LEADERS FOR DEMOCRACY FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM CONTINUES By Kate Vasharakorn
The U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) has once again chosen Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs as the recipient of its award to design and implement the ongoing Leaders for Democracy Fellowship (LDF) project. The Executive Education Programs Office will deliver LDF II from March through June 2011.
Since 2007, MEPI has awarded Syracuse University approximately $1,000,000 per year to help ad- vance its goal to create vibrant partnerships between the United States and the citizens of the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) region. As a result, in Spring 2011, Syracuse will once again host 20 to 25 demo- cratic reformers, activists, journalists, and human rights workers from as many as 15 MENA countries who will undertake a five-week academic program at Maxwell with courses on democracy, leadership, communica- tion, and conflict resolution. In addition, the group will spend seven weeks in Washington, D.C. completing professional affiliation assignments at non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies.
The process of selecting candidates for the LDF project begins with MEPI sending out an official “cable” to announce this learning and networking opportunity to all embassies and consulates in MENA. After much extensive consideration, the MEPI office in the State Department sends the list of candidates from diverse backgrounds to the Maxwell School in mid-December. Then, in March, the delegation of fellows ar- rives at SU to begin academic learning before heading off to Washington, D.C. to gain first-hand experience at different American organizations and institutions.
In their initial five weeks at SU, the fellows engage in coursework on American democracy, democ- ratization, politics of the Middle East, civil society, and conflict management. They also participate in skill- building training workshops for communication, debate, negotiation, and “elevator speeches” with faculty of the Communication and Rhetorical Studies Department. The fellows attend sessions with Maxwell political scientists, including Professor Mehrzad Boroujerdi, to discuss the politics of the Middle East and North Af- rica. They also participate in ongoing programs at Maxwell, such as the Project on Democracy in the Middle East (DIME) sponsored by the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs and the Middle Eastern Studies Program (MESP), making for a very intense and challenging educational atmosphere.
This limited period in Syracuse is invaluable not only for the LDF fellows, who have the chance to take advantage of many campus resources, but also for SU faculty and students, who gain a wealth of knowledge from having colleagues from the region on campus. All together, this mutually beneficial relationship fosters ties between the LDF fellows and the Maxwell School, hopefully strengthening international bonds between the U.S. and MENA countries.
Upon arrival in Washington, D.C., the fellows put theory to practice, taking advantage of Maxwell’s extensive network of contacts, as “professional affiliates” at organizations and institutions such as Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The LDF fellows also participate in weekly academic seminars for the seven weeks from the end of April until early June, integrating their academic learning with workplace experiences, and making site visits and attending group meetings at NGOs, news organizations, and government agencies.
In past years, fellows have come from a wide variety of countries in the Middle East and North Africa, making for a very interesting learning environment since individuals repre- sent a range of cultural backgrounds, religions, political persuasions, and interest groups. In the previous four cohorts, there have been fellows from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel/ Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Tunisia, Western Sahara, and Ye- men. Last year for the first time, the group included Libyans. Diversity, debate, exchange of information, and mutual learning make the LDF project great, as it encourages increased understanding between Americans and Middle Easterners, as well as improved understanding within the region itself.
In previous years, fellows organized seminars to educate one another about the do- mestic constraints to democratization in their own countries. They cooked for each other and participated in social activities together, including luncheons and weekend trips to Niagara Falls and other destinations. Some fellows have been inspired by the project so much that they have come back to attend the Maxwell School as students in graduate programs, while others have applied their skills to their nation’s political stage as politicians (including mem- bers of parliament). The alumni network of the program has expanded to 79 members since the project’s inception at Maxwell and the list will continue to grow. With alumni gatherings held every year in the MENA region, at locations in Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, the alumni pool is growing larger and stronger. The connection between the LDF fellows and SU, and the expanding network of fellows in the region, holds huge potential for democratic reform in the MENA region.