It's said that change comes from within, and that idea is at the heart
of the Freedom House New Generation of Advocates Program. The
professional training and exchange program supports young civil society
activists who are working for democracy, human rights and peaceful
political change in the Middle East and North Africa.
As part of
its non-profit, non-partisan mission to support the expansion of
freedom and democracy around the world, Freedom House has been bringing
young Middle Eastern reformers to the United States and Central and
Eastern Europe on fellowships. The New Generation of Advocates Program
is supported by funds from the U.S. State Department and the U.S.
Agency for International Development.
Daniel Calingaert, deputy
director of programs at Freedom House, explains that the training is
designed to strengthen the advocacy and networking skills of its
participants - currently, a group of 17 young Egyptian activists.
is a very diverse group, people with different outlooks, from different
backgrounds, including human rights activists, lawyers, women's rights
activists, journalists, bloggers," Calingaert says. "But what they all
share is a hope for a better future in Egypt and a strong interest in
The 17 Egyptian fellows are spending five
weeks working with their American counterparts to hone their skills as
social and political reformers.
May Kosba is a senior
program specialist at the Youth and Development Institute, a
non-governmental organization in Egypt that works with that country's
Now she's getting some training herself at
Youth Service America, an organization in Washington, D.C. that's
similar to the Egyptian institute. Kosba says it's important to focus
on young people and give young Egyptians hope for a better future.
is a lot of youth who are unemployed, who need to see a better future,
and I believe as an Egyptian who strives for a better life that we
deserve a lot better," she says. "So whatever I learned in this
training, now I have a clear idea of what I need to do, in how to
approach the youth, how to speak with them and how to be more accepting
of their diversity. We have advocacy training on how to speak to
people, how to analyze the problems and the needs and put them together
and see how to get the message across."
Using simple, direct
language to get the message across is a lesson Egyptian fellow Ola
Fahmy is learning. A political analyst with the recently organized
Reform and Development Party in Egypt, Fahmy is spending her fellowship
at the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Columbus, Ohio.
She's picked up several important tools for encouraging young people to
get actively involved in their nation's political life.
talk to people with simple language. Actually, we use more complicated
language - like 'reform' and 'ideologies' - and how to replace those
expressions with more simple words to reach people and how to mobilize
people to work with you, how to change your mechanism from needs-based
approach to rights-based approach."
According to Freedom
House, civil society organizations in the Middle East and North Africa
often lack clear agendas or realistic action plans for reform. They
tend to focus on ideological manifestos and conferences, rather than on
concrete plans for action.
That's an assessment shared by Maged Sorour, executive director of One World Foundation for Development and Civil Society Care.
of us did not receive international training. We are activists by
nature, so it is important when we come to such training and receive
and get new techniques on what they do in American society. It is
important to gain this knowledge and to practice it again in our
Sorour is acquiring new advocacy techniques through
his fellowship at the Carter Center's Human Rights Program in Atlanta,
To support the emergence of a new generation of
democracy advocates in the Middle East and North Africa, the Freedom
House program also provides its fellows with mentors - including
lawmakers in the United States and Europe, former ambassadors,
academics and journalists. Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East
Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International
Studies, is one of the mentors. He told the young Egyptian activists
that Washington has been trying to nudge Egypt in a more participatory
direction, to give its people a stronger voice in their own lives.
have been trying to do this for more than half a century, and quite
frankly, we are not there, and you know what? We are not going to get
there. You are going to get there," Alterman says. "We can help. We can
inspire. We can give you some ideas. But the action, the real drive,
has to come from you. It will come from you. People have seen it coming
from you, and that is what changes the world."
democracy activist Saad Eldin Ibrahim, now a visiting professor at
Harvard University, praises the Freedom House New Generation of
Advocates Program, which is funded by the U.S. government's Middle East
Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the U.S. Agency for International
Development. Ibrahim says providing young leaders with practical,
hands-on advocacy experience in a mature civil society is a powerfully
effective way to promote democracy - and protect freedom in the world.