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MENA Regional Hub Inaugural Workshop

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— 2 minutes reading time

In March, the Strong Cities Network’s MENA Regional Hub held its inaugural workshop in Rabat, Morocco with generous support from the European Union (EU). The workshop, which was co-hosted by the City of Rabat, brought together more than 70 representatives from local governments, national governments and civil society from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as from the United Nations (i.e. UN-Habitat, the UN Office for Counter Terrorism (UNOCT) and Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), United Cities and Local Governments Africa (UCLGA), and other international partners. This included mayors, deputy mayors and other local government officials from 27 municipalities or governorates from across MENA.

The workshop served as an introduction to the MENA Regional Hub and its five pillars, and invited participants to exchange perspectives on the threats facing cities across the region and the needs and priorities of local governments in order to strengthen their role in preventing and responding to extremism, hate and polarisation as part of a whole-of-society approach to addressing these challenges.

Participants identified several challenges and threats that hinder economic growth and social stability in the MENA region, including ongoing violent conflicts, high unemployment rates among youth, human rights abuses – often committed in the name of countering terrorism – and food and land insecurity, all of which are exploited by extremist groups for recruitment purposes. These challenges are both causing and exacerbated by mass displacement and migration, resulting in demographic fluctuations that local governments are currently ill-equipped nor supported to respond to. This contributes to tension between new arrivals and long-time residents (e.g. due to a more competitive job market or more demands for limited public services), creating conditions conducive to hate, polarisation and extremism.

Ongoing challenges presented by the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and their families, processes for which are currently insufficient or non-existent, especially at the local level, further complicate the situation. Participants from Iraq commented in particular on the added burden (on the region’s resources) of FTFs and families from outside of the region, particularly Europe, as well as others that were displaced by Islamic State-related violence, who remain in camps in the country and northeast Syria, despite international pressure on countries of origin to repatriate their citizens. The urgency and scale of the situation is compounded by the dire living conditions in the camps. Related to this, some participants commented on challenges with managing the reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals more broadly.

Participants remarked that forums such as this, where cities are brought together to share practices, are an important step in learning how counterparts in other contexts have addressed these challenges and pursued and sustained a role for their city in prevention. In this context, participants also welcomed the announcement of two Strong Cities guides – one for mayors and the other for local government practitioners – which will provide a series of actionable steps that cities can take to enhance and sustain their role in prevention.