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January 31, 2013

US Launches 'Open Book' Project with Arab World

by Mohamed Elshinnawi

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and representatives of the Arab League and its Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization have launched a joint project to expand access to free educational materials.

The initiative is known as the Open Book Project and according to participants, it will make high-quality U.S. science and technology educational materials available in Arabic within the next 18 months.

“Our hope is to lower geographic, economic and even gender-based barriers to learning,” Clinton said while announcing the project this week. “Anyone with access to the Internet will be able to read, download and print these open materials for free and adapt a copy that meets the local needs of their classrooms or education systems.”

Clinton said there is a great need for such a resource. “Through the Open Book Project, we will work to expand access to free, high-quality, open education materials in Arabic, with focus on science and technology,” she added.



US-Arab partnership

The U.S. State Department will host the first formal meeting of Open Book Project partners in March. Participating partners include the Arab Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Rice University and Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that specializes in the sharing and use of creative work through free, legally available tools.

Under a Creative Commons license, publishers can choose to allow non-commercial users to benefit from copyrighted materials and use them without fear of copyright infringement, as long as they abide by specified conditions.

According to Abulqasem Albadry, head of ALESCO’s delegation, participating organizations will use the March meeting to make commitments to begin implementation over the next 12 to 18 months.

“U.S universities, Arab universities and about a thousand professors from the Arab diaspora and educational institutions from both sides will cooperate to provide Arab professors and students free access to high-quality American textbooks in their native language,” explained Albadry. He expects the project to help develop closer relations between Arab and U.S. universities.  

Diplomacy tool

Secretary Clinton pointed out that the Open Book Project is a product of closer cooperation between the U.S. and the Arab League initiated during the early days of the Arab Spring.

“This fall in New York, we signed an agreement to cooperate more deeply and held the first U.S.-Arab League dialogue,” Clinton explained.  “We see educational diplomacy as the means of fulfilling the obligation to try to match reality and actions with the aspirations and hopes of the men and women across the Arab world.”
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Ambassador Mohammed Al Hussaini Al Sharif, the Arab League’s envoy to the U.S., described the project as a practical public diplomacy tool that reflects a new American approach to the Arab world.

“Such initiatives contribute to a positive image of a U.S. that is concerned with Arab peoples’ aspirations for better economic opportunities through improving education and technological skills needed for today’s job market,” he said. “It is a huge step forward in the Arab-American relations following the convergence of [the] U.S. and [the] Arab League’s positions toward events of the Arab Spring, especially in Libya and Syria.”

Al Hussaini Al Sharif added that there is another U.S. initiative that brings Arab peoples closer to the U.S. - President Barack Obama’s Open Government Partnership that calls for more transparency and cooperation in the fight against corruption.  He said “goals of that initiative are sought after by Arab people and were major goals of the Arab Spring.”