Halah Al-Eisa is an undergraduate at Purdue University. Last summer, she traveled home to Kuwait to participate in her country’s Parliamentary elections—the first in which women could vote. She worked for a candidate, coordinating media outreach, advertising, and other efforts to get young people involved. Her candidate won, and now she is thinking about what more she can do to engage young women in the political system.
Dhari Aljutaili is getting his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Oregon State University. While pursuing his studies, Aljutaili co-founded and edited Nebras, the first online Kuwaiti student magazine. The magazine covered everything from politics to sports and became so successful that the major newspapers back in Kuwait routinely picked up its stories.
While a student at Indiana University, Tareq AlRabei started a blog called Virtual Leadership. He created it for young Kuwaitis like himself to share political ideas, and it grew to involve almost 800 people. This summer AlRabei used that forum to launch a successful grassroots campaign for election reform in his country. He galvanized more than 20, 000 young people to lobby for redistricting legislation that had been stalled in Parliament for years.
These are just some of the faces of young Arab leaders today—politically moderate, well-educated, and energized to create a positive future for their countries and the region. EDC and Jusoor Arabiya, a leadership and consultancy center in Kuwait, are sponsoring these young people, along with four others from the United Arab Emirates, to present a panel called Youth Leadership in the Arab World Post 9/11 at the 18th Annual National Service-Learning Conference, organized by The National Youth Leadership Council and the International Association for National Youth Service. It will draw 2,900 students, educators, policy-makers, and representatives from community-based organizations.
“We are thrilled to bring these young Arab leaders forward so they can learn from one another and put forth a positive vision for the region in an international forum,” explains EDC’s Hisham Jabi, who manages the Ruwwad Youth Volunteers for Community Assistance Program in the West Bank and Gaza. “Arab youth are misrepresented or underrepresented in international forums—especially men, whose image is most often linked to terrorism. We want people to understand that most Arab youth are working hard to improve conditions in their countries and across the region.”
The panel is just one initiative of the larger Arab Young Leaders Program, sponsored by EDC and Jusoor Arabiya. The first of its kind in the Middle East, the program aims to promote more organized, visible, and moderate voices in the region by enhancing the development and leadership skills of young people. With sixty percent of the population of Arab countries under the age of 24, Jabi feels this mission is imperative. “There is a lot of energy here, but the young people are not well connected to one another. We want to build bridges among youth in Arab countries.”
The Service-Learning Conference, held March 28-31 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, offers an international pre-conference attracting youth leaders from around the world. There the Arab delegation will share their values, aspirations, accomplishments, and challenges. They will also offer the international audience a more complete image of Arab and Muslim youth today.
“We want to shed light on the positives in our region,” says Aljutaili. “We hope to counter some of the negative images of Arab youth that are portrayed on television every night. We also hope to learn about how young people in other parts of the world are creating positive change in their communities.”
At the conference the Arab delegation will be exposed to new educational approaches to learning, planning, and programming. They will connect with international leaders and join youth networks. The participants will take what they learn back to the Arab Young Leaders Program as it expands to involve more young people from other countries across the region.
“I hope these young people will take away the image of youth empowerment that we are familiar with in the United States,” says Jabi. “In this country, young people are encouraged to take a stand, show initiative, become entrepreneurs and leaders. This is less so in Arab countries, where many young people get a good education but they are not encouraged to take that education and apply it to pressing social problems.”
Ultimately Jabi believes the Arab Young Leaders Program will result in a cohort of youth leaders with improved development and leadership skills active in the public and private sectors.
“As a former youth leader myself, I envision a network of 500-1000 young Arabs connected through information and communication technologies and empowered to tackle social problems across the region,” says Jabi. “The seven young people in this delegation are exceptional—educated, open-minded, committed to change. They can create a model of social and economic unity and positive development in the Arab world.”
Originally published on March 1, 2007