Young Middle East Activists Strategize for Justice and Peace
Young people played a critical role in the revolutions that swept across the Arab world in the past few years. Now, as the dust settles and more representative forms of government are being tested in the area, a central question that remains is what role will young people play in the emerging political systems? Is the youth movement even sustainable, and can it consolidate to shape the Middle East's future?
The Summer University Program
For the past six years, United Methodist Women has supported the Middle East World Student Christian Federation's (WSFC) efforts to accompany youth as they grapple with these questions and define their future. United Methodist Women supports the "Summer University: Ecumenical Training for Youth Leadership and Human Rights Education" program, which brings around 30 student leaders from across the Middle East together every year to craft a vision for change built upon the values of acceptance, tolerance, inclusiveness, unity and peace.
The 2012 Summer University focused on understanding the meaning of ecumenism, identifying issues of human rights and women's rights, and stimulating youth to contribute towards building a future of peace and justice in their countries. Workshops helped youth understand and redefine their commitment to the ecumenical movement, explore human rights and faith topics, and develop strategies for inclusive dialogue within and outside their churches. 2011 workshops focused on promoting unity and common living between Christian and Muslims, helping youth to strategize to push religious institutions towards tolerance and inclusion, and connecting youth leadership across the region to promote human rights values of freedom, democracy, women's rights, citizenship and preservation of the environment.
A Big Impact
What difference does Summer University make? The testimonies and post-conference activities of participants show the impact of the program. Participants shared that they appreciated the opportunity to express their feelings on the shortcoming of their churches, and expressed hope for a brighter future for ecumenical life and human rights issues. Many also reported living under the pressure of all forms of violence, religious revivals and extremism, and found that the program helped them break their isolation from ongoing human rights struggles. Summer University gave them the opportunity to invest in the current of change occurring in the Middle East. These young people also appreciated the opportunity to learn from diverse cultures about both the similarities and differences between their respective communities.
The most powerful sign of the program's success is the long-term commitment participants have shown towards human rights and democracy. Some participants, especially women, were pioneers in starting revolutions in their countries, and some have changed their career goals to human rights work, showing awareness of their responsibilities toward social and political justice. Ramy Boulos (25), a 2011 participant, shares his experience:
Throughout my life's journey, I have had many experiences that impacted my personal goals. WSCF - Middle East and The Ecumenical Committee for Youth in Egypt is one such experience that affected me radically, and still has a positive influence on me.
2011 was the first time I participated in a WSCF - Middle East Summer University in Lebanon. At the conference, I met many open-minded young people and leaders, and it was the first time I attended a church meeting in the presence of and with the participation by Muslims. It was also my first experience traveling outside my country, Egypt.
This experience still resonates with me, as it helped me grow and follow Jesus's call. I have become a volunteer with many youth initiatives and NGOs that support the cause of unity for Christians and Muslims from diverse perspectives.
After returning to Egypt, I found a way to reflect on what I had learned by becoming a member of a musical band called "Ana Masry - I'm Egyptian." The band performs songs promoting unity and common living between Christians and Muslims in Egypt, using a fusion of Islamic Sufi chanting and Christian Coptic hymns.
In 2012, a year after graduating as a System and Biomedical engineer and working in the same field, I made the decision to shift my career to follow the call inside me to work on human rights issues and for the development of Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt. Today we are continuing to fight for our unity and freedom, and thanks to WSCF— Middle East Region we have strong support to fulfill the change we seek for a united and peaceful Middle East. Moreover, today I am the Advocacy and Solidarity Committee Representative for the Middle East region.
Thank you to United Methodist Women and WSCF Middle East for granting me an opportunity to develop as a leader for my community and world!
For more information about WSCF Middle East's Summer University Program contact: