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Fellows Return to North Africa to Implement Reforms

Time has flown since the Legislative Fellows Program-North Africa delegates left the United States in November. Since their return to Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, they have had a chance to reflect on their experience in the US, the value of their fellowships, and the lessons they will be taking home with them. Here they share some of their thoughts in hopes of illuminating the value of their experience to others, and hopefully inspiring the next generation of participants, both fellows and hosts.

Asked about their most valuable fellowship experience, some cited specific meetings (such as those with Former Members of Congress). Others mentioned our trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Several also named their fellowship placements in Congressional offices or organizations “off the hill.” One participant from Tunisia shared that the connection he developed with a former member of congress was the most valuable part of his experience because they have made plans to continue to work together and collaborate on an upcoming project.

Ammad, from Libya, felt that for him the highlight was getting to know the other fellows, and building a network with them. He was excited that Legacy “gave me a chance to be a member of the Legacy family.”

The Professional Fellows Congress, which brought Legacy’s 12 fellows together with about 200 fellows from around the world, was another highlight.  Chiraz valued this part of the program because “it was a unique opportunity to meet and interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds,” while “attending high level trainings.” Legacy’s Legislative Fellows Program is one part of the “Professional Fellows Program,” which is sponsored by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs through a series of grants to non-profit organizations and universities.

The fellowship experience was valuable for many because of the nuances and insights it brought to fellows’ ideas about democracy and governance as practiced in the US. Their conclusions and new ideas differ greatly from one another, and shed light on the diversity of experience that participants have in the United States.

Shaimaa from Egypt said that the most surprising thing she learned about the US was that the country and the people have their own share of difficulties, even though, “the media always portrays Americans in a very superior way. In real life, they are not so superior at all.

Amna, from Libya, now believes that the old Arab saying that “Egypt is the mother of the Universe,” should be updated to state that “America is the mother of the Universe.” Chiraz was surprised that she wasn’t surprised: “I found American people very warm and friendly, and they reminded me of people from the Mediterranean.

The shutdown was a perfect opportunity for the fellows to witness firsthand the ongoing struggle of American democracy. Chiraz observes that “the American system is a sure example of democracy but it’s not a perfect example.”

Ammad, on the other hand, observes that the US is the global leader because of “the basic strong foundation of government systems,” and feels that although “the legislative process is long and complicated, it is worth all the effort to shape the future with freedom, fairness, and rights.”

Muhammed, from Egypt, noted that his best meetings were with American youth working in election monitoring and political reform because he was “amazed at how much dedication and resourcefulness the youth have.”

Upon returning home, Ammad, like all of the fellows, hopes to share his experience with friends, family and coworkers. He says he will share this experience by “implementing my project based on new principles I have learned, such as the importance of opportunities for all and helping others to achieve their goals. I hope to be a good example and influence for the youth, and encourage many youth to apply to such programs abroad.” He added, “I plan to make a positive contribution to my community by being committed to contribute to reforming our system and social life however I can.”

On the impact of this experience as he returns home to Egypt, Muhammed says, “we are now in a transition period and there are a lot of debates going on concerning the constitution and the future of the country. Therefore I find it extremely beneficial and valuable to convey some of the wisdom and knowledge behind the debates that occurred between the founding fathers amid the development of American Democracy. I had the chance to meet with very inspiring people and I think I have learned that there are many things that we have in common that we can work upon.

In reflecting on the best lesson she learned, Shaimaa of Egypt says that, “people are people. What brings us together is way more important than what sets us apart.”

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Legislative Fellows meet others in Professional Fellows Congress

Imagine the feeling of a room of 240 young, driven leaders from 50 different countries: It’s inspiring and the energy is electric. The Professional Fellows Congress was the culmination of the fellowship experience for these individuals, each of whom participated in a fellowship in one of three areas—legislative development and governance, economic empowerment, or media.

Ammad and other Professional Fellows share their fellowship experience.

Legacy International’s 12 fellows in the Legislative Fellow Program were from Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, got the opportunity to meet their counterparts from 15 different organizations, which, like Legacy, received a grant from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

While each fellowship was unique, the fellows enjoyed coming together to network, learn new professional skills, and see the United States through the perspectives of one another’s diverse experiences over the past month. The three-day conference allowed time for professional development, workshops, sharing of challenges and ideas, and casual mingling and networking, and even a fun dinner cruise on the Potomac where the fellows danced into the night!

The Congress afforded fellows the opportunity to work in small groups and have meaningful discussion of the problems they’re facing at home, while gaining inspiration and new ideas from each other.

Tunisian fellows meet with the Tunisian Embassy representative.

On the second day, professional workshops allowed fellows to attend the session that was most relevant to them and meet others who were interested in similar issues. The diverse topics included women in leadership, access to capital, and social media for social change, among others. Accomplished professionals led each session, but each leader made a point to include the diverse experiences of the fellows to add practical value to the discussions.

Amna, LFP fellow from Libya, believes the Congress was one of the most valuable aspects of her experience because she had the chance to meet people form all over the world. “We shared so many things, we got inspired by each other,” she said, and found herself wishing she had more time to spend with these inspirational peers. In fact, Amna was so inspired that every day she plans to share on Facebook facts about the country of a person she met.

Amna shares her experience at the Professional Fellows Congress poster show.

On the last day of the Congress was the poster show, where fellows shared their professional and work interests with others. Some of Legacy’s fellows took this opportunity to highlight their professional work and their follow-on projects.

Fellows also spent an afternoon at the Department of State, where they heard from the Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State from all of the regions where the fellows are from. This included Richard Schmierer at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, who served formerly as the US Ambassador to Oman and who met several former Omani fellows and US outbound delegates on their travels to Oman in prior years.

At a time when the historic changes shaping our world can be discouraging, the Professional Fellows Congress provided a tangible sense of hope. These future leaders were inspiring because they each possess a combination of drive and passion with pragmatism and professionalism that will ensure their success. Their interest in learning and moving forward, as evidenced by their participating in the Legislative Fellows Program-North Africa, and their desire to engage in substantive exchange of ideas, beliefs, and experiences with other fellows will serve them well. This, in turn, gives hope of a brighter global future.

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Transparency in Politics

During the recent Legislative Fellows Program, Abdelsalam Elmcassbi of Libya spent two weeks as a fellow at the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a non-profit dedicated to transparency in campaign finance and elections, political communication, and ethics. Paul S. Ryan, Senior Council and mentor to Abdelsalam, said that CLC chose to host a Legacy fellow for the second time because it was so enjoyable and beneficial the first time.

Paul, who traveled to Egypt with Legacy International’s outbound delegation in the spring of 2013, noted how much CLC has gained from both hosting experiences and believes deeply in the benefits of welcoming a Legacy fellow into the office.

In his time with the CLC, Abdelsalam attended more interesting meetings than he could count. A highlight was a meeting with the Center for Responsive Politics, through which he learned of their work for transparency in campaign funding and about their website, www.OpenSecrets.org. He is deeply concerned about the lack of transparency in Libyan politics, and came to understand how politicized campaign contributions are in the US. Abdelsalam was greatly impressed with organizations working to improve transparency and disclosure, and hopes to create a website like OpenSecrets.org in Libya.

Abdelsalam was surprised by the extent of the challenges still facing the democratic system in the United States, and called his experience with the CLC and as a Legacy International fellow an experience in “democracy time travel.” According to Abdelsalam, it is important to understand the continuing problems in the American system because they shed light on the potential challenges that Libya will face as it navigates its way through a changing political system.

Through observing all of the issues still plaguing the American electoral system, Abdelsalam came to realize that Libya’s first election was, in fact, a success. Given all of the potential challenges he now realizes could have arisen, he’s impressed with how smoothly the election was executed. What a great perspective he gained through his fellowship!

Abdelsalam has wholly embraced his Legacy experience and taken advantage of all the available learning opportunities available through his CLC placement.

Legacy, the Campaign Legal Center, and all of the organizations who hosted fellows gained so much from them during their month-long visit to the United States, and we’re optimistic that upon their return home they will apply what they have gained as they work for positive change.

Posted in Fellows Blog, Highlights.


Emerging Democracy in American Revolution

During the recent Legislative Fellows Program, twelve Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian delegates visited Colonial Williamsburg, a restored 18th century community that educates visitors about the founding period of America.

The visit prompted dialogue about citizenship and democracy, and how the early history of the United States resonates in North Africa. Thanks to Legacy’s partnership with U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation graciously hosted the fellows as VIPs and treated them to an inside look at the goings-on about town as the nation teetered on the brink of revolution against the British regime. Costumed actors portrayed central characters in the community, including James Madison and Patrick Henry as they work on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and George Wythe as he prepares to leave for Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Ammad, from Libya, found the issues of slavery and unjust taxation to be the most interesting issues facing the country during the revolutionary era. In fact, he said that prior to this visit he was not familiar at all with the American revolution, and found the trip to be a great learning experience.

The group was fortunate to hear from Colonial Williamsburg foundation president Colin Campbell, and engage in discussion with resident scholars and historians Taylor Stoermer and Jim Horn. These discussions illuminated key issues which were being discussed during the founding era and highlighted inherent tensions between some of the values at the core of the new nation of America.

The visit prompted some important questions about what lessons the fellows, future leaders of their countries, can take from America’s story. Among the issues discussed, the question of how to balance the interests and voices of the majority and minorities was a central question, and one that any democracy must face.

Though time, space, and some details are different, there exist some striking parallels between the experience of Arab Spring countries and the US at the time of the nation’s founding. Despite the deep differences prevalent in the early United States, the country was able to develop a strong and lasting democracy. Conflict and tension, however, have always been part of our governing system. This shared experience provided hope to the fellows that their countries could emerge from the current struggles and establish accountable, representative governments.

It will be inspiring to see how the fellows incorporate the historical and theoretical lessons learned during their time in Colonial Williamsburg into their activities back home. Combined with what they have gained from their fellowship placements in Congressional offices and advocacy organizations, Legacy is hopeful there are many skills which can be translated into positive, effective change in their home countries. Legacy looks forward to partnering with the fellows going forward to support their initiatives and is ready to offer practical assistance.

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Somaia Learns about Effective Leadership

Two days into her placement at the office of Congressman Tom Petri (WI – 6), Somaia El Sayed Metwalli of Egypt is getting deeply involved in the workings of her office. Somaia started her fellowship with a strong desire to learn about the legislative process, and this has driven her to get the most out of her early experiences.

So far Somaia has attended numerous meetings, including staff meetings, meetings with other members of Congress, and with outside organizations. After observing a hearing of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, she attended a staff meeting of the majority and minority offices, which provided her with an opportunity to witness the dialogue between the opposing sides, and understand in greater depth both the similarities and differences between the two sides. Her understanding of cross-aisle dialogue and differences was furthered in a meeting with a congressional office of the opposing party, which she said illuminated how different each office and party is, and the effect of leadership styles on office function.

Somaia is passionate about improving political education in Egypt, and her experiences have already sparked ideas on how to achieve this goal. Somaia learned of the Congressional Management Foundation’s training for new members of Congress and their staff, and she has arranged to attend trainings to understand their logistics and methods of training. Her presence at a meeting with the House Office of the Legislative Council was crucial for her understanding of how the council works and how legislation is created. At this meeting she learned of an exchange program with European parliamentarians and is in discussion with the Council to initiate such a program with Egyptian politicians following their election in February – stay tuned to hear about developments in this initiative!

These are only a few highlights of the exciting and important exposure that Somaia has had thus far. She feels she has already learned a great deal, including the importance of informal meetings and discussions prior to drafting legislation, as well as office organization and leadership.

Somaia has been a great addition to the office, and that they’ve been eager to help her learn about how to ensure effective leadership, says Kevin James, Legislative Assistant to Petri.  Additionally, Kevin and the office are eager to have her on their team because they value her knowledge on Egypt. They have asked her to present a briefing to the office on current issues in Egypt, and feels that this will be a great contribution to the office.

These first few days of Somaia’s time in the office, as well as her great dedication to learning, have ensured a greatly successful fellowship. Stay tuned to hear about the rest of her experience, as well as similar spotlights on other fellows.

~by Eva Teshima Hicks, Legacy International 

Posted in Fellows Blog, Fellows Experience, Highlights.

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Government Shutdown: Lessons learned

Wow! What an exciting and eventful week this has been! Twelve young professionals from Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya arrived one week ago, and have been busy getting to know DC and beginning their fellowship placements. All but one are first time visitors to the US and have come to participate in Legacy’s Legislative Fellows Program-North Africa, sponsored by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

They arrived in the midst of the government shutdown, which although chaotic and unusual, was a great learning experience: it was valuable for fellows to see not just how the country functions, but how it deals with adversity. They joined millions of Americans who waited anxiously for shutdown news, as some of their fellowship placements were in jeopardy. Fortunately, all have found their way to interesting placements despite some last minute changes.

Legacy’s partner in implementing the program, the US Association of Former Members of Congress, arranged for several former representatives toshare their experience and wisdom with the fellows. A roundtable discussion with former members of Congress Larry LaRocco, Jim Slattery, Jim Kolbe, Ron Sarasin, Beverly Byron, and Phil English (see bios here) provided a great insiders’ view on partisan politics in Washington. The former members’ lamenting the increasing polarization was especially moving for fellows, and the need for discourse emerged as an important theme in both the American and the North African contexts. The fellows aspire to be champions of productive dialogue, effective government, and a vibrant civil society when they return home.

With the shutdown forming an ominous backdrop, the week was jam-packed with orientation and training, but the fellows adapted quickly and are soaking it all in. These young leaders from Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia arrived in the United States driven and inspired to make change, and began working this week on how to translate that energy into practical action. After extensive discussion and brainstorming, here are some of the most important issues that fellows feel are facing their home countries:
• Engaging youth in civil society
• Tolerance / accepting and valuing diversity
• Political education / reforming the education system
• Women’s education and employment
• Youth unemployment / matching needs and skills
• Extremism

These activists hope that during their time in DC will they will learn practical skills about how to address these issues when they return home. They hope to quickly implement this knowledge in their follow on projects, which are individually designed and implemented initiatives, eligible for a mini-grant awarded upon completion of the program. Stay posted to see how this develops!

The first few days of fellowship placements have already seen great learning experiences and significant contributions by fellows to their new offices. One fellow from Egypt excitedly reported back that on her first day in her Congressional office she was asked to provide an expert’s opinion on US relations with her home country. Additionally, she attended a briefing and drafted a letter on an upcoming initiative for African aid. If her first day contained such substantive contributions, we can’t wait to see what great things her and the other fellows will do in the coming weeks!

Following their first week, the fellows depart for a weekend of fun and learning in Colonial Williamsburg, where they’ll witness firsthand the driving forces behind, and crucial issues of, the American Revolution. Fellows are excited to be inspired by this visit and see what new experiences the coming days have in store!

by Eva Teshima Hicks

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Delegate from Morocco in Roanoke,VA

Zakaria ElBhioui, LFP Fall 2012 delegate from Morocco writes of his experiences when hosted in Roanoke during the Legislative Fellowship Program.  He worked with the Romney campaign in Romney’s Regional Republican Campaign Headquarters.

Zakaria at Campaign headquarters

Zakaria at Campaign headquarters

Going Door-To-Door: Living the first hand experience

“Working at the Campaign Office is a golden chance to see how things work and function. In fact, from the first day of our arrival, we got to know about the campaigning processes, including phone calls and door-to-door knocking. This latter activity  caught our attention because it has to do with direct and face-to face meetings. This kind of mechanism enabled us to  get deeply acquainted with the population’s culture, way of life, political opinions and choices. We got to know how important the aspect of human contact is to successful campaigning.

Eid Mobarak Said (Happy feast to all of you)

We are enjoying every moment in our stay in here with our host, Mr. Bell in Roanoke. Days are for fellowships and evenings are for discovery. The people here are amazing and terrific. Yesterday we were invited by the Muslim Community to celebrate the Eid at one of the most beautiful hotels in downtown Roanoke.

Zakaria and Mr. Bell at Roanoke Skating Rink

Mr. Bell: The Man of the People

Surprises never stop, I was impressed with Mr. Bell, our host in Roanoke. He is a good-hearted, open-minded and kindly man, and the most hospitable man I’ve ever encountered in my life. He hosts guests from all over the world. Mr. Bell said, “I would like to meet all your group even for 5 minutes just to say hello and shake hands”. He has introduced us to important friends from various fields, artists, humanitarians, film makers and so many others as well as taken us to naturally wonderful landscapes and places of interest in the area.

We went to Floyd where we attended a local and traditional event with the kindest people of the mountains. We loved the music and danced to the songs and our fellow delegate, Mahmoud won a cap, worth about $14, because he is from a distant place (Egypt)!

Halloween Costumes at the Roanoke City Market event

Halloween celebration: It’s just something different

It’s pretty surprising. When we went to downtown Roanoke and saw ordinary people wearing exquisite and special customs enjoying the partying, taking pictures and just having fun with each other. Such an event makes individuals and couples live the moment differently in a creative and innovative manner.

Legacy: Some Poetry…

We enjoyed our time in US and the experience as a whole because of the leadership strength in the organization behind it, an organization where all partners trust and cooperate. Legacy International, with its coordinated, helpful and highly skilled team brought about our successful stay.”

Special thanks go to Legacy that makes everything look fancy

Thanks you made the experience new and unprecedentedly witty

Congratulations for the professional way of organizing, scheduling and coordinating

To the tactfully refined team with a high sense of advising and problem solving

Delighted we are and grateful we shall be

For you spread out universal human values and solidarity

Throughout the world you brought us from different lands

Strengthening dialogue and mutual understanding

For a brighter future for everyone we shall strive hand in hand

To sustain our nations’ development and peace keeping

With Legacy, every day is a good and a greater day

Learning more, sharing and caring, meeting new people and enjoy

Such unforgettable time would always reside in minds

Such glorious memories to be remembered and kept in hearts

Posted in Fellows Blog.