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CIVICUS World Assembly

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is an international alliance of members and partners which constitutes an influential network of organisations at the local, national, regional and international levels and spans the spectrum of civil society <a>more</a>

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19 Lessons learned from the Revolutions

Speakers: Joao Scarpelini, Youth and Community Empowerment Consultant, and Netsanet Belay, Policy and Research Director CIVICUS.

The short answer according to today’s Youth Conference dialogue “Lessons from the Revolutions: Can young people radically transform their societies?” which you can watch here is: Yes. However, before delving into the lessons, a few challenges should be borne in mind so as to make sure we are being realistic in our endeavor:

1. Repression and closing down on citizen participation happens worldwide.

2. People are apathetic and uninterested in global issues, so how can we have global justice? A serious question to ask ourselves is how can we build global governance.

3. Superpowers play a major role in controlling which revolutions are crushed and which are not.

4. Selective media coverage could result in a legitimate fight for freedom and justice being labeled as an act of terrorism.

5. The majority of people in Africa don’t have the means to apply any of the lessons learned today.

Egyptian Revolution Got Real by Eng Sam

Egyptian Revolution Got Real by Eng Sam

According to the speakers and delegates, these are the lessons learned from the ‘Arab Spring’:

1. Being connected to the government is what brings results.
2. Masses are needed to effect change. The people united will never be defeated!
3. Solidarity between movements and across countries– even if you don’t agree with each other–is essential when it comes to objecting the government’s crushing of freedom of expression.
4. Boycotting: Holding politicians accountable through cultural and economic boycott of regimes which violate human rights.
5. Media: let them hear you loud and clear.
6. Bring youth who started the revolution to the table to make decisions.
7. Powerful stories trigger powerful reactions. (ex. Bouzizi setting himself on fire in Tunisia).
8. Technology made organizing and mobilizing much easier and efficient, and allowed us to tell powerful stories more effectively.
9. Don’t give all credt to social media: some countries don’t have it and masses play a major role.
10. Multiplicity: It’s OK to fight for multiple specific causes instead of the banal ‘Us’ vs. ‘The System’.
11. Reinforce the role of micro-revolutions: These are more pragmatic and easier to organize, and once added up will result in a real movement.
12. Interconnectivity: Broadcast things in your language but also in English so that the world knows your struggle and demands.
13. Innovation: Be creative in organizing and challenging the law without putting yourself at risk.
14. Beware of big powers trigerring revolutions because of their own economic and political interests.
15. Have courage: Can we go as far as Bouzizi to get our freedom?
16. Democracy cannot be imposed, as is the case in Iraq and Afghanistan. Citizens decide how and when to get democracy.
17. Beware of media bias and selectivity: It took Youtube to show how Muslim women have always been involved in Arab societies.
18. Believe in the power of peaceful protesting and civil disobedience.
19. Be hopeful! There’s evidence now that it is something worth working for!

Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space, Connecting People Through Technology, Economic Justice
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Vox Pops from the 2010 CIVICUS World Assembly

What did last year’s CIVICUS World Aseembly delegates have to say about pressing world issues such as poverty, economic justice, development aid, and climate justice? Listen to their thoughts and opinions in the following videos! Who knows, you might be interviewed this year and get to be viewed by the world!

Vox Pop 1: How much money do you have in your pocket and what can you do with this amount in your country?

Vox Pop 2: What would happen if there was no development aid and how can development aid be more effective?

Vox Pop 3: What is the first step you are going to take when you go back home to achieve greater justice? What is our role in achieving climate justice?

Category : Climate Justice, Development Effectiveness, Economic Justice
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How Egyptians made History in 2011

When an Egyptian lady uploaded a video online asking people to demonstrate at Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011, no one knew history was being made. A Facebook group was created, and an unprecedented peaceful marching protest of Egyptians from all walks of life to strategic buildings in Cairo took place. Police efforts to break them apart proved futile, and demonstrators were detained, put under curfew, and shot at as if they were enemies simply because they were demanding their rights.

When the regime`s attempts to block media coverage by attacking journalists failed, it decided to unplug the country overnight. Cutting off the Internet—a first in history– reflected the power social media and technology had over public opinion. The government was beyond desperate.

The brutal manner in which the police reacted only fuelled people’s rage. Anger Friday told Mubarak this was no longer a demand for rights but rather a demand that the regime falls. This also announced the failure of the communication lock-down. Demonstrations mushroomed all over Egypt, meanwhile, propagandist state TV pretended nothing was happening. When Al Jazeera covered reality, the regime targeted its reporters, eventually shutting its office down. When soldiers defied military orders to shoot agitators, Al Jazeera correspondents dispersed into the crowds and pursued their work. The rock festival atmosphere at Tahrir Square, and the more than one million Egyptians determinedly gathering from all walks of life, meant there was no going back.


Two Egyptian divers in Hurgada address Mubarak with a banner that reads, “Leave before the oxygen runs out”

After Mubarak`s speech, a good number of supporters came into the spotlight. They sparked violence, brutally disrupting a peaceful protest. Tahrir Square became a battlefield, but pro-democracy protesters persevered. There was increasing evidence that pro-Mubarak supporters were policemen and thugs who were paid to agitate protesters by running them over with cars and throwing slabs of cement from atop tall buildings.

Mubarak’s government denied any part in the violence, blaming the media and foreign spies instead. Journalists and humanitarian aid workers were pulled away to convince the public this was an international plot. Egypt’s government was forced to apologize and Mubarak announced that neither he nor any of his family members will nominate themselves for the next elections. Still, his inability to comprehend that Egyptians wanted him out NOW enraged people more.

Within three weeks Tahrir Square had become home to the biggest demonstration to date; a melting pot of people from all religions and walks of life–all rejecting offers from the government to negotiate. The demonstration transformed into a revolution, and people held a permanent vigil, camping with their laptops. The majority’s morale never wained, but Mubarak’s last speech was so disappointing people started to wonder if they will ever taste freedom. It was activist Wael Ghoneim’s release that boosted their confidence.

Mubarak stepped down shortly after, and as the world watched in awe, Egypt burst in joy.

‘Connecting People through Technology’ and ‘Civil Society and Democratic Space’ are two program tracks in this year’s World Assembly that will further elaborate on similar events/issues through useful and engaging workshops.

Al Jazeera`s documentary, Egypt Burning, is an excellent summary of the entire revolution:

Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space, Connecting People Through Technology
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When Bloggers Scared the Egyptian Government

The phrase ‘Egyptian Revolution’ conjures up thoughts of social media and technology as the main tools behind igniting the courage and determination of the masses. Most of us, however,  are not aware that bloggers had been making waves and paying a high price long before 2011.

Manal and Ala’a are a young blogger couple. In a 2007 interview, Manal explains how they are no longer scared of prison and torture. ‘The Egyptian bloggers’ fair was, at the time,.a small but growing community playing an important role in the opposition movement and gaining international support’. Since Ala’a got arrested, global websites were launched calling for his freedom. Obviously, bloggers are taken much more seriously by political observers.

An indirect effect of blogs in the case of Egypt was creating international solidarity and pressure on the regime through raising global awareness. A direct effect was attracting the younger,.tech- savvy generation which was difficult to attract through traditional means.

What worries the regime is that outspoken bloggers, like Malek Mustafa Mohammad, are not scared to speak up. One possible reason behind this courage is that bloggers haven’t been politicized long enough, thus underestimate the risks.. Mohammad’s dad got deportation threats because of his son’s so-called ‘illegal activities’. Ala’a and Manal, however, are supported by their activist parents. It was seeing his mom get beaten up, having his laptop stolen, and discovering that people were sexually harassed in a demonstration on May 25, 2005, that made an activist out of Ala’a. At the time of the interview in 2007, Ala’a was in prison, yet again, anger makes him stronger: The beatings he endured push him to blog with more passion upon his release, and to campaign for those still in prison.

Nora Younis, another brave blogger, uses her camera to document protests, exposing the brutality of the regime  by uploading them online. New blogs are created each day, and voices are getting louder and stronger. In 2007, the documentary ends with a phrase that makes us smile today: ‘This is one fight the Egyptian regime might not be able to handle.’
Mubarak’s regime underestimated the power of social media. The wide availability of the Internet resulted in a huge class shift as people were able to blog in Arabic. Egypt is in fact the eighth largest Facebook user worldwide. Bloggers are much faster and more effective at spreading information than the government, which finds them hard to control. Blogging under pseudonyms, and having a resonance with daily problems, gives them even more power.  People use social media to speak up in countries where freedom of expression in other forums is suppressed.

The power of social media in connecting people and creating global solidarity cannot be underestimated. Still, we cannot give all credit to bloggers, as the mass suffering of Egyptians and their determination to gain freedom played a key-role in igniting and sustaining this revolution. The  workshop  ‘Doing Advocacy better with New Media’ at this year’s World Assembly will demonstrate the best practices in using technonology to promote civil society and democratic space.

Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space, Connecting People Through Technology
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A Taboo Called Palestine: Selectivity in Supporting Revolutions

The world is smitten by the Arab Spring and despite inconsistencies in support, the general vibe is that everyone–including superpowers–considers Arab citizens brave in fighting for their basic rights of dignity and self determination, regarding it an unprecedented manifestation of courage against injustice.

It seems goldfish memory is more common than I thought.

Flashback to 1936: The Palestinian Revolution. Have you heard about it? Probably not, since Palestine was (and still is) being advertised as ‘A Land without a people for a people without a land’. Mainstream media convinced us that Palestine was a barren land with no one but nomads; something that official documentation denies with crystal clear evidence:
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In favour of creating a Zionist state—which started well before the holocaust for pure strategic reasons—the world decided to introduce waves of European Jewish settlers, increasing them massively after WWII: Basically stepping on the rights of Palestinians by making them pay for Nazi atrocities without the decency to ask for their permission. Most people fail to realize that before the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians began, they had decided to revolt. However, this was one revolution no so-called ‘democracy’ wanted to support. With the collaboration of conspiring Arab countries, the Palestinian revolution was crushed and the people silenced, eventually being expelled from their land with nothing–not even their dignity was spared.

The Palestinian strike of 1936 was one of the longest general strikes in labour history, but you most likely haven’t heard about it either. If anything, it is Zionists who introduced terrorism to the region by blowing up buses in Jerusalem in the 1930’s. It was also the Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion who said:

“We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all services to rid the Galillee of its Arab Population.”-May 1948, to the General Staff.

“We will expel the Arabs and take their place. In each attack a decisive blow should be struck resulting in the destruction of homes and the expulsion of the population.”-Letters to his son, 1937.

Despite these facts, Canada—a proud defender of human rights everywhere– staunchly supports Israel, regardless of its violation of international law: An Apartheid Wall, attacking unarmed civilians, illegal occupation, and torturing Palestinian children, only to name a few. With absolutely no regard for the plight of Palestinians–officially the largest refugee population worldwide–Prime Minister Harper ‘Mazel Tov’s Israel on its 63rd Independence anniversary (independence from whom, no one knows). He further decides to reject a Palestinian state; a telling move reflecting how much he values human rights. Now that the ‘Only Democracy in the Middle East’ banned the BDS movement—a peaceful resistance effort gaining tremendous global support–Harper decides to censor freedom of speech in considering to criminalize criticism of Israel in Canada under the false guise of Anti-Semitism.

YouTube Preview ImageAl Nakba: An eye-opening documentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While superpowers debate which leader should be tried for war crimes next, Israel  continues to manipulate them with the dexterity of a professional puppeteer. I leave you with this quotable quote by Ariel Sharon, when asked what would become of the Palestinians:

“We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of them. Yes, we’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years’ time, neither the UN nor the US, nobody, will be able to tear it apart”.

Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space
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Give Religion a Chance

I was excited to see that one of the engagement workshop activities during the CIVICUS World Assembly bears the title ‘Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in global decision making and social transformation’. Why the excitement you may ask? Well, to begin with, it cannot be any more obvious that I am an observant Muslim. Choosing to don the hijab in a growing Islamophobic atmosphere on a daily basis, I get all sorts of verbal insults, most of which blame me for the destruction of the world. Many secularists believe that religion is the main cause of wars, and although it is true that misinterpreting religious scripture and taking verses out of context do indeed result in extreme acts of violence being justifiably committed against innocents (ex. The Crusades, Islamist Terrorism, and the Israeli government’s atrocities towards Palestinians), we must remember that in fact ANY text could be turned into an ideology (ex. Hitler’s Mein Kampf which gave birth to Nazism, and Stalin’s version of Communism). Regardless of where you stand on this, and regardless of your religious convictions—or lack thereof—I believe that this workshop is a much needed effort to reflect a side of religion which many people fail to see, since logically, it’s only the dirty laundry that attracts the most attention on a clothesline filled with sparkling whites.


Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space
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Is Canada really the Land of Opportunity?

I was visiting my family when my brother’s lost bicycle required us to contact the building’s superintendent:  A respectable man in his mid-sixties who used to be a doctor in Albania, but who cannot practice medicine in Canada because his credentials are not recognized. There is something utterly illogical when it comes to Canadian immigration laws. My parents qualified for immigration based on their diplomas. Both pharmacists, they chose the ‘Skilled Workers’ category, earning ‘points’ that increased their chances since Canada was in need of their profession. Not only did they earn their degrees from internationally accredited universities, but both had decades of experience working in their own pharmacies.

Despite almost half a century of experience, my father cannot practice pharmacy in Canada. He had to undergo a cocktail of evaluation exams–paying hundreds of dollars for each–all the while juggling studying with trying to earn a living in a new country. Even when he passed these exams, an annual quota entailed granting the certification only to the top thirty pharmacists that year. Frustrating much? If getting into the system was so difficult and expensive, then why is Canada advertising itself as ‘The Land of Opportunity?’

My father and the Doctor-Superintendent are not an exception. Our  friends–two middle-aged engineers– had to work  in a supermarket to earn a living. My father is considered lucky compared to them, since a system of evaluation exists for his profession. They, however, would have to go through five years of university to earn new degrees as their present ones are worthless in Canada. When you visit Montreal for the CIVICUS World Assembly, take a cab and chat with the driver. Chances are you will bump into a Lebanese engineer, an Iranian MD, a Romanian lawyer, or a Greek journalist.

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If the Canadian government’s aim in increasing its population through immigration is to have more people sweeping floors and flipping burgers, then thanks, but no thanks. To erase years of higher education and decades of experience under the guise of ‘lack of Canadian experience’ is the epitome of unfairness, and is simply an insult to our intelligence. Newcomers pay  taxes just as everyone else, and they have the additional burden of adapting to a new environment with their children and starting a new life from scratch. When almost half of Quebec’s residents don’t have a family doctor due to a shortage, one starts to question whether that would have been the case had  qualified immigrant doctors been allowed to practice. What logic explains the lame excuse of not having ‘Canadian experience’, and how on earth did experience earn a nationality?

Questions like this should be addressed to our present government and discussed in the upcoming CIVICUS World Assembly. When we talk about Civil Society, we should bear in mind that many developed countries don’t grant civil rights equally. The New Democratic Party had ‘ Recognizing Immigrant Credentials’ as one of its main items during its campaign and promised to solve it. I guess it will take us four more years to see how they will tackle it, assuming they win the next elections.

Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space, Economic Justice
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Arabia through the Eyes of Students

As the famous Arabic saying goes, ‘Nothing scratches your skin better than your own fingernails’. If this skin were to be that of the Arab world, then according to the proverb, no one can tackle the issues that affect it better than Arabs themselves. I personally believe there is much truth to this: Only natives of a region can truly understand its needs, deficiencies, potential, and peculiarities–all the while taking into account its culture and history. These are all vital aspects that should be borne in mind whenever a sustainable development project is to be undertaken—something that certain NGOs have come to realize, hence their mandate of consulting locals and involving them in the decision-making process.

This is why I got really excited when I stumbled upon the newly established Arab Development Initiative, otherwise known as the ADI. My excitement transformed into admiration when I realized that it was a non-profit student driven initiative, meant to rally Arab youth around the pressing need for development and inspire them to take action.

Founded by students at McGill University who share a passion for making the Arab world a better place, the ADI “encourages youth to direct their knowledge, skills, and resources towards addressing and solving developmental problems in the Arab world.”

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The aim of the ADI is to encourage talented youth to explore ways in which they can make positive contributions to the development of the Arab world, by acting as an intermediary between them and organizations working in the region. This is why, under the motto of ‘Turning today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities’, this coming October will witness the ADI’s first ever international gathering, the ‘Envision Arabia Summit’.

The conference will not only feature distinguished speakers, but also scientists, entrepreneurs, and even musicians who have greatly contributed to Arab society. They will tackle issues related to science and technology, health, economic development, culture, in addition to law and human rights, in light of the “recent developments in the Arab world [which] have cast the future of the region into uncertainty.”  The aim is for them to inspire Arab youth to make a difference, and empower them to start their own sustainable development projects directed towards the Arab world.

The ADI aims to create an environment where innovation is nurtured, ideas can flourish, and new friendships can be made among Arab youth, all under the umbrella of setting a vision for the future they want, and directing their efforts to achieve it.

There is nothing more pleasing than to see youth who are away from their homeland invest their talent and resources into benefiting their native countries. Call it loyalty, nationalism, pride, or a simple sense of responsibility, there is much to be learned from them, which is why events such as the CIVICUS Youth Assembly are important.


July 12, 2011: Watch the brand new ‘ADI: Be Part of the Future’ video here:

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Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space, Development Effectiveness, Economic Justice
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Revolutionary Arab Youth

I was caught by the title of one of the dialogues that will take place at the Civicus Youth Assembly this coming September: “Lessons from the Revolutions:  Can young people radically transform their societies?” That the year 2011 has so far proven to be nothing less than revolutionary in the Arab world-in both the literal and metaphorical sense-is no secret. Who knew that with the ousting of the Tunisian President Bin Ali, his fleeing feet would push the first piece of the Revolution Domino into the heart of Egypt, resulting in the making of history  by a people united as one in their quest for social justice and self-determination. We all shed tears of happiness when Mubarak fell from power, because we  knew that this is only the beginning of a future led by the Arab youth.

What kind of future will that be? Although it holds true that none of this would have happened were it not for the Egyptian youth and their well-organized protests-arguably facilitated by Facebook and other forms of social media, today there is much to be asked. The rest of the Bin Ali-pushed domino pieces did indeed reach Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, even Jordan, but notably fell hard on Libya and Syria, and are now stuck in limbo. While the people peacefully demand their rights, they are being stifled by their systems, and the youth are no exception. From police attacks to imprisonment for the sole purpose of expressing their opinions, the optimism of these Arab youth leaves me with a lingering worry: Although they have seen their Tunisian and  Egyptian counterparts  win their freedom with no bloodshed, they are witnessing something completely contradictory in their own countries. What encourages me despite this misery, is that these youth have gained an unheard of confidence and courage to speak up for their rights, and that they are, despite all obstacles, persevering. And THAT is a radical transformation in society.

The radical change has also affected Arab youth abroad; those who actually do have the privilege of freedom of speech, as well as world-class education and access to numerous media sources and equipment. These are talented young Arab students who have joined forces in a country like Canada, developing close friendships across their Arab national borders. There is a new surge in Arab nationalism sweeping the lives of Arab youth in diaspora, thanks to the courage of those still fighting in their homeland, and this can be seen in the many demonstrations and other forms of solidarity taking place across the globe.

From Damascus through Cairo,  passing all the way to Montreal, there is absolutely no doubt that today we are indeed witnessing the birth of Revolutionary Arab Youth. And these are people you would certainly want to meet at the CIVICUS Youth Assembly.

Category : Civil Society and Democratic Space, Connecting People Through Technology, Development Effectiveness, Economic Justice
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