EI has concluded a high-level meeting with education union representatives from 11 Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries in Cairo, Egypt, with the pledge to increase its presence and activities in the region.
Delegates representing 21 education unions from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Yemen came together on 25-27 June to discuss the key role of independent and democratic education unions in the North African and Arab revolutions.
Participants articulated the fact that the uprisings were advocating for social, economic and political change that will make a difference for working people by fostering social justice, equality, freedom and rights for all women and men, including the most marginalised.
The MENA delegates also described how increased dialogue and strengthened co-operation could develop their capacity to promote labour rights and social justice. They jointly deplored the absence of the teacher unionists from Bahrain whose leaders are currently detained.
The EI meeting was also attended by observers from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Spain, and the USA. Other observers included EI Executive Board members Patrick Gonthier, Ulrich Thone, Jose Campos Trujillo, Randi Weingarten, and Abdelaziz Mountassir from Morocco. Also in attendance was Christine Blower, the Chair of EI’s Middle East Advisory Group.
The meeting stems from a decision of EI’s Executive Board in March 2011 to build on a resolution from the 2007 EI World Congress to support the development and strengthening of independent, democratic and critical teacher unions in MENA and Central Asia.
All participants agreed that both unions and education play a central role in movements for democratic change and that education unions in the MENA region have a responsibility to voice the concerns of the people. This can be achieved by instilling sustainable change in labour rights and equality, improving the education systems and teacher status, and strengthening institutions benefitting the people.
MENA delegates also insisted on the need for education unions to practice democracy and remain independent from political parties and authorities.
All participants at the meeting offered particular praise to the courage and determination of Egyptian colleagues in a tribute on Tahrir Square, Cairo, where the popular protest against the corrupt and autocratic leadership of Hosni Mubarak gained so much strength that it toppled the regime.
The EI MENA region meeting ended with a great sense of solidarity, responsibility, and achievement, with all participants conscious of the challenge of changing the mindsets and raising awareness on rights, and the potential for sustainable and democratic change offered by independent unions.
The dialogue engaged in the EI Cairo meeting will lead to concrete activities in the MENA region.