This past weekend I went up to Montreal with the ASA president, Samer Sabri, to attended the Envision Arabia Summit hosted by the Arab Development Initiative. The conference was fantastic and truly a great success. I know I speak for both of us when I say how impressed we were by the professionalism and attention to detail put into organizing the conference by ADI. And of course the other great thing about the summit is that it brought Nafez Dakkak, former ASA president of 3 years, stateside from his job in Dubai.
The summit ran over the course of two and a half days, one of which we unfortunately had to miss as we took the 11 hour trip overnight from New Haven to Montreal via train and bus. When we did arrive very early on Saturday morning we were certainly in a daze, but by the time we were at the summit breakfast we had regained some of our grounding. I can definitely say that it helped to get that manushi in the morning.
The bulk of the summit was devoted to the many distinguished speakers that ADI got to come out to the conference. What really impressed and surprised me was how thrilled each of the speakers was to be at the summit. Some of those speaking like Al-jazeera’s Ahmed Shihab-Eldin and Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of The 99, must attend conferences like this all the time, but nonetheless it was clear to see how excited they were to be a part of EAS. There was a tangible excitement and energy present all throughout the conference as this group of young people, brought together by young people had the chance to connect with each other and be inspired and invigorated by established professionals, academics and entrepreneurs.
The Summit did not go without attendent participation. At various workshops and a few seminars offered over two days the people attending from universities and organizations all over the world got the change to talk with a moderator and amongst themselves. I found the process valuable, even if only to hear what other’s were thinking.
When I look at the conference critically, my question is: where do we go now? This is by no means criticism of the amazing summit that ADI organized, but I think this question was on many people’s minds as they cultivated their new connections and left the conference energized by the words of its speakers. This is where action comes in. With new connections available to us and our mind’s churning it is time for the summit participants to go out, inspire those who could not attend and take action ourselves.
Two things that had a particular impact on me on the last day of the conference which I will leave you with now are these: The first is that despite the terrible injustices committed by the dictators of the Arab world, their reign has taught the Arab people to sustain their societies without being able to rely on their governments. The second is that what happened at the conferenc is by no means new or revolutionary. For decades, young Arab people have been gathering to express their criticism of the problems faced by the Arab nations but little was accomplished because they had to rely on the institutions in place to generate change. To take this lesson in our own time it means that we need to circumvent the standing institutions if we wish to really create change. This might mean rebuilding those institutions where there is the opportunity to do so as in Tunisia and Egypt, or it might mean going through alternative channels, but the point remains the same: we cannot remain passive.