Middle East activist speaks out on the importance of freedom of speech

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During a time when international affairs are at the forefront of the world due to the economic and diplomatic involvement in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, it is unfeasible for the United States to comprehend a society with censorship. For many Middle Eastern communities, censorship is a reality. Restrictions on freedom of speech and basic human rights within Middle Eastern nations are due to our willingness to build a diplomatic relationship with these countries.

Awarded the Berkman Award for Internet Innovation from Harvard Law School and Atlas Award for Best Intellectual Entrepreneurship Project, The Mideast Youth Foundation was founded by Esra’a Al Shafei while a student in college. Now a graduate of Franklin College in Switzerland, Al Shafei works to combat censorship and welcome dialogue about and within Middle Eastern nations.

Inspiration for the Internet media outlet came after continuously hearing stories of persecution by her grandmother, citizens in Middle Eastern nations and adults hopelessly asking one another, “must we be in exile, and must our children suffer the same fate?”

Al Shafei, in conjunction with Rick Halperin, Director of the Human Rights Education Program, introduced the creation that has changed the way the Middle Eastern nations torn by territorial disputes and religious differences are viewed domestically and internationally.

What makes this Web site so unique and ground-breaking is the fact the young generations of the Middle East are openly able to express opposing ideologies, promote positive change and instigate activist movements through rallies, blogs, articles, videos and comments without retaliation from their government.

The Mideast Youth Foundation is the first Web site to welcome dialogue and opinions from Kurds, Israelis, Iranians and many more groups within nations and religions of the Middle East that are often in conflict. Al Shafei credits her personal experiences and importantly the Internet for the popularity of her Web site for revolutionizing the region by stating, “The government can censor the media and print but it is very difficult to censor the internet especially in regards to basic human rights. When people feel empowered, they will do something positive to change negative circumstances.”

EAl Shafei believes the Web site and international recognition has legitimized the purpose for its creation because it is making a tremendous impact domestically and internationally on media and government in the Middle East to the degree that change is occurring within the community and the way in which the world views the plights of these nations.

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