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The Alliance of Civilizations is an initiative proposed by the President of the Government of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in 2005. It was co-sponsored by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The initiative seeks to galvanize international action against extremism through the forging of international, intercultural and interreligious dialogue and cooperation. The Alliance places a particular emphasis on defusing tensions between the Western and the Islamic world.


Mutual suspicion, fear and misunderstanding between Islamic and Western societies has been increasing since the beginning of the new millennium. The heightened instability of coexistence between these groups of people with divergent backgrounds has led to exploitation by extremists throughout the world: the severest form of this being violent acts of terrorism. It has been the opinion of many political leaders that efforts should be made to reach a common ground between diverse ethnic and religious groups based on the tolerance, understanding, and respect of the fundamental set of values and beliefs of each group. In this way, and by the attempt to quell "extremism", a comprehensive coalition can be established to work toward a peaceful coexistence between diverse groups around the world, and thereby support international stability.


The Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) initiative was proposed by the President of the Spanish Government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in 2005. It was co-sponsored by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The aim of the initiative was to produce actionable, time-bound recommendations by the end of 2006 for UN member states to adopt.

Preliminary Work

To fulfill the objective of the initiative, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan assembled a High-level Group (HLG) consisting of 20 eminent persons drawn from policy making, academia, civil society, religious leadership, and the media. A full range of religions and civilizations were represented. Among the members were former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who proposed the Dialogue Among Civilizations initiative, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African Nobel laureate, Prof. Pan Guang, who obtained the Saint Petersburgmarker-300 Medal for Contribution to China-Russia Relations, and Arthur Schneier, who is the founder and president of the “Appeal of Conscience Foundation” and who gained the "Presidential Citizens Medal”. The HLG met 5 times between November 2005 and November 2006, and produced a report prioritising relations between the Western and Muslim societies.

The first meeting of the HLG of the AoC occurred in Spain in November 2005. The second meeting was in Dohamarker, Qatarmarker from 25 to 27 February 2006 with the agenda of aiming to find ways to calm the cartoon crisis between West and Islamic world. The third meeting took place in Dakar, Senegal from 28 to 30 May 2006. At the final meeting in November 2006 in Istanbul, the members presented their final report to Kofi Annan and to Prime Ministers José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The report outlined recommendations and practical solutions on how the Western and Islamic societies can solve misconceptions and misunderstandings between them. According to the report, "politics, not religion, is at the heart of growing Muslim-Western divide", although a large emphasis is maintained on religion.

HLG Report

The final 2006 report of the HLG was structured in two parts. Part I presented an analysis of the global context and of the state of relations between Muslim and Western societies. It concluded with a set of general policy recommendations, indicating the HLG's belief that certain political steps are pre-requisites to any substantial and lasting improvement in relations between Muslim and Western societies.

Part II of the report reflected the HLG's view that tensions across cultures have spread beyond the political level into the hearts and minds of populations. To counter this trend, the Group presented recommendations in each of four thematic areas: Education, Youth, Migration, and Media. The Report concluded with outlined suggestions for the implementation of its recommendations.

A key issue regarded by the AoC is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the resolution of which is considered paramount.

The report also recommends combating "exclusivism" and extremism. It defines exclusivism as, “those who feed on exclusion and claim sole ownership of the truth". Thus, religious groups who assert one specific truth to the exclusion of other religious doctrines are considered undesirable by the AoC. Furthermore, the report identifies the primary global groups in this issue as the three monotheistic faiths.

Structure and Leadership

The "High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations" is the title of the primary leadership position of the AoC, who is to function as political facilitator and lead spokesman, and to consult directly with the United Nations Secretary General. In April 2007, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed the position of High Representative to Jorge Sampaio, former president of Portugal.

The Secretariat of the Alliance of Civilizations provides support to the High Representative and implements developmental functions of the AoC. The offices are based at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Ongoing Activities

Implementation Plan

In May, 2007, the AoC released its "Implementation Plan 2007-2009", which elaborated on the notion that the AoC will not replace or reconstitute any existing plans or political channels. Rather, the AoC will facilitate its goals primarily through partnership operations among a variety of existing groups, and also through projects in youth, education, media, and migration.

The core of the 16 page document consists of two parts. The first part, drawing directly on the 2006 HLG report, describes the strategic and structural framework for the AoC. Included are plans for an AoC forum held in varying locations annually, the "Group of Friends" representatives from States and international organisations, and UN Secretary-General-appointed ambassadors to the AoC. Financing will be accomplished via the AoC Voluntary Trust Fund with support from various organisations.

The second part of the plan calls for actions to staff the office of the Secretariat by Summer 2007, and to implement the directives established in the first part of the document. A mid-term review of the plan of action is intended in 2008. The first group of ambassadors will be listed by the end of 2007, and the first annual AoC forum will be held January 15-16 in 2008 in Spain, with a focus on youth. The AoC will establish a rapid-response media-based mechanism to intervene in escalations of global tension.

The plans were discussed with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on June 14 2007.

On June 24, Ban Ki-moon spoke at a commemoration of 13th century Muslim poet Rumi in New York, in which he embraced the teachings of the poet, expressing the resonance with the goals of the AoC.

2008 Forum

The first forum of the Alliance of Civilizations was held in Madridmarker, Spainmarker on January 15–16, 2008. It was attended by over 900 participants in 89 official delegations from 78 countries.

Among the results were the announcement of a number of initiatives concerning media, educational and other programmes to advance AoC objectives in various countries, and the signing of Memoranda of Understanding with UNESCOmarker, the League of Arab States, ISESCO, the Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), and a Letter of Intent with the Council of Europe.

2009 Forum

The second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations was held in Istanbulmarker, Turkeymarker on April 6–7, 2009.

The President of the United States, Barack Obama, who was visiting Istanbul that day, was originally expected to attend the second day of the meeting, but paid a surprise visit to the U.S. troops in Iraq instead.


The Alliance was presented with the "Dialogue of Civilizations" award, which was given by the Rumi Forum and the Georgetown University Center for Peace and Security Research in Washington.Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan received the award.

See also

Further reading


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