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Last updated: March 11, 2015

5 great ideas that make us believe in peace and progress in the Middle East

Banner Icon Activism Faith in the Middle East’s future could be at an all-time low. But be aware of sensationalist pundits in the mainstream media. We know that there are tons of brilliant and groundbreaking ideas out there. So take five minutes to learn about five of them.

1. PALESTINIAN REFUGEES WHO SAY NO TO DONATIONS AND YES TO MAKING THEIR OWN MONEY.
The story of The Social Enterprise Project (SEP) in Jerash Camp in Jordan is a true source of inspiration for entrepreneurs across the region.  What started as a tiny workshop now has global ambitions, selling traditional Palestinian embroidery – with a modern twist. In a recent article about the initiative, the reporter writes: “The beauty of SEP is that it provides pride, employment, and hope to one of the most impoverished refugee camps in Jordan. Jerash Camp, or ‘Gaza Camp’ as it is more famously known, is inhabited by refugees who arrived there from Gaza after the 1967 war. These Gazan refugees and their descendants in Jordan bear the brunt of the misery of being refugees in exile. With no right to obtain a Jordanian ID, this means that they are denied basic human rights such as healthcare, education, and employment.”

The best part of SEP is that it gives refugees the opportunity to make their own money. So instead of joining the passive cycle of NGO dependency, these Palestinian refugee women create a sustainable livelihood for themselves, as well as spreading renewed hope in the wider community.

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2. POETRY AS A FORCE FOR CHANGE.
“I don’t believe in carefulness very much,” says Shams Radhuouani Abdi, one of Tunisia’s youngest and most promising street poets, in an interview with Your Middle East. Disappointed over the political and economic development since the 2011 revolution, Shams is eager to spread her street poetry to the Tunisian public.

“The idea is a ticking time bomb
… original ideas do not need covers
The idea's living underground
Mine underneath, if you walk on it it explodes”


She wrote these lines after the assassination of opposition figure – and her dear friend – Chokri Belaid in early 2013.

Head thousands of miles east from Shams’ Tunisia and you’ll meet a new generation of Iranian female poets using the art form – in a similar vain – to find freedom within their internal exile. They combine erotic sensuality with a sharp feminist critic of Iranian society that creates a vacuum of precious freedom. Poetry, for this generation of women thinkers, becomes an impervious expression in a patriarchal society. Let’s hope that both Shams and her friends in Iran continue to make their ideas heard. 

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3. EMPOWERING IRAQI YOUTH TO BUILD A UNITED COUNTRY – AND A GREEN COUNTRY.
The toxic relationship between the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people runs throughout the political system and manifests itself, poetically enough, as garbage at street level.  Citizens throw garbage and waste everywhere. This poisonous cycle effects public faith in the country’s leadership but also pushes citizens, without a stake in the community, to find a place of belonging elsewhere (radicalism like IS is but one option…). To tackle this toxic pattern, award-winning Iraqi humanitarian Nadwa Qaragholi decided to plant gardens. And here’s the brilliant part: at-risk and poor children created and maintained the school gardens for which they were responsible. Leadership roles rotated among the children involved. Suddenly they got a stake in the community’s future and were forced to think, coordinate, plan and execute the operations. (Qaragholi also gave children the opportunity to improve computer skills and join extra English classes). Genius!

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4. BUSINESS FOR GOOD IN IRAN.
Obviously, there will be no new jobs or positive development without innovative businesses. And there certainly won’t be any progress without warmer relations between the West and Iran. That’s why the planned energy deal between US-based World Eco Energy and an Iranian counterpart is so important. It creates (economic) incentives for peace, but is also a very rare joint commercial project to turn rubbish and human waste into electricity. The effort is expected to generate hundreds of new jobs to locals in Iran. Peace, environmental awareness, and business hand in hand.

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5. GRAFFITI FOR PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE AND A GREANER ENVIRONMENT.
A collective initiative in the southern Moroccan city of Al-Dusheira involved local residents with graffiti. The effort created a space for youth to use their energy in a constructive manner. With murals encouraging education for citizenship, the project stimulated a sense of belonging and concern for the environment and local culture.

Slogans like "A clean neighbourhood is worthy of its citizens", "God is beautiful and loves beauty," and "You can be anybody's son, but good manners are better than good lineage" showed up overnight on walls. This was done in Arabic and Tamazight (the language of the indigenous Amazigh population of North Africa), calling for coexistence among people of different backgrounds in Morocco.

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If you know of projects/solutions/individuals that contribute to a positive development in the Middle East, please let us know at info@yourmiddleeast.com or on Twitter @YourMiddleEast

Adam Hedengren
Adam is co-founder and editor of Your Middle East. He has studied Arabic and Middle Eastern history, and previously lived in Syria and Tunisia. He is an active voice in Swedish media on issues relating to migration policy, integration, and the Middle East. Adam is also project manager for the educational initiative www.nyamellanostern.se
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