(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a conference on the Arab Spring, gender, defence and security in Brussels, to discuss the role of women in conflict, peacemaking and conflict resolution in the post-Arab Spring times.
The keynote speaker was Yemeni activist and Nobel Peace laureate Tawakol Karaman; other speakers were from countries in the Middle East that witnessed political transformation as part of the so-called Arab Spring, in the form of a revolution or of a leadership-led reform, as is the case in Morocco and Jordan.
Many issues were brought up at the conference, on what makes up the Arab Spring, the gender rights within the security context and the rise to power of political Islam.
Yet, at the basis of all those issues under debate were the concepts of formal and informal political structures of reform and the level of engagement of governments with those structures.
Many regional commentators credited the youth with energising the Arab awakening and turning it into a series of mini revolutions that toppled regimes or introduced reform to state governance in some countries.
However, post-revolution negotiations and political evolution appear to have largely ignored the informal power of youth and engaged, instead, the existing traditional formal entities, such as the organised Islamists or former officials and traditional opinion makers.
Several reasons led to this situation: There hasn't been enough time allowed for these informal groups to formalise their gatherings into either active civil society organisations or political parties or lobby groups; many of these informal groups are unrecognisable as a structure and therefore difficult to engage as anything more than individuals; the organised "groups" jumped in quickly to utilise the new political environment to their advantage and to serve their own political agendas; governments sought stability quickly, to avoid degeneration of the security situation, and therefore took the less time-consuming, shortcut, solutions; and finally, and I believe quite importantly, dialogue channels with the government and its agents remained within the formal sector, and largely closed and exclusive, allowing very few inroads for the activists within the informal sector.
As a result, what we are facing now is that the output of the revolutions does not necessarily match the aspirations of the groups that initiated them. In fact, it appears that the Arab Spring has been hijacked by organised, expansionist and politically ambitious political parties in tandem with desperate governments seeking to maintain the security situation in their countries.
In extreme cases - such as in Egypt - the situation is becoming increasingly tense and may explode at any moment.
In Jordan, we have the complicating factor that the so-called representatives of youth the government is meeting with are in fact appointed by the government and have not been elected or chosen by the young population to represent all its colours and beliefs, nor do they represent the kind of dialogue or vibrant reform narrative that one can see in the more informal youth forums.
While we all understand the urgency of introducing political reform and institutionalising that reform in laws that will usher in democratic practices and fair representation, it may be prudent to take the time to consider the partners we choose and, more importantly, the possible partners we have missed.
Perhaps the more urgent task ahead of us is to initiate dialogue outside the formal boxes and draw in the population segments that have been left out of the formal political structures during the long years of selective political inclusion.
The real fear may be that continued political exclusion may in fact be the real destabiliser and that the short-term political alliances we are building for the sake of immediate security fail to meet the expectations of the movements for real reform and end up just replacing one exclusivist autocracy with another.