This post originally appeared on Wamda.com
The Arab World’s overdue awakening is now irreversible and unstoppable. This was the feeling that dominated the 5th Harvard Arab Weekend (HAW), which took place this weekend across Harvard University. Under the theme Arab (R)evolution: What’s Next?, the weekend brought together more than 600 participants in what is the largest pan-Arab conference in North America. In place of the usual royals and government figures, this year’s conference showcased opposition figures, rebel leaders, and young activists – in whose hands lies the future of the region.
Time Magazine Cover - Feb 2011
Last week the founders of Arab Development Initiative (@ADInitiative), a student initiative out of McGill, came and pitched their project at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
The idea is simple: connect Arab students among themselves at the Envision Arabia Summit and facilitate the creation of a network of youth interested in challenging development issues in the Arab world.
Another initiative specific to Egypt is happening later this year in Cambridge: Egypt NEGMA (@EgyptNegma). (Negma means “star” in Egyptian Arabic). This conference will bring together social entrepreneurs who would compete for seed funding to implement their project in Egypt.
And then of course there is the Harvard Arab Weekend happening in November across Harvard University (more on that one later!)
Whatever comes out of these initiatives, one thing is undeniable: after years of apathy, the revolution(s) have made us miss home and long for being part of the change.
On my 2nd day here, I found it hilarious that I could chat in Lebanese to the supermarket owner in Monrovia (he, on the other hand was completely unfazed). It turns out there are thousands of them all over this place. They own hotels, restaurants, drycleaners, construction companies – you name it. They first came during the 19th century, as part of a wave of immigration fleeing the rough conditions of the Ottoman Empire. Their number reached 10,000 before the Liberian civil war and is estimated at 4,000 today.
In the early 19th century, the US abolitionist movement designated Liberia’s coast as the spot to resettle freed American slaves. It is said that officials of the American Colonization Society forced a treaty upon a local king at Cape Mesurado (present-day Monrovia).
And so Liberia was founded in 1847 by Black American settlers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given their own brutal past, the former slaves enslaved the autochthones and went on to monopolize Liberian politics for two centuries. This layed the groundwork for inequalities so deep, that they triggered the 1989-2003 civil war.
Some Liberians think that reconciliation should start where it all started – by revising the symbols of the nation.
“Do we want an emblem that represents only 10% of our population? Do we want a flag that looks like the 52nd star of the flag of the ‘colonizers’?”
Liberia’s Governance Commission is tackling some of these issues as part of developing Liberia’s National Vision 2030.
How can policy makers help heal some of the deep wounds inflicted by the civil war without rekindling explosive tensions?
In Lebanon to a large extent, we’ve adopted the Ostrich policy. The reconciliation process “mousalaha” has been scattered and incomplete. As an illustration of the lack of collective memory, our official history book taught in public schools omits to mention the civil war. Given the persistent tensions and lack of common national vision, I’d say the Ostrich strategy does not work so well…
Curious and hopeful to see what would come out of the introspective work that Liberia is doing!
Liberia’s civil war ended in 2003 after fourteen bloody years that left the country in shatters.
I was born during the fifteen-year long Lebanese civil war and grew up witnessing my country’s imperfect reconstruction process. Twenty years after the end of our war, this process has resulted in a deeply unequal society and a government chronically unable to provide basic services to its citizens, even as Lebanon now classifies as a middle-income country.
Liberia is now firmly transitioning from emergency humanitarian aid to development planning. The coming years are crucial in setting the country on the track of permanent peace and sustainable development.