Interview with Esra’a Al Shafei on freedom of expression in the Middle East

I have recently interviewed Esra’a, the founder of Mideast Youth, for gulli:news. She is one of the greatest activists I know and I think this interview is a fine example of her ability to inspire people, including myself.

gulli:news: Can you tell us a bit about your projects, what you are doing and what is your motivation behind it?

Esra’a Al Shafei: I founded MideastYouth.com and its network of projects. We are a group of young digital natives reaching out across seemingly impenetrable national social, political, ethnic, and sectarian barriers, employing the freedom and responsibility created by multiple media platforms to demand and create our own civil discourse across multiple divisions in a region where ideals of free expression, political dissent and activism, universal human rights, and civil dialogue are tightly oppressed and forcefully punished. We campaign for the rights of ethnic, religious and intellectual minorities by grasping the revolutionary power of information technology in a region where information is controlled and censored by our leaders to manipulate public sentiment by illustrating the “otherness” of our neighbors and our “enemies”. A growing list of our ongoing projects can be found here.

As a child I was shocked by the inhumane treatment of immigrant workers that I witnessed, and a sense of outrage and injustice grew in my heart. Increasingly frustrated in my early college years by the prejudicial stereotypes throughout media of Middle Eastern youth – a portrayal unanswered because of censorship and state control of media in the region – I turned to my keyboard to respond with my own voice, to show not only the diversity of ethnicities, religions, and cultures in the region, but also the diversity of opinion, fervor, ideals, hopes, and politics; to portray for the first time in the global discourse Middle Eastern youth in all our depth, our feelings, and our complexity. I was joined over time by a growing number of similar voices, declaring in unison that we are Muslim and moderate, idealistic and hopeful, Jewish and peaceful; we are Christians, Baha’i, Sunni and Shia; Persians and Arabs; Turks, Berbers and Kurds, and we are all here at MideastYouth.com so that the world hears us in our own voices, and sees that we are capable of thoughtful and reasoned discussions of our differences. We want our humanity and our futures in our own hands and we use the internet and other forms of technology to fight for those rights.

The interview is available in English and German.
I can only commend you to also listen to the keynote Esra’a held at this year’s re:publica conference in Berlin.

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