Creating new visions in the Middle East
Moved as a young child by the disrespectful and inhumane treatment of migrant workers that I witnessed in Bahrain, I kept in my heart a deep sense of outrage and injustice. Increasingly frustrated by the one-dimensional portrayal throughout media of other ethnicities and faiths, a portrayal virtually unanswered because of censorship and state control of media in the region, I took to my keyboard to answer with my own voice. I found access to the internet to be a breath of fresh air due to its limitless possibilities. Shortly after exploring the web, I felt we had huge potential in this region to advance the types of platforms we were exposed to and to connect our thoughts and aspirations in new and interactive ways.
In 2006, I launched Mideast Youth (mideastyouth.com), an organization which creates platforms and web applications that amplify diverse and progressive voices advocating for change in the Middle East and North Africa using digital media. We place a specific focus on access to information, free speech and minority rights. We are dedicated to providing powerful content delivered with cutting edge and accessible design, making sure that the message of social change isn’t just told, but also heard.
Mideast Youth started out as a group blog shared by hundreds of authors representing different faiths, sects, ethnicities and political beliefs in the MENA region. The idea was to celebrate our differences and respectfully challenge each other in an effort to correct the misconceptions that often resulted from state-sponsored propaganda region-wide and lack of access to information.
Gradually, the idea started to expand as more and more people joined the discourse. The conversations that the platform enabled resulted in a lot of ideas for campaigns around causes that revolved around issues that were unpopular or too controversial for mainstream advocacy. Those issues include the plight of migrant workers in the Gulf, the plight of ethnic and religious minorities in the region who still face historical persecution, as well as the ongoing struggles of LGBT communities. Supporting social justice causes is difficult enough on its own, but for marginalized voices, their message for social change is often ignored.
By focusing on creating tools and building communities, Mideast Youth contributes to a system of empowerment that can fight oppression no matter what form it takes. Because of this philosophy we branched out to launch several platforms focused on building alliances that protect human rights for some of the most vulnerable communities of the Middle East. Examples of our work includes:
The Alliance for Kurdish Rights (KurdishRights.org), a network of Arab and Kurdish activists dedicated to mobilize public opinion, collect information and disseminate knowledge about human rights abuses against the Kurdish people throughout the Middle East.
Migrant-Rights.org, which has become the primary resource on migrant worker rights in the Gulf, connecting distressed workers with organizations or individuals on the ground and spotlights specific situations to crowdsource calls for government intervention. The platform includes a research center featuring original content, including policy analysis and proposals as well as case studies and documentation of migrant worker conditions and abuses. The site also contains a sourced statistic-based databank of infographics on issues ranging from wages to on-site deaths, used to benchmark the state of migrant rights throughout the region. The centre also features op-eds submitted by academics, activists, and local citizens. It has been frequently referenced in both local and international media outlets including The Economist, Washington Post, New York Times, Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN, and more. The site is available in English, Arabic, and Bangla.
For 3 years between 2006 and 2009, Mideast Youth offered free hosting and design to dozens of nonprofit organizations in the region in need of technical assistance and training to advance their work. We also launched advocacy campaigns on the rights of Baha'is in the Muslim world (BahaiRights.org), the Bedoon (stateless community of Kuwait), Assyrians, amongst others.
In 2010, Mideast Youth launched CrowdVoice.org, which was founded on the belief that access to information is the cornerstone of social change and the advancement of global human rights. Despite the growing importance of the web as a space for transparency and accessibility, internet noise and shifting media focus often contribute to a loss of prominence and monitoring of critical global issues. CrowdVoice.org (CV) addresses these problems by collecting and curating media regarding ongoing or underreported social movements and storing them in organized archives for future research and reference. CV’s content includes images, first-hand reports, and citizen videos, creating a range of resources unavailable elsewhere. CV then builds educational tools to facilitate "at-a-glance" awareness of social justice issues, including interactive infographics to showcase statistics, and timelines to lend background and context to these movements and human rights violations. Our vision at CrowdVoice is to further global human rights by providing the resources for informed dialogue and action. CrowdVoice is currently censored in Bahrain, my home country.
Mideast Youth also launched mideastunes.com, the largest platform for underground musicians in the Middle East and North Africa who use music as a tool for social change. Music is a powerful medium for self-expression and engagement, and an important way to foster constructive discourse about social and political issues. Mideast Tunes is a full-fledged service with a variety of features, including "listening rooms" where new users could discover new music together. It also includes iOS and Android mobile apps to strengthen outreach efforts. We secured partnerships with various press agencies and radio stations such as Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Radio Monte Carlo in order to highlight the story of these musicians on a global level, and ensure their message is heard by as many people as possible. To date, Mideast Tunes now has over 1,100 bands.
In 2011, we realized that many of our LGBT authors felt isolated and had issues finding a support network. During that year, we launched Ahwaa.org, a bilingual tool for LGBT youth in the Middle East that leverages game mechanics to facilitate high-quality interactions. With its unique functionality, members have a fun and easy way to share their stories, request advice, and filter individuals voted mostly "helpful" in terms of finding support. These functions make it easier for users to interact with individuals who can relate or help with specific issues. Ahwaa aims to be used in countries where LGBT individuals are severely unrepresented as a community, and face not only systematic oppression, but also discrimination, marginalization, and legal ramifications. It has also launched in Bulgaria with the assistance of local LGBT organizations: http://kilera.org
Today, Ahwaa has reached many LGBT individuals seeking support and has over 4,500 members.
Mideast Youth has also experimented with new engagement and learning techniques using innovative design. In 2012, we launched a web and iPad-exclusive app, “Making of a Century" (makingofacentury.com). The application visually goes through 100 years of social movements and deepens understanding of these movements by correlating historical revolutionaries. It is continuously updated to include new figures and uprisings, based largely on user feedback. The majority of this feedback came from teachers using this application in history and social studies classes at schools.
Mideast Youth aims to continue to amplify voices for change around the world by creating platforms with an emphasis on freedom of speech and access to information. MEY will continue to serve underrepresented communities and disenfranchised minorities by prominently highlighting their struggles in a quest for education and justice.
In this increasingly connected age, advocates are afforded a larger audience than ever before. Mideast Youth hopes to provide the best venues to connect with that audience by tailoring platforms specifically to the needs of a changing global population, while preserving the ideals of openness, transparency, and accountability.
Mideast Youth and its primary activities are led entirely by women, our way of marking our presence clear through significant contributions in our societies.