This was the final day of the conference and how it ended was quite important following my last experience here. I’ll tell you the story of what happened then & you can draw your own conclusions as to whether we did the right thing…
The first and last time I came to Cairo was in April 2000 for a conference on mines at the Arab League, hosted by an Egyptian security institute. We had some good discussions including several calls for support to the ban treaty by countries from the region that have already signed such as Jordan and Yemen. But when it came to the conclusion, the institute’s director announced, “there is no time left for discussion of the final declaration of the meeting so I’m gonna read what I have drafted on behalf of the conference and we can consider it adopted. ” Instead of reflecting the discussions, his document basically endorsed the government’s position against the banning mines and endorsed a certain kind of mine, the so-called “smart” mine. At the end he said declaraed is adopted and proceeded to start to close the meeting.

My colleague Ayman, who has campaigned long and hard in Egypt, stood up from the back of the room, pointed at the agenda and interrupted the director demanding discussion before adoption of the statement. “No time,” was the reply. Heproceeded to try and interrupt and the director tried to close the meeting. Ayman then threw down the agenda in disgust and stormed out of the room. I was seated behind him with a small group of campaigners from the region. We looked at each other, stood up, and followed Ayman out. I noticed the Canadian military expert General Reay also leave the room.

Diplomatically, leaving the room at that point is a pretty clear signal of your disagreement with the conclusions of the meeting. It was important to Ayman and us that the international campaign not be associated with the conclusions of the meeting as it would imply we support the government position. If they had allowed time for discussion, maybe we would have been able to improve the text, but being Egypt they did it their way.
We went back to the hotel, drafted a press release describing our disappointment that the government had managed to manipulate the conference conclusion through what had now been confirmed as a government-opwned NGO or GONGO and sent it to the campaign coordinator for distribution. After fighting with the hotel over the bill and getting an awful stomach ache, I got out of there at midnight pledging only to return if the government softened its stance.

This time it ended differently, with the conference calling on the Egyptian government to reconsider its position on joining agreements including the Mine Ban Treaty. While the chair wanted to push this final statement through with no debate, enough people raised their hand that there was some discussion. Now it’s on to the field, um desert…