For the fifth consecutive year, the Executive Education Office in the Maxwell School hosted a group of Leaders for Democracy Fellows (LDF) from across the Middle East and North Africa. LDF is a project funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) of the U.S. Department of State and takes place each March through June with a five-week academic program in Syracuse and seven weeks of internships and seminars in Washington, D.C.

The 2011 LDF group consisted of 21 participants from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Gaza, Israel, the West Bank, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, UAE, and Yemen. They arrived in the United States dur- ing a momentous time in the Middle East and North Africa, when many of their countries were experiencing large numbers taking to the streets. Although concerned about the ongoing developments in the MENA re- gion, the leaders carried a flame of hope for the future as they sought to make the most of the LDF program.

After a five-week academic program at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, the fellows head- ed to Washington, D.C. where they were placed in host organizations for a six-week professional experience. During their stay in the capital, the fellows met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who assured them of the U.S. government’s support for democracy and human rights. They were also hosted at an event on Capitol Hill where dozens of congressional staffers, as well as representatives from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and civil society, heard directly from the fellows about re- gional developments. Speaking at the reception, Dr. Tamara Wittes, Director of MEPI, hailed LDF as MEPI’s “flagship engagement project.”

The LDF alumni have continued to take the MEPI vision forward in a variety of roles such as running for elected office, becoming civil society leaders, and playing a significant role in the region’s democratic transitions. This past year saw the first LDF alumnus elected to parliament. Four alumni who were involved in protest were arrested this year, but, as of September 2011, all of them have been released from prison to their anxious families.

LDF expanded in 2011 to include a parallel program hosted by American University of Beirut (AUB). AUB worked in partnership with Executive Education at Maxwell to provide an academic program and pro- fessional affiliation experiences for a group of 12 fellows. The AUB project differs from the Syracuse one primarily in that it is delivered exclusively in Arabic and requires no English-language proficiency.

Fellows from both Syracuse and AUB will meet at the annual LDF alumni event in the region this De- cember, thereby expanding the network of advocates for more open and robust democracy and civil society. The exact location is likely to be in Tunisia, where, as one of the LDF alumni said recently, “the story began” with the first overthrow of an authoritarian regime last January.