The Gulf, Middle East and North Africa (Gulf-MENA) region is in a period of unprecedented political, economic and social change.  Long-standing tensions and rivalries for power in the region are playing out at the same time as populations across the region are challenging existing political and economic structures.  Divides throughout the region – whether between secular and religious, old and new elite, or between younger and older generations – only further complicate the efforts of policymakers to respond to emerging challenges.

We believe that a MENA region at peace with itself, and able to meet the needs of its citizens, spaces for dialogue in which the building of relationships based on trust across perceived divides can take place in an environment of confidence building.

The Helsinki Policy Forum, established in February 2014, seeks to provide such a space for honest and frank exchanges on the challenges and opportunities facing the Gulf-MENA region and western governments. The Forum brings together senior parliamentarians, political leaders, government officials, and financial experts from the Western and Gulf-MENA region.  It facilitates an informal discussion aimed at deepening understanding and informing policy-making on identified issues of concern to promote effective policy responses.  The Forum is facilitated by Forward Thinking in collaboration with participating governments, and is supported by a grant from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.

Current areas of focus

To date, Helsinki Policy Forum meetings have focused on seven identified priority areas: addressing regional instability with a focus on Syria and Iraq; the challenge posed by Da’esh (ISIS/ISIL); stabilising Libya; addressing the migration and refugee crisis; supporting political transition; the economic challenges, needs for reform and concerns of younger generation; and religion and politics.  The Forum has:

  • Established a space for intra-regional dialogue aimed at supporting the emergence of frameworks and mechanisms to address regional instability and insecurity to prevent, de-escalate and resolve crises
  • Provided a forum for inclusive Libyan dialogue aimed at addressing the migration and refugee challenges the country faces, and facilitating a dialogue with Libyan authorities and European governments
  • Developed capacity building initiatives in the Tunisian political transition.
  • Coordinated research for publication on the importance of religious literacy for foreign policy
  • Contributed to the wider public debate through the dissemination of reports and Opinion-Editorial articles written by participants.