Syracuse University

Civic Leaders from Middle East Experience Democracy American Style at SU

Leaders for Democracy Fellowshipi

In a program funded by the Department of State and hosted by Maxwell, a group of Arab-nation “young leaders” experienced traditions and methods unique to civil life in America.

Lamees Abdullah Dahaq, 23, has a mission: to inspire young people in her home country of Yemen to become more active citizens and leaders. Dahaq, who works in a nongovernmental organization, believes young people hold the key to overcoming obstacles that have prevented Yemen from becoming a healthy democracy. Among these obstacles, she counts poverty, poor education and a culture that pushes girls to marry young, raise families, and eschew careers.

“The problems we face come mainly from the people, from cultural traditions,” believes Dahaq, who coordinates leadership training for high school graduates. “And young people are the ones best able to make a change.” To learn more about democracy and advance her political goals, Dahaq applied for and was accepted to the Leaders for Democracy Fellowship (LDF) program.

LDF is a four-month training and internship program run by Maxwell and funded by the U.S. Department of State. The 20 other young Arab leaders in Dahaq’ group included activists, journalists, lawyers, consultants, a government official, politicians and a CEO who hailed from Syria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Qatar, Oman, Iraq and Jordan.

The State Department chose Maxwell from among 36 competitors to host the LDF program. LDF operates under the umbrella of the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which, since 2002, has committed roughly $293 million to programs that promote democracy, education, economic strength, and women’s rights in the region.

In all, the fellows spend four months in the United States, starting with an orientation in Washington, D.C., then a month taking classes at Maxwell and finally three months in internships in Syracuse or Washington, D.C. in their fields of interest.

Member of the class worked at the United Way and the Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse; and, in Washington, at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, among others. Only too fitting, Dahaq went to the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, which was in the process of creating a teachers’ union in her home land of Yemen.

For more on the LDF program, click here.