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Sunday, February 28, 2010

AUC Q&A

 Omar Kandil (OK): So on behalf of the student body I’d like to once again welcome Your Majesty back to AUC. So we have four questions and they have been selected from a pool of questions submitted by AUC students. Ok I’ll start with the first question, it’s from Maria Masaoud, she’s a Fellow in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language Programme. And the question states ‘How can teachers help motivate students to be involved in civic engagement?’

HMQ: Well it’s been famously said that you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give. And for us to really have the whole concept of civic engagement to resonate throughout society it really has to be an undercurrent in our educational system, and therefore teachers have a very important role to play. In my opinion actually I have a very soft spot for teachers, and I think over the past eleven years that I’ve been doing tis job I came to the realisation that if there is one element, one silver bullet that can help us deal with half the problems that we face in the Arab world it is to improve the quality of our teachers. Because they really have the ability to shape the next generation and the next generation is what’s going to deal with all the issues that we face. So teachers are very important in instilling the values of civil engagement in our young people. They do so by explaining civic engagement, by making sure that their lessons are connected with the society around them, so that when they’re teaching their values they actually get their students to go out and implement some of these principles in the context of where they live. They also can be very powerful and very persuasive if they lead by example and they speak by experience. So I’d like to see many teachers take their skills from the classroom to the streets. And that also helps in many other ways. A lot of times we worry that academia is very much isolated from its context, from society. When teachers are engaged, when they go beyond the classroom, then they understand also what the young people have to face when they go into the real world and try to get jobs. So they can always make sure that what they’re teaching inside the classroom is relevant to what’s going on outside. So I think teachers are an indispensible part of spreading the culture of civic engagement. They have a tremendous role to play and I think all our governments would do well if they focus on the quality of the teachers and those people who shape the minds of our young people.

OK: Okay thank you Your Majesty for this answer, and we’ll move on to the second question. It’s from Samir Arafar, she’s an undergraduate student, and the question goes as follows, ‘In Your Majesty’s opinion, is civic engagement by itself capable of levitating a country from a third world status to a world leading country?’

HMQ: Well first of all I personally don’t care about the categorisations, third world, first world, you know. I think what we really care about is to ensure that in our countries we have a healthy society, that is a happy society, that looks for future prospects with optimism, and that is thriving. Now for development to take place there are many different elements involved. You have to have good legislation, strong institutions, good educational systems, sound investment etc etc. It takes a nation to lift a nation. That said the definition of you know what it takes to become a first world country if you will or to make progress has changed. I mean if we look over the last ten years there’s been a tremendous shift in powerhouses. Traditionally a country was powerful when it was large, had a huge population, had a very strong army and had an abundance of natural resources. Now it’s about sound policy. It’s about making sure that you make the right decisions for your country. That you make sure that you nurture creativity, you have an educational system that is strong, that produces the right kind of citizens. So you don’t measure the status of a country just by money, but by the quality of its citizens. And my guess is that in developed nations you’ll find that citizens are more proactive and less passive. They are more enthusiastic and less apathetic about dealing with that country’s problems, because they realise that civic engagement and being active is a path to development. It’s actually a path to development and it’s a symptom of it. And that’s something that we should internalise in our part of the world. Now I know that, you know, in a way everybody criticises the government. You know we always say our governments are bureaucratic, our governments are slow, but in another way we also think that our governments are all powerful, all encompassing, ever present. And in a sense we always wait for them to bring about the change. So what we really need is a shift in mentality and an understanding that we also have a role to play, that we can’t wait for governments to make the change. That although we have some limited space in certain areas to manoeuvre, but still today you, this generation, has resources at its fingertips that I certainly didn’t have. You have the power to mobilise in ways that weren’t available even five, six years ago. So it’s that understanding of your own power that you have to really internalise. And you know so I really think that there are many forces. Civic engagement is not the only way. Civic engagement alone is not enough to elevate a country’s status but it’s an indispensable part of the journey I believe.

OK: Thank you Your Majesty for this insight. Now the next question is from a Study Abroad student from Princeton University. Her name is Marianne Messing. She’s saying that ‘unemployment is high across the Arab region and so according to Your Majesty what role could civic engagement and involvement in civil society organisation play in creating jobs in the region?’

HMQ: Well you’re right, unemployment is one of the most important challenges that our region faces. You might already know the statistic but we have to create something like fifty million jobs over the next ten years, that’s five million jobs a year, just to prevent a rise in unemployment in the Arab world. Now this presents us with a huge demographic challenge that can have tremendous implications across many other spectra, political, societal, etc. But it can also be a tremendous opportunity if we do the right thing, if we have the right policy, if we prepare our young people to enter the job market. Now civic engagement plays a role with this because through it you gain two things, you gain skills and networks. So one of the things, one of the problems that our Arab world faces is that although we provide an education, the education is not relevant to the job market. So you have millions of young people who graduate, holding degrees, but cannot grasp a job. And I know, and I speak to many people in the private sector, when you have a vacancy you know it’s so hard to, I mean they all complain it’s so hard to find the right person. We can’t find the right person with the right qualifications. In the meantime there are hundreds and thousands of young people who are unemployed. So it just shows that there is this great gap between what the market needs and what our educational systems are producing. Civic engagement can help bridge that gap to some extent. Because you know when you go and you start a campaign it’s not just about, if you go and help orphans or you know the example I gave about Swelim or Raghda, this is not just about making others feel good. It’s not just about tea and sympathy and you know let’s get together and you know just commiserate. No. To organise a campaign requires administrative skills, managerial skills, perseverance. You need to do your budgeting, you need to demonstrate leadership to get people to congregate around an idea and to make a difference. So these are all skills that are, that will give you an edge in the job market. These are the kinds of skills that will distinguish you, the kinds of things that twenty-first century employers are looking for in twenty-first century employees. So it can really give you that extra thing that you need to really succeed in the job market. So I think that it’s, and also the networking. When you organise in a campaign you’re exposing yourself to a lot of people who give you a lot of ideas. These are all contacts that you can really make use of in the future. The more active and exposed you are the more opportunities will come your way. So I think it’s something that we need to really think about. And beyond providing job opportunities you know I think as I mentioned that you know civic engagement and doing good is quintessentially part of our culture and our religion. And I think over the last, speaking for my own personal experience, over the last ten years, one of the things that I’ve found extremely disappointing is the way Islam has become perceived, both externally and internally amongst ourselves. Externally very much associated with aggression and violence and terrorism and oppression of women. Internally all the political play between factions. It’s been associated with just... Actually I had the opportunity a couple of years ago, the privilege of going on the pilgrimage Il Hajj, and we were a group of about fifteen people and we had our Sheikh with us. And you know you get together and it’s a very religious experience and we all started bombarding him with questions, things that we’d always had in our minds but never really had an answer to. Then I realised most of the questions that we were asking were things like, ‘If I was fasting and you know I smelt something delicious does that break my fast?’, ‘If I was fasting and put eye drops does that...?’, ‘If I prayed half a second before the elan does that mean that... ?’, ‘If I did...?’ And then I realised when did our religion become reduced to just the technical aspects of worship? What happened to the actual spiritual side, the actual values of our religion? And although capturing the spiritual side is a very long journey, not something that you gain overnight, it is something that you can begin to experience through your behaviour, modifying your behaviour. You know sometimes people if you’re happy you smile, but sometimes if you’re not happy and you start to smile then you become happy so it can be a symptom. And so before you even get to the part of trying to internalise the values and the actual spirit of our religion, live by the value of it you know, do it through behaviour. Civic engagement, going out and helping others and trying to improve your societies is inherently what our faith is about. And that’s what we need to recapture. It’s not just about the length of the beard or whether my veil is covering ten per cent of my forehead or twenty per cent, it’s about really living the values of love, compassion, giving, forgiveness. Those are the things that we need to be thinking about. And if we do that then I think that we can really see a change for the better in all our societies and countries.

OK: Yes, thank you Your Majesty for this very insightful answer. And now we’re moving to the fourth and last question. It’s from Ahmed Ismail Hayrot. He’s an Economics and Business Finance undergraduate. He’s a fellow colleague of mine in the Student Union and the question states, ‘How does Your Majesty see the World Economic Forum’s Global Education Initiatives, especially with its public private partnerships component playing a key role in developing the region socially, economically and politically?’

HMQ: Okay. I really believe that we cannot try to tackle our traditional problems through traditional means. We really need to look for, we need to rethink and come up with new equations and new formulas to dealing with the issues that we have. So for example education is one of the most important ones that we face in the Arab world. We need to bring new players on, we need to rethink, bring about new synergies, and that’s why I feel that private and public partnerships are very important. Education is one area that actually everybody has a vested interest in. Governments need to improve because of the output for their citizens. Companies need to improve the quality of education because that determines the quality of their future employees and therefore their success. And private individuals because everybody wants to make sure that their kids get a good education. So if we can, because there’s a vested interest, if we can create linkages across these different sectors then we have much to gain. I mean just to put it in perspective, the financial crisis, we’ve heard about the great losses that many governments have incurred over the last couple of years. Well those pale compared to the losses that these countries, that many countries, incur as a result of poor quality of education. In the developing world a hundred billion dollars is what it costs these countries just from lack of education for girls. Conversely a hundred billion dollars is what these countries also get in aid. So I think we need to also rethink aid. For me aid shouldn’t just be about getting money from outside. In fact I think that that’s unsustainable and it breeds a culture of dependency. When we look to the outside we should look for partnerships and experience, and this is what you’re referring to which is the Global Education Initiative. It’s a programme that was launched at the World Economic Forum about six years ago. It’s present in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and India. It’s helped reach about two million students, and what it does is that it creates a partnership between the government and the private sector in each of these countries as well as companies from abroad. So Sisco, Microsoft, Intel are all involved in these programmes. And they’ve helped bring about you know just revamping the educational environment in the classrooms. Bringing about technology, entrepreneurship skills, all those kinds of things. And we’ve seen some great results as a result of that kind of thinking. And in Jordan we have our own programme which is also something that cuts across sectors. It’s called Madrasati. And it started because we realised that although the government is full of good intentions it just doesn’t have the capabilities to improve the quality of our schools. So what we did is we identified the five hundred worst off public schools in Jordan. We did a needs assessment for these schools, and then we tried to help bring about linkages with the private sector. So you had private sector companies coming in and adopting these schools. As well as that we’ve had NGO’s come in so you know organisations like UNICEF and many others who have specific programmes for health, for other things, all coming in to the school. The community of the school is also a part of the programme. So it was incredible for me to see not just the schools being fixed up, not just the pride that these young student now had in going to school, the fact that they look forward to going to school, but also the shift in mentality in society as a whole where they really felt that fixing schools is their responsibility as well. And they felt that they are empowered to change their own realities. So the lift in morale that I saw lifted my morale. It was quite incredible. And the shift in culture from a culture of dependency and expectation to a culture of proactivity has been really incredible. And I feel that this is something that we can see cut across, those kinds of examples are the kinds of partnerships and formulas that we need to adopt in tackling, whether it’s education or other issues in our region.

OK: Thank you very much Your Majesty for answering the questions. Finally I would like once again to thank Your Majesty for your time. It was my personal privilege and honour to be asking Your Majesty those questions. Now I’d like to give the floor back to President David Arnold.

HMQ: Thank you. Thank you very much.

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