Professor of Peace and Conflict Resolution at the School of International Service, American University
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: In a dialogue normally there is an assumption that it is a safe space and people can speak freely about their concerns and that nothing will be taken outside of the room. In a dialogue where that may not be possible given the local norms and given that a representative from the Ministry of the Interior is there, how much can get done in a dialogue with that kind of presence?
A: I will give you an example. In one case we had one of the people we knew in the group was working with the security. We shifted a little bit of the focus from political conversation and the regime, and focused on concrete tangible development issues that it would not get them in any trouble with the security forces. For instance the cases studies we used were disputes between vendors in the cities, land disputes, and disputes between the ministry of housing and some of the neighborhood committees. Looking at these case studies and conversation to be more tangible as well as safer issues for the participants themselves knowing that themes like the relationship between the government and the opposition is not going to be discussed publicly, and on a larger scale in the group due to that sensitivity. Those that are present don't usually stay with you all the time. They come in the beginning, the end, or in the middle just to be present in the workshop as a form of monitoring. As I said this is constantly an issue in war zone areas where there is very little, or minimal degree of trust among people in general and you add to it the security apparatus and then you have a more difficult situation to deal with.
That is interesting. Basically what you end up talking about is basic conflict resolution services where the legal framework may not be in place, or sufficient to deal with people's everyday problem, like between sellers and vendors, land disputes, and things like that where the government or state has failed to do so.
A: In that case it does deal with that. That was a case in Egypt where we worked with a group in Cairo in 1997-98. These conditions depend on the nature of the workshop, the participants, the local sponsor, and the purpose of your project. There are projects I do where I am invited to talk about facilitating and having meetings between the opposition group and the government. Then the whole conversation is basically on the peace process, the dialogue, and on political issues. Whether the security representative is there or not does not matter because that is the focus of our group.