by Timothy Rodriquez

In 2007, Syracuse University’s Maxwell School launched the Leaders for Democracy Fellowship (LDF) Program  with  funding  from  the  Middle  East  Partnership  Initiative  (MEPI)  of  the  U.S.  Department  of  State.    Run by the Executive Education Office, the LDF Program brings activists, professionals, and leaders from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for five weeks on campus, and another seven weeks at profes-sional affiliations in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. 

Now in its ninth year, the LDF Program is proud to have hosted 23 fellows from March 23 to June 17, 2015, welcoming leaders from Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Jordan, West Bank, Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, Algeria, Iraq, Tunisia, and Syria.  The region is facing one of its most precarious times in history with conflict raging in many countries and democratic and human rights challenges to overcome.  While in Syracuse, fellows participated in seminars with Maxwell faculty as well as with guest speakers including investigative journalist Allan Nairn; Professor Pete Moore from Case Western Reserve University; a whistleblower panel with Kristina Borjesson, Thomas Tamm, Louis Clark, and Robert Shetterly; and renowned activist and scholar Norman Finkelstein. Additionally, fellows met with community groups such as Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue (SAMED) and Central New York Working for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine. They also visited ArtRage in downtown Syracuse and the new Skä-noñh Great Law of Peace Center in Liverpool.

These MENA leaders brought excitement and energy to the Maxwell School in March and April, and add to Maxwell’s international reach and academic excellence.  At the end of April, the fellows travelled to Washing-ton, D.C. to work with an array of organizations such as Freedom House, Search for a Common Ground, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Government Accountability Project, and Code Pink, to name only  a  few  examples.    Often  times,  fellows  not  only  get  the  chance  to  gain  experience  and  provide  great  insight at these organizations, they also meet with high-level officials in Congress, the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, and civil society leaders here in the United States. 

Once they depart to go back home, the fellows join a cadre of 214 LDF alumni as well as 59 from LDF’s sister program at Maxwell, the Civic Education and Leadership Fellows (CELF) program that ended in 2013.  These fellows take the MEPI vision into their professional careers in many sectors of civil society, education, and the media with a focus on democratization and social change.  Since 2011, the LDF Program is joined with a parallel program at the Lebanese American University (LAU) in Beirut where the curriculum is given in Arabic. Each year, the alumni convene for an LDF conference in the region to expand their network and share ideas for progressing forward down a democratic path.