Year of the Arabs
Written by Tom Jones
Edited by Anthony Figueroa
Stop for a minute and think back to the last piece of news you heard regarding the Middle East. On a scale of depressingly negative to frolicking-through-flowers happy, what would you grade it? Chances are you’d end up somewhere on the less-than-positive side of the spectrum. The news coming out of the Middle East is rarely as positive and uplifting as it should be, as various parts of the region have certainly been, and are going through, some very serious events.
From violent revolutions, to a slew of new conflicts, the Middle East has been through a lot in the past and entered 2015 looking a little on the rough side. Don’t worry! Like most things in life, there is an upside.
Within this tumultuous time are those in the Middle East that are resisting the negative, that are striving to make their home, their countries, better places. People that are fighting to tilt that scale more towards the positive, and we have recognised these tremendous individuals at the most recent Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award.
His Excellency Khaled Al-Duwaisan
(Ambassador of Kuwait and Dean of Diplomatic Corps)
Kuwait is rarely really seen as a regional power house. The same cannot be said of its ambassador in London. Mr Al-Duwaisan has been through what most never will. From being a refugee in his own country during the 1991 Iraqi invasion, to now being the longest serving diplomat in the UK, the diplomatic community has seen London grow into a Diplomatic hub second only to the United Nations under his stewardship.
Recently, Mr Al-Duwaisan has fought to address regional security concerns stemming from the rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups. The infamous ISIS is besmirching the name of Islam across the globe, but the Ambassador is working hard to set the record straight. In collaboration with academics and civil society groups, he aims to achieve not only the recognition that Islam is, in fact, peaceful, but he also wishes to promote more religious tolerance in the region. His work with the Arab League, in working to achieve one voice for the Islamic religion and culture, will also prove a useful tool in the future to promote Arab unity in the future, which will be key in establishing a more peaceful Middle East region and defeating extremism.
Positive change doesn’t just happen overnight, and Mr. Al-Duawisan’s long-term anti-extremism programme will likely take years to come to fruition. Still, he has laid the foundation for more productive anti-extremist discussions than those conducted before – a single, Arab voice coming from inside the region itself.
His Excellency Nabil Ammar
(Ambassador of Tunisia)
After the revolution in 2011, Tunisia was at its weakest for many years and found itself undergoing an extensive restructuring process. Although now more politically stable, there is still much left to tackle in Tunisia, particularly in its economic outlook, which remains sluggish due to the global financial crisis and rampant economic weakness across the Mediterranean.
Mr Ammar’s introduction into the Tunisian Embassy has seen him lay impressive ground work to combat the aforementioned sluggish economy. His ambitious program has involved opening his important work to the public, specifically business and cultural exchanges. This bridge building is absolutely key in ensuring a strong Tunisia for the future, both economically and culturally. Success depends on strong allies and by extending the exchange between Tunisia and the UK, Mr Ammar is doing an impressive job in encouraging good relations between the two nations.
Tunisia is keen to modernise its economy and key to this will be the Ambassaor’s skill at bringing both British businesses and British tourism to Tunisia, and likewise with Tunisian businesses to the UK.
With a visionary like Mr Ammar at the helm, a brighter economic future is just over the horizon.
(Representative of Palestine)
The State of Palestine’s plight is familiar to many, largely thanks to a man now seen as the mouthpiece of an entire nation. Following an impressive 25-year stint at the University of Bethlehem, Professor Hassassain has succeeded in his task of raising the profile of Palestine in Britain.
Palestine’s greatest security threat is the ongoing dispute with Israel. As a new tactic to seek support for its stance on pacifying relations between the two countries, Palestine has sought to increase diplomatic relations with other nations outside of its traditional allies. Prof. Hassassian has been absolutely key in this turn of policy.
His tireless effort has seen him give 400 major television interviews, speak to every Washington think-tank in the US capitol, and give speeches at every major university across the UK. That’s a huge amount of publicity and presence. Prof. Hassassain’s tired vocal chords, however, no doubt feel vindicated at the shift in public perception that has been achieved over his time as representative.
Key to this was the victory of the Parliamentary vote in the House of Commons in recognising Palestine. Just as important was the British public’s outcry at the Gaza War. Palestine’s voice during debates over the future of the Middle East and on events in the region has never been so loud and clear as it is today, and Palestine owes much of this to Prof. Hassassian.
Her Excellency Alice Thomas Samaan
(Ambassador of Bahrain)
Bahrain, the small Gulf state, stands apart from its neighbour not only in geography but also in its outlook. Nobody personifies this better that Mrs Samaan. Considered a trailblazer for women in and outside Bahrain, she became the first female to chair a Session of Parliament in the region, which was seen as Bahrain’s’ intention to move forward and modernise. Her main challenge since arriving in London has been to maintain good relations with other nations and the UK after the particularly bitter events in the country in 2011.
Mrs Samaan has performed a fantastic job in restoring faith in her nation. She has always sought to highlight the real progress her nation has made through dialogue, sincere reform, and reconciliation processes between the government and civil society. This has done much to restore the gleam on Bahrain’s image, which was tarnished during the 2011 uprising.
She continues to focus attention on Bahrain’s region-leading reputation for human rights, in particular, gender equality. Bahrain defies what some see as the general trend in the Middle East, namely that political engagement is a male-centric affair. It’s actually quite the opposite. Bahrain has several female Cabinet ministers as well as excellent female education rates, with female literacy rates achieving near parity with men’s at an admirable 95%.
Mrs Samaan’s work in representing Bahrain has seen the nation’s standing skyrocket. Far more than just another oil-rich Gulf state, Bahrain is now seen as an important and stable regional ally and an emerging beacon of human freedoms in the region.
It’s through the tireless work of these representatives that not only are their respective countries improved, they are also seen in a much-deserved positive light. Not only that, but they have been absolutely key in confronting the security issues of not only their own nation, but the Middle East region as a whole. Their work will be key in any future Western-Arab anti-terror alliance – and for that we should be eternally grateful.