Zenith Magazine

NETWORKING FOR CHANGE

07.09.2017 by Zenith Magazine

Organisations promoting civic education in the Arab world often face difficult working conditions. Connecting MENA NGOs with one another, and with NGOs in Europe, helps spread expertise and resources. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, many MENA countries that saw popular uprisings or protests have in turn witnessed counter-revolutionary reactions. The traditional powers-that-be have tried to reassert their positions, clamping down on freedom of expression and association. Moez Ali, a seasoned fighter of corruption in Tunisia and an NGO activist focused on human rights, is blunt when he describes the political dynamic.

“Regimes in the Arab world would like to have subjects; they don’t want citizens who are informed about their rights.”

Moez Ali, TUNISIA

Ali, and many other civil society activists in the MENA region, are meeting the challenge head-on. The vision? To participate in implementing sustainable democracies, where citizens can live freely, have freedom of speech and play a full participatory role. A number of initiatives have been launched by the Goethe-Institut in recent years to bolster civil society in the MENA region, including two civic education conferences (CEC), in Alexandria in 2013 and in Hammamet in Tunisia in 2016, organised in close cooperation with the German Federal Agency for Civic Education. One outcome from the 2016 conference was the official launch of the Networking Arab Civic Education (NACE) organisation. This connects NGOs both within the Arab region, allowing them to share resources and expertise, and with their counterparts in Europe, recognising that certain problems – such as migration and radicalisation – are shared by both the north and south Mediterranean countries. These developments come as many citizens in the West – in the EU and in the US – are growing aware that the democratic culture in their own country is not guaranteed, but can be eroded by populism and nationalism. It also connects Arab NGOs with organisations in Europe, including NGOs in Eastern Europe, where countries made the transition to democracy after 1990, which can provide insights into lessons that were learnt as part of that process. The network is also a powerful advocacy tool for the importance of civic education, says Louisa Slavkova, a founding member and director of Sofia Platform, a Bulgarian organisation that promotes democracy. Another threat is apathy. Mona Shahien, founder of Tahrir Lounge@Goethe, relates her experience when she was invited to German schools and universities to talk about the Egyptian revolution in 2011.

“I was surprised to find that many young people [in Germany] do not feel how political participation is important. I told them, ‘You have something, and you have to respect and protect this.’ There are a lot of lessons that we need to learn from each other.”

“I was surprised to find that many young people [in Germany] do not feel how political participation is important. I told them, ‘You have something, and you have to respect and protect this.’ There are a lot of lessons that we need to learn from each other.”

Mona Shahien, EGYPT

Since 1999, zenith has provided its readers in Germany and Europe with a unique portal into the Middle East and North Africa region – and beyond. At a time when events in the region have global ramifications, zenith has expanded its coverage in English and Arabic to bring forward lively conversation between cultures and societies, focusing mainly, but not exclusively, on the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and the Arab world. zenith takes its name from the point in the day when the sun reaches its highest. At this moment shadows fall shorter, lighting up what had been covered in darkness – the moment of greatest clarity. This is the guiding theme for zenith’s coverage. By providing in-depth, independent reporting and a platform for debates, zenith is challenging the prejudices, intolerance, and conspiracy theories that all too often fuel conflict and social discord, while raising awareness of social justice, racial and gender equality, and personal self-determination. zenith’s reporting aims to break down complex topics. We cover important stories before they make global headlines, and we continue reporting after the world’s attention has moved on. With long-form features, photojournalism, video, and analysis, we prove that creativity, journalism, and eloquence can be reconciled with academic thoroughness. Our authors span the region, and we invite contributions from diverse voices and perspectives.