Click the links below to learn more:

What America Owes Iraq
- Zainab Al-Suwaij in the Wall Street Journal

Capitol Hill Distinguished Speaker Series
- Panels on Muslim affairs for Congress

Project Nur
- A "light" on campus promoting student leadership and activism

Public Education
- Guides on interfaith dialogue, hate speech response, and more

HAMSA: Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance
- Aiding civil rights reformers

Muslim Interfaith Council
- Building bridges without baggage via open dialogue

Pledge for Iraq
- - Empowering women civic leaders and civil society via grants and training

We have published editorials in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times; appeared on CBS Evening News, ABC's 20/20, MSNBC's Hardball, and Al Jazeera; and provided interviews to NPR's Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered.

November 16, 2012 | Washington, DC | Beyond the Headlines
How Have Women's Political Rights Fared in Egypt?

Photos | Video

Washington, DC—On November 16, 2012, WFPG hosted a panel discussion on how women’s political rights have fared in Egypt with Zainab Al-Suwaij of the American Islamic Congress, Yassmine ElSayed Hani of Al Akhbar daily newspaper and Nancy Okail of Freedom House. Their remarks included a discussion on controversial portions of the new draft constitution, developmental and economic issues, and issues surrounding the unification and mobilization of women’s rights activists. The event was moderated by the Vice President of the Middle East Institute, Kate Seelye, and co-hosted by and held at NYU Washington, DC.

The panelists commented on article two of the draft constitution, which states that laws will be determined by the principles of Shari’ah Law and article 36, which states that men and women are equal unless there is shown to be a contradiction in an action with Shari’ah Law. Okail added that there is an article being proposed that would give government power to oversee the upbringing of youth. Hani believes that Egyptians do not have a problem with the “principles of Shari’ah”, that is, the actual text of the Qur’an. What Egyptians take issue with are the “rulings of Shari’ah”, which leaves room for much interpretation of Shari’ah Law and can be dangerous for women’s rights.

Okail began by discussing the conditions for women under the Mubarak regime. The regime confined women through culture, laws, and practices. She explained that Egyptian women become aware of their own roles in society through the process of socialization throughout childhood. During the revolution, women were harassed and women’s rights were marginalized. She shared her own experience of being arrested, put into a cage with 20 other female activists because of her participation in the Tahrir Square protests. In a post-Mubarak Egypt, Okail believes that Egyptian society still faces many challenges with regards to women’s rights including a lack of awareness of the issues and where they come from: unfair laws in the constitution or an institutional platform.

Hani saw women in Egypt as facing three main problems. One concerned economic difficulties, as more than 50% of Egyptians live below the poverty line and many have minimal or no education or access to clean water. She also sees many development issues in Egypt such as the inability for women to find jobs, high illiteracy rates, and poor access to healthcare. These development issues affect all Egyptian women. Women living under these conditions generally prioritize others over themselves in order to take care of their families. The third aspect of women’s rights that Hani sees as evident, especially after the uprisings, is the political component. All Egyptian women fought together during the revolution but because the public sphere was opened to everyone during the uprisings, extremists used their new platform to attack women. Hani explained that in a post-Mubarak Egypt, women are choosing to participate in political parties, continuing to engage in activism and are following political events in the news.

Al-Suwaij thinks that the biggest problem facing women in the Arab Spring countries is a lack of mobilization and organization among women activists. Quotas can and have encouraged political participation of women in the Middle East. Al-Suwaij sees a large problem facing women through the implementation and interpretation of Shari’ah Law. All of the panelists agreed that the youth were a huge force in the revolution. In Hani’s words, “This community, this youth community has its own language, its own principles, its own free public sphere to communicate, to challenge—they have the will to challenge and they have the power to challenge. They transcend institutions.”

During the discussion, a lively debate ensued between Al-Suwaij and Hani on whether women could be judges under Islamic law. Al-Suwaij explained that even if you argued that the text of the Qur’an allowed women to be judges, the fact is that women are not and were not commanding a strong presence in the Egyptian judiciary. Hani emphasized that Egyptians must not accept the “norms” of society and would be favorable to a country governed by the principles of Shari’ah Law. Okail then summed up the debate with, “what you are seeing right now—this interaction between Zainab and Yassmine—is actually the problem we are having in Egypt, who has the authority to define what Islam is? Who has the authority to interpret the verses of Islam? Who defines who that authority is?…it’s going to be the leaders in the country who define who has the word and the right to define what Islam is and what the rules are.”


Silva and Ambassador Motsyk of Ukraine in Cambridge, MA. Photo courtesy John Henry Silva.

A guide to innovation diplomacy in Boston

By John Henry Silva

Like many Bostonians, I start my daily morning routine with public radio, and inevitably the top world stories are conflict: civil war of epic proportions, sectarian violence, bristling geopolitical disputes between great powers. It feels a world away for many, but deadly terrorism has struck our community, on Patriot’s Day no less. The resilience of our civil society has been evident during this tragedy. But what can we do here in Boston? How can we take it upon ourselves to be diplomats, not only in a volunteer capacity, but how can innovation diplomacy permeate the very essence of our business activity?

This topic is a very personal one for me. After serving five years in the military, during 9/11 and the Iraq War, I sought to embark on a path of citizen diplomacy in organizations large and nascent, which led me from Odessa, Karachi and Tokyo. Yet one does not need to travel abroad to be an innovation diplomat with impact. In Greater Boston we have a world-class community of innovators; there are concrete ways you can take the lead to build bridges. Here are some of my recommendations for ways you can incorporate innovation diplomacy into your professional activity:

Swissnex Boston - Swissnex, the first innovation consulate in the world, is located a few minutes away from Harvard Yard. The Swissnex team hosts distinguished events related to academia, business, science and culture open to interested professionals. Other Swissnex innovation consulates have been launched globally.

NECINA - The New England Chinese Information and Networking Association is a venerable organization and perhaps the best way to build up your network with top Chinese-American business professionals in Greater Boston.

Russian Venture Company - Diplomatic sparring between Russian and the American political leaders makes front page news; the billion dollar Russian venture capital fund on Boylston Street does not.

Shabeh Jomeh - The Iranian and American governments have no diplomatic relations, yet Iranian-Americans such as Shervin Pishevar (Uber), Pardis Sabeti (Harvard) and Anousheh Ansari (TTI, enterprising space tourist) are paragons of American entrepreneurship. Shabeh Jomeh, a monthly business meetup held in cities worldwide, is a practical route to build bridges with Iranian innovators.

OpenHub - A team of Connector Alumni from Boston World Partnerships are launching a new organization, OpenHub. Stay tuned, and I highly recommend you attend their launch event next month.

New England Israel Business Council - Israel, perhaps the most entrepreneurial country per capita in the world, has close business ties with the Boston community, and NEIBC attracts top Israeli-American professionals at their events.

American Islamic Congress - AIC Boston, located on Newbury Street, hosts exquisite cultural events with international cuisine, poetry and music. For over a decade AIC has also been at the forefront of building civil society and democracy education for citizens in many countries abroad, especially young people in North Africa and the Middle East, and has had a significant positive impact in the region well before the ‘Arab Spring’. AIC has staff on the ground in Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq, and can be an outstanding conduit to build professional relationships in these emerging economies.

French Chamber of Commerce - The French Chamber is one of the best ways to get involved in the vibrant French-American business community of Boston, of special interest especially for professionals in the life sciences sector.

Pakistan Innovation Network - A team of top Harvard business leaders and academics are launching a new initiative to bring technology innovators in both Pakistan and the US to collaborate more effectively through thought leadership, mentoring and venture support.

United Planet - When you are ready to travel with purpose, United Planet offers ways to volunteer all over the world, explicitly as a citizen diplomat.

This is a new age of innovation diplomacy for our community. No longer is diplomacy the province exclusively of professional diplomats; we can integrate diplomacy into our business operations. Partnerships across borders will continue to enrich Boston culturally, attract top students and business leaders from around the world, and be a model for other hubs around the world to meld innovation and diplomacy.

John Henry Silva is co-founder of 1Degree Boston. Follow him on Twitter @JohnHenrySilva

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe. The author is solely responsible for the content.