discussions in meeting explored several themes. Many of the drivers of instability across the region continue despite efforts to address them, including unresolved conflicts, inadequate governance, and the pressures of migration flows through the region and originating from it. The conflict in Libya greatly inhibits the ability of the country to control its borders and address the migration challenges it faces. Despite the humanitarian, technical and security cooperation with the EU and European countries, progress in efforts to bring the conflict to an end is essential if Libya is to fully get on top of the migration crisis in a sustainable way.

A key priority for governments in the region is achieving economic growth and opening up opportunities for the region’s young population. In different contexts and to differing extents, governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt or Palestine, need to unlock the potential of their young populations, ensure that education systems produce graduates with the skills to find employment in the local economy, and to foster hope and address narratives of social exclusion. This will require increased levels of international support and cooperation given the extent and complexity of the challenges.

While on this visit, Oliver McTernan also acted as a facilitator in an EU External Action Service seminar on “Political Islam and Islam in Politics”  on the 18th October. This seminar drew participation from across the EEAS and European government officials from member  states.  It was designed to stimulate thinking and challenge notions around role of political Islam and Islam in politics, including ideas such as the incompatibility of Islam and democracy.

The discussions drew on recent experiences of political Islam and Islam in politics as a result of the Arab uprisings in 2011 and engagement across the region, from Tunisia to Egypt to the Palestinian territories, as well as reflecting on the European approach.

Oliver was a facilitator in a session exploring issues around engagement with political Islam and Islam in politics.  As a first step, engagement requires a degree of self-reflection and self-awareness, and the acknowledgement that our systems and processes of governance are imperfect and remain on a  continually evolving and changing in the face of new challenges.

The need to recognise the diversity and complexity of political Islam and Islam in politics, was emphasised. 

For the array of difficult challenges faced in the region, from economic development to political reform, there is a need for inclusive approaches.  Engagement does not necessarily mean endorsement, but is recognised as an essential component to ensure accurate understandings of complex conflicts and the actors involved.