Citizen Bridges International fellows visit CAIR-Chicago

On October 19, 2012, a delegation of international professionals met at CAIR-Chicago’s office to discuss the various issues that affect the Arab world.

The international professionals came as a part of the Legislative Fellows Exchange Program from Morocco and Egypt, through the Citizen Bridges International organization. This fellowship is designed to take each professional from their respective country who are already involved in local non-profit, advocacy organizations, government, or with political parties and expose them to the legislative and policy making process here in the United States.

The topics discussed varied and included issues such as economic disparity, access to education, human rights issues, government and rights, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the current status of affairs in the Middle East in general. The talk was moderated by CAIR-Chicago’s staff attorney, Rabya Khan, and Outreach Coordinator, Gerald Hankerson.

One of the more important issues that was discussed was the situation in Benghazi with the protests regarding the anti-Muslim video “The Innocence of Muslims.” Many held the sentiment that what happened was a part of a smaller group who incited the violence, and not Muslim-majority inciting violence as many mainstream media outlets portrayed it.

“We understand freedom of speech, but [those] Muslims fell into a trap,” stated one of the Moroccan delegates Ahmed Hamzaoui who is with the Juvenile Justice Initiative.

The conversation continued around this topic and ideas about better diplomacy and the redefinition of the public sphere to create better relations. Nabila Zouhiri, a Moroccan delegate with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, stated, “Diplomacy is better than politics.”

Government Affairs Intern, Haney Noureddin, posed the question to the group about what the Arab region needs do now, and whether or not an “Arab League” was a necessary course of action to bring some type of unity to the region. Sherif Hosny, an Egyptian delegate placed with CAN TV, offered the idea that first each respective country must unify in order for that to happen. “Muslims need to be unified […] some think they know Islam better, but there has to be mutual respect,” said Hosny, “That’s what Islam teaches you.” Hosny further stressed, “If you solve education, it solves many of the issues.”

This discussion was not only an exercise of democracy, but an introspective way of delving into the issues that affect the Middle East and North Africa, from the people to the government, in the post-Arab Spring. The group concluded by suggesting ways to reform and amplify dialogue on the issues of education, human rights, immigrant rights, economic disparity, and civil society.