Why Calls for Restoring Hope are on the Rise in the Arab Region
Thursday، March 29، 2018
Recently, more individual and collective humanitarian, political, development and social initiatives were announced in the Arab region, to restore hope. Their targets are individuals, teams and groups. They are mostly “not-for-reward” efforts, and seek to empower marginalized social groups, alleviate the suffering of the poor and the sick, rehabilitate infrastructure, restore service facilities in conflict-hit areas liberated from terror organizations and militias.
Other goals include improvement of quality of life, especially after lean years following shifts that started in 2011 and caused the region to be overwhelmed by hopelessness, despair, collapse of regimes, disintegration of states and weakened armies while enabling roaming militias and terrorism to expand and changing the geography of the region. Remarkably, and regardless of their names, these calls to revive hope are focused on tackling issues of refugees and street children through practical activities, some of which received wide popular support on social media.
What stands out are initiatives with the largest number of beneficiaries, such as the Arab Hope Makers initiative, launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, as part of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives. The initiative, serves as a school that annually graduates thousands of positive change makers in Arab communities. Sheikh Mohamed noted that “there are some people who make a difference and contribute positively towards alleviating the suffering of people. Meanwhile, there are others who are just watching. We have thousands of people who do good deeds. They feed the orphans, the hungry, support the youth, and treat the sick. They are the beacon of hope in our great Arab homeland”.
Generally speaking, it can be argued that a group of political factors were behind the spread of the recent wave of “hope restoration in the Arab region". These can be outlined as follows:
Making a Difference
1- Desire to Improve Quality of Life. On February 14, 2018, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid launched the second round of the Arab Hope Makers, an initiative dedicated to celebrating philanthropic projects, programs and initiatives that seek to altruistically help people in need and strengthen a culture of charity, spread hope, positivity and optimism to make difference in people’s life. Contributors are mainly workers from the healthcare sector, education, youth work, volunteering and the new media, among others.
Individuals from all Arab countries can participate by filling up an online application on the initiative's website www.ArabHopeMakers.com. They are requested to provide a description of their initiatives, provide further information pictures and videos to increase their chances of making it to the finals. Because such materials may not be in violation of copyrights, the committee may request further information and documentation to verify credibility and support the applicant’s candidacy.
Before reaching the final stage of nomination to the Hope Makers Initiative, the best 12 hope makers are interviewed and the best five are selected based on various criteria including that the story should be inspiring, true and impressive. Other conditions include that the initiative must abide by the law in the country it exists, that the applicant must be a resident in an Arab country but not necessarily a citizen of that country. An applicant must be a leader in charity who generously and altruistically gives and selflessly help others, and is recognized by society for good conduct.
An AED1 million award is offered to the greatest Arab Hope Maker who worked selflessly, not seeking any fame or monetary reward. In several stages, the initiative is considered by sub-committees whose judgement is governed by the influence the initiative has on beneficiary parties, response of the community and possibility of developing it and expanding its scope of benefit.
The five finalists of the 2017 round of the Arab Hope Makers were Morocco's Nawal Al Sufi, a resident of Italy, who helped rescue more than 200,000 refugees fleeing to Europe on “death boats; Hisham al-Zahabi, from Iraq, who opened his home to street children in Iraq and provided health, educational and psychological support to them; Ma’ali al-Assoussi, from Kuwait, who relocated to Yemen more than 10 years ago to carry out humanitarian initiatives; Magda Gibran, better known as Mama Maggie, from Egypt, who endowed her life to serve the poor; and the White Helmets, the Syrian Civil Defense Organisation dedicated to saving civilians injured by bombings in Syria during the conflict.
Ascension to Power
2- Supporting Political Leaders to Reach Power through Presidential Elections. The “You are the hope” campaign, was launched and overseen by Major General Samir Farag, to support the candidacy of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in the presidential elections held between March 26-28 2018. The campaign produced and published online videos highlighting achievements made by el-Sisi in the past four years, including road networks, housing projects, new cities, eliminating slum areas as well as food security projects.
The campaign also highlighted the president’s efforts in the energy and natural gas projects, fisheries, and restoring the Egyptian state which faltered in the past period. It organized celebrations in the governorates of Aswan, Port Said, Alexandria and Giza, that were attended by a number of public figures, celebrities and prominent sportspeople.
In Mauritania, Cherif Ould Abdellahi, launched the Hope initiatives in the capital Nouakchott in 2014. The campaign was expanded to other cities such as Atar, Nouadhibou, Zouerat and Bir Moghrein, to help increase participation of people in presidential elections and support President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to win a second term.
3- Supporting People Liberated from Terrorist Organizations. Damascus Chamber of Industry, on March 20, launched a humanitarian initiative to distribute food aid, hygiene products and clothing to individuals liberated from areas held by armed groups and terrorist organizations. Two shelters were set up in al-Horjelah and Najha. Head of the Chamber Samer al-Debs and members of its board stressed that the initiatives aim to spread hope for all displaced families and provide them with basics until they return to their homes, as part of preparations to get the wheel of industry moving again and launch reconstruction in Syria at a later stage.
Shelters can be set up away from illegal detention centers or assembly points for migrants. In Bani Walid, Libya, they are provided with medical care, especially after a surge in torture cases and kidnappings by armed groups and human trafficking gangs, as more illegal migrants risk their lives to reach Europe through the Mediterranean. Dubbed “the Safe House”, the new shelter set up by the Red Crescent in Misurata with support from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) gives hope to children who lost their parents after joining ISIS.
Some of these children known as “Lion cubs” suffered serious gunshot injuries to the head, chest or feet, in addition to severe psychological impact. This situation which unraveled after Sirte was liberated from ISIS, sheds light on the “hidden wounds” of a segment of the lost generations, aged between five days and nine years.
4- Creating Alternative Breathing Spaces for People Displaced from Armed Conflict Zones. The United Nations, on November 28, 2017, sponsored the “Work for Hope” initiative which aims to train Syrian refugee children to play a variety of musical instruments at workshops highlighting the musical heritage of Syria, Turkey, Egypt and others. The initiative also aims to create a breathing space for children amid the ongoing crisis that broke out seven years ago rendering a large number of Syrians displaced, inside and outside their country.
Additionally, the UN Refugee Agency, on March 6, 2018, launched the “Future Aleppo” initiative for Syrian refugee children in Turkey. Through workshops organized as part of the virtual reality project, children create buildings out of paper, which are transformed into a virtual city that they can then view through headsets. The initiative is the brainchild of Syrian teenager Mohammed Kteish who lived in Aleppo before the war and later was prevented from going to school because of ongoing fighting. The project aims to give hope to refugee children and encourage them to continue to dream about the future.
5- Providing those Wounded in Armed Conflicts and Terror Attacks a Window of Opportunity to Live. An initiative was launched by the MSF in Jordan to help Jordanians, Syrians, Yemenis and Palestinians who fought against ISIS and lost limbs or sustained serious injuries. The effort also helps children born with congenital defects and gives them hope to live a normal life. The MSF team, with support from the European Union, used 3D printing to design simple prosthetic limbs to enable them to live with some hope.
6- Preventing Militias from Holding Monopoly of Power. A good instance is the Operation Restoring Hope in Yemen that was launched in April 21, 2015 to counter military action by the Houthi militia and allies, and prevent them from using weapons looted from camps or smuggled from other countries. It also aims to establish international cooperation to prevent weapons from reaching the Houthis by land, air and sea through control and inspection points. Other goals include evacuation of foreign nationals, and intensifying relief and medical operations to help Yemenis in affected areas, while also continuing to protect civilians and combat terrorism.
Banks of Hope
7- Combating Poverty in Crisis-hit Developing Communities. This is what the Bank of Hope in Yemen is doing. It is one of eight micro-finance banks created by the Arab Gulf Program for Development (AGFUND) as part of the Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz Initiative to Combat Poverty in developing communities. It became more important in Yemen due to instability and the humanitarian crisis further escalated by the Houthis’ seizure of power in September 2014.
The Emirates Red Crescent, on March 21, 2018, opened the Society for Women's Development, reflecting the UAE’s interest in helping Yemeni women, mitigating their suffering, and empowering them to contribute towards the process of development. Secretary-General of the local council in Shabwa Governorate Abdrabbuh Hashla praised the leaders, government and people of the UAE for extending a helping hand to the Yemeni people and supporting efforts to build and develop community and government institutions to restore hope to the population amid the economic crisis.
Milk of Hope
8- Funding Projects in Certain Economic Sectors. In Tunisia, the University of Jendouba, on October 24, 2017, signed a partnership agreement with Danone Delices (STIAL) and the Banque Tunisienne De Solidarite to allocate 250 million dinars to fund milk production projects initiated by a selected group of graduates.
The university is responsible for selecting the beneficiaries based on relative merit, while the bank provides a maximum of 150,000 dinars in funds for each projects. STIAL provides the proper framework and help graduates in marketing their products through a ten-year contract. The project aims to provide between 200-250 jobs in five years and produce about 10 million liters of milk annually.
Rights of the Disabled
9- Integrating Disabled People into Arab Societies. In past years, a program for empowering and integrating disabled individuals was launched through an initiative of the Amal al-Maghreb (hope of Morocco), a public non-profit association founded by Moroccan expatriates to support initiatives aimed at integrating the disabled into the vocational community, in partnership with the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The program aims to empower 150 young people to enter the labor market and fund five self-employment projects.
Additionally, an association of parents and friends of mentally disabled individuals, established the “Hadaf Restaurant” in the capital Rabat to provide jobs for people with special needs i.e. those suffering physical, motor and sensory or mental disabilities. It also seeks to eliminate the dominant stereotype of the disabled and the difficulty of integrating them into society. The project provides a window of opportunity for the youth to demonstrate their cooking skills. The initiative is partially funded by the The National Human Development Initiative, a government-run program supporting community projects.
In Jordan, the Basmat Amal (Smile of Hope) initiative launched in November 2016. The humanitarian project is run by a team made up of young volunteers and seeks to help the disabled, orphans and cancer patients to raise awareness of their rights, how to treat them, boost their self-confidence and develop their abilities to upgrade them from consumers to producers. The initiative succeeded in integrating disabled Jordanian and Syrian students at public schools.
10- Increasing Community Health Awareness of Serious Diseases. In recent years, Abu Dhabi launched the Marathon of Hope for cancer patients and allocated funds to support programs aimed at spreading awareness of cancer and ways of preventing the disease, raise funds for relevant research. The launch of the initiative coincided with the World Cancer Day, an international event marked on February 4.
It should be noted that the UAE plays an effective role in finding an effective and fast cure to cancer, through educational events or fundraisers.
The approach helped in spreading such activities. In June 21, 2017, the Embassy of Palestine in Tunisia organized a charity event to support the Khalid al-Hassan Center for Cancer and Bone-Marrow Transplantation, in cooperation with the Tunisian association of cancer patients and the Municipality of Tunis. Proceeds of the event went to the Khalid al-Hassan Center in Palestine. The event marked the launch of the Hope Initiative and the creation of a permanent partnership with the association.
A Will of Steel
It can be concluded that the above-mentioned factors reflect a revival of hope-making in the Arab region. They also reflect efforts being made to confront an overwhelming wave of despair and frustration in the Arab region, dry up the fuel of destruction during this wave of armed conflicts, and confront expansion of terrorist organizations and especially those involved in “settlement activity”. Other efforts include combating poverty, developing education, healthcare and infrastructure to change the stereotype about the Arab region. This means that taking an interest in hope-making and the future represents a top priority for states and societies in this region.