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American Egyptian Dialogue Conference in Atlanta PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 03 May 2009 00:00

By Jenn Young
Exclusive for al Waref

In the city of Atlanta, home to CNN and the Carter Center for Peace, a group of American journalists, professors, religious leaders, and community activists met with their Egyptian counterparts to discuss challenges facing media sources in portraying accurate images of the “other."

The combination of workshops, discussions, and presentations allowed for a diversity of voices to be heard and a myriad of ideas to be shared among the many participants looking to build a foundation for further cooperation.

The two day conference held earlier this April was directed by Hands Along the Nile Development Services (HANDS), a non-profit with its headquarters in Washington D.C. that supports a number of cultural and economic development actions on the ground in Egypt, and the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), one of Egypt’s largest developmental organizations. It was sponsored by the Center for Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University and found support from the American Friends Service Committee, the Middle East Peace Education Program, and donors from across the United States.

With the growing tensions between the United States and the Middle East, community leaders throughout both regions have been organizing events such as these to promote dialogue as an alternative to violence. With the focus on media outlets, this conference took one large step towards targeting the harmful biases that are interfering with peace building and brain storming.

This model of face-to-face dialogue has become an important tool in promoting peace and tolerance in lieu of hatred and violence in a time of growing animosity and tension between the “East and West.” These community leaders came together and entered into a circular arranged room, a symbol of openness and trust. Their nametags purposefully excluded titles like “Dr.” and “Reverend,” which allowed for individuals from a variety backgrounds and experiences to come together as equals—all willing to cooperate for a chance for free exchange. The ideas shared and e-mail addresses exchanged over the course of the conference provided hope for breaking down harmful biases with the exultation of minority voices, impartial media sources, and open dialogue channels.

The goals of this type of meeting are to bring together a diversity of minds to target a problem, brainstorm potential solutions, and create and mobilize a network of individuals working towards similar change. In an increasingly globalized world, it has been essential to focus on the growing media avenues available to citizens and community leaders on the ground. One presentation and discussion was focused on “he role of new and emerging media sources in impacting relations between the Middle East and the West.” In this discussion, individuals refocused their attention away from traditional media sources and looked towards the role of Youtube, Facebook, e-journals, and the blogosphere for empowering the marginalized and too often silenced individuals and groups on all sides of conflict.

In one interactive session, individuals watched clips of famous Egyptian and American films that portrayed the “other” stereotypically. The conference participants then broke down into mixed groups and discussed their reactions to the images, the impact these types of media sources have in influencing the public culture, and what tools may be useful in breaking down these biases. The distinction was made between using comedy to perpetuate stereotypes as opposed to using comedy to break down stereotypes, and the importance of increasing the voice of those depicted to have an individual identity. These types of discussions allowed for stereotypes to break down within the conference room, while influencing how these types of media biases will be perceived in the future.

Many individuals, both American and Egyptian, spoke of the monumental impact the recent United States elections have had on the spirit of dialogue and the hope for change. Finding inspiration in the changing tides, many participants were able to speak with hope about the potential for once marginalized voices to be heard.

At the end of the exhausting days of dialogue, conversation, discussion, and at times argument—the participants left feeling re-energized to continue with their current work as professors, religious leaders, journalists, and civil servants. The friendships made over the course of the dialogue allowed for the development of new networks, which will provide for lasting connections between the east and the west. As one participant stated, there must be a “sharing in improving” the internal and external pressures that have allowed for poor relationships between Egypt and the entirety of the Middle East and the United States.

It will be through the exploration of avenues available for dialogue between those in conflict, and the continued development of new outlets for brainstorming, that progress will be made towards tolerance and impartial media.


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