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MENASA was incorporated in October 2011 and has successfully executed a number of events that have connected emerging leaders in the US with those in Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia (ME, NA, SA). We are thrilled with our early successes, but are eager to expand programming and host even more events.

To fuel this expansion, we need to invest in technological infrastructure, work with partners outside the DC area and pay for non-profit registration expenses. We are currently dependent on partner organizations for technological support and your donation can help us host events independently, allowing us to connect even more emerging leaders with those in the ME, NA, and SA. Moreover, we need to pay for IRS filing fees to pursue grants and corporate funding. Your support will not only help a fledging non-profit develop a solid financial foundation, but also help us make the world a better place.

You can access the fund-raising page at http://www.indiegogo.com/MENASA-BYLT

The changing geo-political and demographic landscape across the ME, NA, and SA demands a new paradigm of engagement. Reports from the World Bank, Brookings Institute, and other organizations have cited the need to address emerging demographic challenges, as close to 50% of population in ME and NA are under age 25 and will enter the workforce. The situation in SA is similar, with the opportunity-skill gap not being addressed in an adequate manner.

These shifting landscapes require a better understanding between the countries of the ME, NA, and SA as well as rest of the world.

Additionally, the relationship between the US and the ME, NA, and SA is experiencing a seismic shift. We believe that at this critical juncture, there needs to be greater person-to-person dialogue, along with opportunities for youth to engage and work with each other on projects which break the barriers of distance and nationality. We nurture leaders who are aware of their global civic responsibilities, and help them engage with the world around them and make an impact in a meaningful way.

Although the Internet and new media accelerate global information flow, visible barriers still remain. In many places, economic and governmental obstacles prevent the free flow of knowledge and opportunities.

Through our programs, MENASA diminishes these obstacles by creating a network of emerging leaders who want to spur change in their societies and serve as ambassadors to the rest of the world by sharing knowledge, networks, and experiences. MENASA will facilitate a closer collaboration between emerging leaders in the ME, NA, and SA and the US, in turn fostering a two-way dialogue and better understanding.

Our Vision:

Our ultimate goal is to develop closer collaboration between individuals in the ME, NA, SA and the US, leading to a more nuanced understanding between the ME, NA, and SA and the US, bridging the knowledge gap and increasing opportunities for youth and civil society organizations. We aim to facilitate East-West dialogue through projects and exchange programs involving young and emerging leaders.

Our Mission:

MENASA strives to inspire and empower emerging US leaders by connecting them with their counterparts in the ME, NA, and SA through collaborative projects and educational exercises.

We aim to reduce the knowledge and opportunity gap between the US and the MENASA region through our initiatives by leveraging technology platforms to create personal experiences and professional development opportunities.

Our Programs:

Global Visioning Summits: Online conferences between emerging leaders in ME, NA, and SA and those in US.

Global Visioning Challenge: Online collaboration between US students and NGOs in the ME, NA, and SA to identify and solve a problem facing the NGO.

For more information about MENASA and our programs please contact us at Info@MENASAWorld.com.

MENASA ?

The Acronym dictionary defines MENASA as – Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

When you google it, MENSA throws up. Not a very smart acronym, this one. But try harder, and you will find the definition for it.

A new acronym. A fad. A smart ( and pretentious) way to club together groups of countries ? Well, that depends on the way one looks at it. But to me, this makes sense.

According to a few important reports that came out recently, this region will define the future of the world – the key argument being one of demographics and also resources. The one that i read in some depth is the one by the management consulting firm Mc Kinsey. If one observes the ongoings in the MENA region, with the Arab Spring, this seems like a far-stretched argument.

But let’s take the long-term view. Social change takes decades, not months and weeks ( often the time-span that traditional media uses as a frame of reference).

The arguments for MENASA can be summed up as :

A recent report by Mc Kinsey pointed to the demographics as well as the wealth of human resources in the region – which are full of entrepreneurial zeal ( refer:http://www.menasaforum.ae/partners/official/files/Perspectives%20on%20MENASA.PDF).

The region is set to generate nine per cent of the world’s total growth in gross domestic product in the next 10 years, up from its current five per cent share. And during this period it is slated to achieve real growth rates of six to seven per cent. The western economies have stopped growing or are experiencing deceleration, while the economies of MENASA continue to grow.

McKinsey estimates cumulative financial inflows from hydrocarbon exports in these countries could exceed $9trn by 2020.

India, Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey account for 92 per cent of the region’s population.

We also see that the widespread use of English in India, Pakistan and Egypt and French in Morocco, coupled with these countries’ significant pool of skilled people and the relatively low labour costs, make them attractive destinations for companies looking to outsource support functions and value-added services such as legal and accounting services. This is already happening in a big way and will continue to grow in the years to come.

But isn’t all of this fantastical thinking, in the absence of democratic institutions and also recourse to law and strong contractual systems ? This is a valid argument, especially when one reads of businesses suffering due to lack of transparency as well as red-tapism and corruption.

But with the growth in economies and greater demand for transparency and better systems, things are bound to change. In India, there is the Right to Information Act ( RTI), which is being implemented in several states, and has made the government more accountable.

Similarly, the Arab spring is bound to bring in better systems, which are more robust and responsive to the citizen’s needs.

I am inclined to believe that this region is where the action is. Despite the funny acronym, there is reason to believe that this is where the future lies.

Q and A with Riz Khan, Anchor at Al –Jazeera English

It is not everyday that you get to meet your childhood hero. To me, Riz Khan has always been a role-model and continues to do the kind of work that I would love to do, though in a different format. Even though I am a bit star-struck by him, I managed an  interview about an issue that I have followed closely for a few years now, and am researching for a project  at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.

In this interview, he talks about the role of media in framing issues pertaining to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He also discusses the way in which  USA’s  domestic politics impacts the process.

Q: What are your impressions of the failed  Middle East peace talks – 2010 ? What do you make of it ?

Riz Khan: To be honest,  I don’t know all the specifics. But I do know one thing – that the USA has been pre-occupied and the Obama administration has had a lot to deal with in the last few months. The economy, coming close up to the re-election campaign, the president himself has been pre-occupied. And also I don’t know how strongly they felt about the legitimacy of the players involved.  Mahmoud Abbas has been considered the main person to talk to, but his power base has been fragmented by the Hamas; so people wonder if he truly represents the Palestinians.

The other thing  as well  is that the Palestinian papers have compromised what we know. According to them, the Palestinians were willing to give more than what we are told and the Israelis were unwilling to compromise. Netanyahu also had a terse relationship with Obama and the power of the lobby – AIPAC forced the president if he would continue the support, and to do this; he would have to be a bit soft on him.

So, it seems that president Obama has had to back down so many times. I have been to conferences where people have even described him as a “coward”, for not being strong enough in his convictions.  He came in with these strong convictions, with the Cairo speech and vision; but failed to deliver. He has been bowing to power, and the horrible thing about political life is compromise and I remember Hillary Clinton going to the Palestinian territories and being shocked with the conditions. But she had to run for senate, following her visit, she had to keep mum about these issues. She again had to flip-flop on her position as well.  Like her, President Obama also has not been in a strong position. He has been pre-occupied with one issue after another and allowed himself to be pressured.

There is also limited value and prestige when it comes to leadership when it actually comes to achieving things.

Q: In terms of media process, how has the framing taken place ?

Riz Khan : You must remember that there is media at various levels. At the US national level, international level.

Essentially, international news, like most other news is reactive. The local news in the USA is not going to give you anything of any value when it comes to coverage of  the Middle East. So, people here don’t have any clue of what’s going on. The national media here is also limited except for a few media such as the NPR, which had a few interesting discussions around the peace talks, and PBS too.

The American public is blind as to what is going on about the mid-east process. The international media is guilty of knee-jerk reaction. They are obsessed with the question : What’s the story of the day ? For example, visit of Netanyahu or Secretary of state Clinton to the region becomes the biggest news that  there is.

We at Al-Jazeera ( AJ)  are a bit different in that we have been able to provide more context, breadth and background; and that is largely due to the heritage of  our channel – being Arab and Middle Eastern.

In general, the trouble is that we do have a knee-jerk reaction in most international coverage of events and the over-all picture is lost in the sound-bites. AJ has tried to shift this paradigm and that is our strength.

There is also a merging of issues and a growing consciousness in the Arab world about common grievances. I was on a panel today with the former ambassador of Jordan to USA, and he actually said the trouble is that people expect us to keep issues separate . What is happening in Tunisia, Egypt  and Libya. Mixing the Palestinian –Israeli issue and looking at the impact of the Arab spring on this issues is  just confusing for people. But he is right in saying that if unless we  solve the issue of Palestine, there is a lot that is going to come back and bite the leaders  of US back.

The leadership here ( in USA)  is talking about safety of civilians, security; while the Israeli  government  is bombing civilians in the Middle East. Consider the case when Israel struck Lebanon in summer of 2006. Gaza also witnessed the same thing; so we are seeing the same double-standards, which is what upsets people. Of course, the US is in a tricky position; and is considered to have an uneven hand. But the good thing is that even many American politicians are coming to understand and appreciate this.

We have seen this in the fracture that has appeared , in the emergence of J-street and other groups who are challenging this one-sided narrative.

That is  another critical factor, but overall the media has failed  to truly educate the public because they don’t have the motivation, or any interest.  The American public has very little interest in news in general, so it’s a difficult game for them to play.

Q: What do you make of J-street and other alternate voices that are emerging in the political advocacy spectrum ? How influential have they been ?

Riz Khan: They have tried a bit. There are a number of groups, One voice and others, who have come together. They are trying to be pro-active and engaged. Unfortunately, when there is good news, the media is not going to be interested.  Bad news makes for news.

The media is not going to write much about stories that say Palestinians and Israelis are sitting side by side and doing good things. Only there are bullets hitting people, is there news. That’s very sad, and the issue we face here is that, to get the counter-movements to have any real space is hard.

I don’t think people in this country realize, how strong the movement in Israeli public to counter what is happening. There are big divisions in Israeli society about what is the right thing to do.

Some realize that the occupation cannot go on.  There are Israeli groups protesting at the check-points and helping Palestinians get through. I was there for the 60th anniversary of the creation of Israel – Nakba – as the Palestinians call it, and witnessed the various voices in the spectrum of Israeli society.  It’s easy to understand this new generation, who don’t know their history well. They don’t understand why the Palestinians live such a miserable life. Many of them are brought up to believe that the Palestinian lands were empty when the Jews arrived.

I think some of them have been indoctrinated into thinking that this is their land and  the Palestinians have no claim . In theory they coulld be sharing this piece of land.

Now the question of a two state solution is very much in question, because the land in the Palestinian side is fragmented heavily. The wall, the settlements are creating g huge bridge.

Q: When we speak of inclusiveness of Hamas,  Is there a trend in the media not to give it legitimacy even though the group won the 2006 elections ?

Riz Khan:  We at AJ have discussed this a lot. In the West, there is a failure to understand that Hamas  does not have  just the military arm, but there is also a social service arm to it; and it fills the gap, which people need. The same is with Hizbollah, so unfortunately on the ground, the reality is different from what is shown on TV and picture. These organisations have provided them what the Palestinian Authority has failed to.

The rhetoric about Hamas and other groups  tends to be one-sided and echoes what the politicians want you to see and hear. AJ was framed as a terrorist network, sponsored by Osama bin Laden by Donald Rumsfeld, the former Defense secretary.  His statements were inaccurate, that we had shown beheadings etc. There was a lack of understanding, and also mis-information.

Now, people watch AJ and most recently, Hillary Clinton was recently quoted  as saying that we cover these issues properly and how others don’t.  I think it is the height of ignorance to criticize something without having any knowledge of the issue.

So, I have no time for such people who criticize us with no basis and background of the work we do. It goes back to my school days, when I knew a guy who did not apparently like Pizza, and I finally established that he had never tasted Pizza. So, it’s the same principle.

You know, it’s a shame, but it is how it is.

Q: Will the Arab spring directly impact the Middle East peace process?

Riz Khan  : Not yet. I think it’s going to take some time. No one has really covered how the Palestinians have reacted to this movement in the Arab world.  

I think everyone is waiting to see if the change in the Middle East will change the paradigm in the peace process, but so far; there is no indication of that.

We thought of Saudi aligning with the US to fight Iran, and the sectarian ( Sunni-Shia) split which was highlighted with Bahrain, raised fears about the Middle East being an ethnic battle field more than anything else.

This is intriguing and may come up more and more.

I have heard many commentators say that Iran is just sitting and watching all of this, while the other guys are just beating themselves up.

Q:  How can one make sense of US ambivalence towards the issue. How can one understand this, in the context of  it being the sole super-power and the only one with the ability to influence the decision substantially ?

Riz khan : It depends on who you mean by the US ?  If you mean the US politicians, yes, they are totally pre-occupied with domestic issues – deficits, collective bargaining issues etc.  What bothers me most is that the previous administrations over-emphasis on American security. This whole sense of creating a sense of fear was detrimental to the quality of life in this country.

When I see Colin Powell and actually seeing him being searched and wanded electronically a the Airport by security guards. It shows you that things are really going to be crazy. Even top officials are going to bear the brunt of it.

Ironically, Al-Qaeda has succeeded in doing far more than just killing people and destroying two buildings. They have disrupted American lifestyle to a degree where I don’t see it recovering quickly.

Media continues to exaggerate these issues.

The peace talks have to be addressed. Hillary Clinton is a smart woman and she knows that this is something that needs to be dealt with. Sadly, when people play politics, people do know that the real issues get sidelined. When people are looking to get re-elected, or looking for support or funds; the issues that affect people’s day to day issues are lost. The Israelis and Palestinians are caught up in the shadows of an election cycle. It’s more vigorous than ever.

Battle of intelligence vs intellect

While investigating the role of spoilers in the Middle East peace process, I started off with the rather objective and fair assumption that the lobbies in Washington DC are skewed positively in one direction. That is to say, the Israeli lobbies are so powerful and influential that they dominate the discourse on the issue and set the agenda.

From the time of president Truman, this has been a trend which has continued unabated. There is enough proof both historically and even in present day American politics to demonstrate that this is true. While it is perfectly rational to consider that there is also an Arab lobby, my intelligence told me that this is virtually non-existent. A cursory glance at the media in American mainstream shows that the Palestinian perspective is virtually non-existent, and the context of the creation of Israel is totally ignored, if at all acknowledged ( Pens and Swords, Dunsky).

Though there is a book called the “Arab lobby” by a certain Mitchell Bard, it seems to talk about non-core issues such as Academic influence of Arabs and the oil lobby. The political ramifications of the same are not examined at all.

My intellect tells me that perhaps there is a small grain of truth to this argument, and one should not dismiss it, if one is claiming to be fair and objective. So, i will investigate this further and try to inform my intelligence.

In the meanwhile, it is a battle of intelligence vs intellect. I am curious to see which one wins.

Hello world!

Hello All,

This is my second  attempt at serious blogging, the first one resulted in a failure. Well, not really. I do write at http://www.riseofpr.blogspot.com, but not with the seriousness and regularity that i would like to. Signing up for Digital Democracy, a course at Syracuse University has pushed me to start this blog, which i hope to be more regular with.

Watch out this space for exciting stuff about digital democracy, political activism, Middle East politics and democracy and other relevant stuff.

Sabith