BAD

So today is Blog Action Day, and the topic chosen for this year is what’s everyone on the world talking about now, which is Climate Change.

Since the Seventies of the last century, we have learned by full scientific proof that our actions are harming the planet and that was through discovering the ongoing decay of the Ozone layer caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in several industries,  and knowing about all the catastrophic effects on the well being of all living creatures on the planet from the lethal radiations escaping into the atmosphere through the ‘hole’.We also have come to know that greenhouse gases (primarily carbon dioxide) are intoxicating the Earth and increasing its temperature constantly – the Global Warming as it was dubbed later or as it’s most recently called ‘Climate Change’.

So why is it only now that everyone speaks about it? There has been 2 Earth Summits in 1992 and 2002 to discuss this issue, but there was never this global awareness except in the past 3 or 4 years. I guess it’s because there has been studies that showed that the rate with which we pollute our environment will cause melting the ice in the Poles and submerging enormous amounts of lands, this is bound to happen in 10 to 20 years.

That’s why worldwide efforts are required to halt the progression of this process. We are obliged to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide we produce or we will sink in the Ocean real soon.

See this pie chart for the various activities that produce CO2.

Greenhous Gas by Sector

I’ve  always believed in the importance of personal attitudes and how collectively it affects the environment. While I still believe in that, looking into this chart and its more recent versions, I have learned that changes at the level of legislation is required to reverse this pattern since waste coming from things like Industrial waste, Agricultural processes or fuel retrieval are entirely out of a regular citizen’s control. That’s why each and everyone should (besides leading an eco-friendly lifestyle) think of the possible way to let your government know you want to amend its actions to save the planet, and if in the next voting chose the candidate that has an agenda that cares for the planet.

There’s a list of proposed action suggested on the Blog Action Day website.

Haaretz says it ALL!

July 29, 2009

I know that it’s mere coincidence, but still found it a meaningful one…

I was skimming through the newsfeed for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, when I found an article entitled “It’s a sorry plight to be a citizen in many Arab states” and right next to that article was another with the title “Obama begins pressuring Arab leaders on deal with Israel” . While these are 2 separate subjects, but going through the first article, you are left with the impression that the Arab World suffers extensive underdevelopment, and the ‘leaders’ of these countries are to be blamed for the situation. In such times – Lo! And behold! – the leader of the super-power has come to the rescue. Obama begins pressuring Arab leaders on deal with Israel…what now?! Is ‘deal with Israel’ a code word for doing what’s good for their peoples or leave? Well, who know…diplomacy is such a complicated language!!

The farce only completes by reading into the 2 headlines…

The article about the plight, that comments on a report made by the UN on the Development in the Arab World, opens with the fact that “It’s not easy living in an Arab state. Egyptians stay away from government hospitals“…Can’t agree more.

In an awkward use of the passive form this sentence goes The report notes that during the past seven years some 78,000 homes were demolished or damaged in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” No insight about a possible source for the demolition.

For the 3rd time the article asserts: “the illiteracy rate among women in some countries exceeds 50 percent“. Very relevant that it ushered a paragraph in the famous Obama speech in Cairo University.

The unavoudable conclusion: “However, the overall picture is bleak and sometimes scary.” Again, can’t agree more.

Now let’s dive into the 2nd headline..

Q: So why is the US president pressuring ‘us’? A: “An intensified and more public focus on this idea appears to be one of the byproducts of President Barack Obama’s July 13 pledge to American Jewish communal representatives to address perceptions that he is pressuring only Israel.”You get to wonder sometimes, where is our share of these pledges?

And as a reminder of the Arab generosity that gets more sickening by the time, an Arab diplomat comments: “In return for a symbolic compromise on the settlements, some Arab states will be willing to pay with some symbolic gestures.“Come on! What freaking compromise do you expect? There’s no such word in the Hebrew lexicon.

Talk big leader to me please! “According to experts and diplomats, tensions between Washington and Riyadh were building even prior to Obama’s meeting with Jewish leaders, as a result of a June 3 meeting between Obama and King Abdullah in the Saudi capital. The meeting ended with a clear disagreement over the issue of Israel.” Of course the omnipotent King of the paradise slash kingdom. Forget about illiterate women now, and try to get over the fact that women are not allowed to drive a car there. Just focus on Israel.

And under the title New Sadat this comes: “In a July 16 op-ed published in The Washington Post, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the Bahraini crown prince, called on Arab countries to reach out and communicate with Israel. “Essentially, we have not done a good enough job demonstrating to Israelis how our initiative can form part of a peace between equals in a troubled land holy to three great faiths,” Khalifa wrote. I’m no big fan of Sadat, but for crying out loud, how on Earth can this ‘crown prince’ ever be compared to Sadat or Bahrain be compared to Egypt. That’s more funny than outraging.

I might have been reading too much into the coincidence of proximity of these 2 articles, and that they shed a light on the hypocrisy of Politicians who care only about power and money, and who would choose to harass a country or be friends with not on how democratic they are, but on how much complicity they show. Yes I might have been. But we have a saying in Arabic that رب صدفة خير من ألف معاد – a coincidence can many times be better than a 1000 fixed appointments!

I won’t be exaggerating to say that RSS feed is the single most useful tool I’ve found on the internet after emails.

It must have caught your attention before, that little orange square you see on many web pages.  It means that this publish updates frequently and that you can subscribe to follow these updates through automatically generated feed called RSS (which stands for Really Simple Syndication). You typically find this feature available on blogs and news websites, but there are a host of other stuff you can choose to follow.

we feed icon

we feed icon

Using RSS feeds proves extremely uselful when there are numerous sites that you want to follow and it’s big consumption of time to go to each single site everytime you log onto the net. Instead, this tool aggregates all the new posts generated on all the pages you want to go to in one place.

There is a staggering list of ‘aggregators’ to help you with this. They fall into 3 categories. The most simple is using the web browser to compile all the feeds you want to subscribe to. All the new browsers have the ability to read web feeds (be it Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari, etc.).  There are programs that you install on your desktop to read these feeds, which is almost the same as using your web browser.

The thirds set of aggregators are websites. Personally, I prefer this set because it doesn’t tie you to a certain computer. This means that you can access your list of web feeds from any place that has internet. My favourite is Google Reader (simply because Google has a very attractive package of tools). There, you insert the url of the website you want to follow its updates, and if it has RSS feed feature activiated Google Reader will detect it. You can arrange different feeds under specific folders.

     screenshot from my Google Reader

screenshot from my Google Reader

The RSS feed system has enabled me to maximally benefit from the time I spend online. There are various ways to determine how you want to benefit from the tool. Besides following news sites and blogs all in one place, I follow the twitter updates of some of the users. It’s also possible to subscribe to a search term on twitter. For instance, I follow the search term “ylvp” which is programme I attended last year. This way I can follow whatever tweet that has the term.

Some sites publish a huge number of posts everyday(like the Huffington Post), and sometimes not all of the updates are of concern . For instance, I don’t care to follow all the articles from the Independent Newspaper –  I only want to follow the articles written by Robert  Fisk, and it’s possible to do so. Also possible it is to follow a specific blog post for the replies/comments on the page. If you are familiar with the notion of Social Bookmarking, you can find use in following the new bookmarks saved by some users or follow the new bookmarks filed under certain tags.

There are many different ways you can use web feeds, and I’m not sure if the examples I mentioned are useful. However, I’m sure it’s a valuable tool but it’s each one job to determine how to get the benefit.

Swine Flu

May 1, 2009

WHO has decided to stop referring to the new influenza virus as ‘Swine Flu’ for the technical and more accurate Influenza A H1N1. If you want why this name is more accurate just keep reading.

virus

In Biology classes at school we used to draw cells as a circle or oval with smooth surface. But a close-up on any cell would reveal that its surface is far from being smooth – it’s rather very bumpy and spiky (see how they look in the drawing!). These protrusions or spikes are the only reason that would make the word ‘Immunity’ have any sense, as they are the tool by which a microbe recognise which creature it will attack an on the other side will let – for instance – the cells of your body tell friend from foe from the trillions of entities they come across. This makes the spikes stand as the ‘5 senses’ of any cell.

The influenza virus then, like any other creature, recognises its victims through these spikes, and through them also does the immune system of the victim mounts a suitable strike. The 2 main types of these spikes are given the initials H and N, and from the H there are 15 subtypes while from the N there exist 9.

From the combinations of the Hs and Ns arises 3 families of influenza; A, B and C. The families B and C are only concerned with humans and they are stable which makes their infection mild and would not qualify them to cause any outbreaks. Family A is the one that is really troublesome, because they can infect several creatures other than humans and because their sleazy habit of shifting and drifting ( I had written a detailed post about this habit).  

Influenza A viruses are very unique from their peers. They continuously do changes in the shape of the surface spike, which would not jeopardise their ability to recognise their victims but would only compromise any previous recognition that a victim’s immunity has gained from previous exposure. That’s why you don’t get life-long immunity after getting the flu (which differs from what happens after infection from the less clever measles virus). And also this is what makes a vaccine for influenza only seasonal; because the immunity it gives you against this winter’s flu will be useless against the ‘slightly different’ flu virus of next winter.

But this is not enough to cause an epidemic, because these slight differences are quickly recognised by your body and in a few days all the fever, cough and muscle pain goes away (except in those with weak immunity of course). The influenza A viruses have a very strange capacity. Various types of viruses can invade the same cell. This usually happens in pig farms and the scenario goes as such…A human with a strain of influenza A transmits the virus to a pig. The same unlucky pig gets another infection from, say, a bird or a dog with a different strain. This pig acts as a mixing vessel. So an H5N3 coming with an H1N1 can give a brand new H5N1 (the combination rings any bell?). This is called a shift because a totally strange virus with a brand new combination is produced and this is what makes it capable of infecting huge amounts of people (or animals) in different places and killing many of the victims.

For the H5N1 virus, it primarily infected and killed poultry, and that’s why it was correctly termed avian flu. As for the current virus, it looks to have had acquired its H from a virus that infects pigs in North America, while the N resembles that in a virus from European pigs. But all the cases discovered were in human beings and that’s why it is not accurate to call it ‘swine’ flu. It’s important to add that this is the first arrival of H1N1. In fact, the most notorious and aggressive flu epidemic in 1918 (that killed from 50 to 100 millions) was an H1N1. But the current virus it quite different from its the older brother because, as I said the spikes Hs and Ns are always changing, and the combination of these 2 specific ones is what’s causing the problem.

It looks now that the best way to deal with the new outbreak is to try avoid catching the virus. All news footages show people wearing masks. This is a nice article about how useful this is. Simple measures as covering the mouth during coughing and washing hands regularly can be magical. Also seeing a doctor with any suspicious symptoms (fever, coughing, severe tirednss, headache and specifically with this one vomiting and diarrhoea) is very important. It’s said that the tamiflu that worked with avian flu should work with the H1N1 (but this yet is to be proved).

But why not have a vaccine? It should be the best defence. It should be, yes, but it isn’t. It will need some 4-5 months to appear which is very late. Scientists say that the same difficulties that faced them in developing a vaccine for avian flu persist in this case.

The first step for preparing the vaccine is to extract the genes of the virus that are responsible for making the H and N spikes. These genes are then implanted in another harmless virus that will be able to have these spikes on its surface without having the capacity to destroy the cells of the lung. When the new virus is injected in an animal it will induce its immunity to make antibodies against these spikes that will render the vicious virus blind if it comes, and will also point the eaters of the immune system to clear them. The problem that arose with the Avian flu virus was that when its genes were incorporated in another virus, that new virus always failed to incite production of enough antibodies which requires using huge doses which makes the whole thin not practical because laboratories will be unable to mass-produce enough amounts of the vaccine. So for the time being just rely on yourself and follow the rules of prevention.

Earlier this year I have been in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (which is the reincarnation of the ancient library of Alexandria) to attend a seminar called ‘Scinece Supercourse’. The supercourse is a collaboration between the library from Egypt and the University of Pittsburg in the US to create an open-source repository of lectures on the subject of Public Health created by University professors from allover the world to bring high-quality, free contet for teachers around the world. The site now boasts more than 3500 lectures and was successful in delivering lectures on hot topics like the Tsunami in 2004 and Avian Flu during its peak spread in 2007.

The aim of the meeting was to expand the current Supercourse and create parallel supercourses for Agriculture, Engineering and Environment. So those attending the meeting had some background in one of the 4 topics. Among the invited guests was Vint Cerf, who’s called by many the ‘Father of the Internet’ because he co-invented the protocol that governs the communication on the WorldWideWeb. He was invited because he was involved in creating the first supercourse and will participate in creating the new ones. And being a man of that stature, he was asked to speak about the future of ICTs and he mentioned some of the emerging techniques, the most amazing of which is inventing a new protocol for communication that would circulate between planets and through satellites!

When it was time for questions for Vint Cerf (who is also the Vice President of Google), a colleague wrote down a question about the origin of the name of Google. And since most of the questions revolved  about  big things like governmet consership to internet and open-source knowledge vs. copy rights, we thought that google question won’t survive. But those in charge of sorting out questions decided to conclude the session with the ‘”Where does the word ‘Google’ come from?”. The answer was that the famous word was actually a mispelling error by an atourney. When the founders of the famous search engine decided to create a company for it, they asked their lawyer to finish the papers for “googol” which is a mathematical word for the number ten to the power hundred (viz. one followed by hundred zeros) to denote the expansion of knowledge they hoped their company will create…but the misspelling from googol to the famous ‘google’ continued and entered the dictionay by itself to mean searching through the internet!

The Egyptian police is currently questioning Wael Abbas, a renowned Egyptian blogger, on an incident that occured last Thursday when he and his mother were assaulted in his apartment by a police officer and his brother.

The full story in Arabic is published on his blog. The following is the translation of the post to English (and refer to the photos on the original post that show the injuries sustained by Wael as a result of the assault).

My fate was to personally sip from the same cup, from which drink those I defend against police brutality and abuse of bullies, where my mother and I were the victims of a vicious assault in my apartment by a police officer.

 

Yesterday morning, at about 7, my neighbor Ahmed Maher Ajlan called saying that the Internet does not work well, since I, by virtue of neighborhood, give them for free Internet connection, so I said to him, I will check the wires and I did not find anything, so I went to sleep without calling him because it’s impolite to awake people this early from their sleep to say that the net is down, especially when I’m still tired from traveling from Alexandria where I attended in the Swedish Institute in Alexandria a conference on training in the field of civil society, which is complementary to the team-building program, which I went for training in Sweden.
I also do not work at his father’s Technical Support team.

 

When I woke up, he called again and spoke in a very rude way full of arrogance, saying to me: I do not want to insult you so I told him: “You can’t insult me in the first place” and hung up.  
But it seems that he didn’t like the word ‘you can’t’ and wanted to prove the contrary..
So he accompanied his brother, a police officer Ashraf Maher Ajlan, who lives with him along with two parents and brother, and came knocking on my door. My mother opened and called me and he went on shouting at us and waving his hand in my face my mother’s again and again. I tried to contain the situation and explain to him that what he was doing is contrary to courtesy and morality.

 Then he pushed me in my chest so I pushed him back, then he and his brother the officer attacked me with punches and kicks till I sustained a broken front tooth as you can see in the pictures..(and bruises on the head, and scratches behind the ear)

 
My mother tried to stop them, so they assaulted her, which caused her bruises on her right arm and side and pushed her and pushed the door of the apartment and when she tried to forcibly close it in their faces and they entered the apartment and assaulted me again.
I phoned police for help, but help did not come except after two hours. Then I called again, and they came this time and escorted me and my mother to the police station to have a record of what happened.
There the officers tried to pressure me to sign reconciliation and told me that he had filed a suit against me. I totally rejected and denounced the idea, calling for the punishment of the bully.
I was transferred for medical examination and my mother in Mansheyet El Bakry General Hospital.  
The reaction of the hospital, where the medical report was written, was bizarre since they refused to tell us the content of the reports, although they asked us to put our finger prints on it, and they didn’t include a medical report on my broken teeth, although it’s the most important incidence because it is a permanent disability requiring treatment for more than twenty one days, making the attack a felony rather than a misdemeanor. Their reason was that there is no dentist or X-ray machine and they asked me to come on Saturday. They told me only the numbers of medical reports. I went to the police station and annexed them to the original record.
No. of police record is 7620, offences of the dome Gardens 2009
No. of my medical report is 892
No. of my mother’s reports:
891 surgery
894 bones


The attack was, as obvious from what was said, not because of my political activity, nor my blogs. But after all, it’s a manifestation of the bullying of the police and the abuse of power, like the many cases we published here in the blog and I doubt that this officer knows at all about my activity because we don’t mingle with neighbors much and as you can see, I am in good relationship with all people. Being a police officer does not prevent me from giving him Internet connection, but this is the police of Egypt, even if they’re your neighbors.


I was sad because of some of the comments on the Internet and the effort of the security to play down the pernicious assault on me and my mother, the virtuous lady.
Does it have to be a political attack to be important???
Is the attack on a citizen and his mother’s home by a police officer normal???
Even if this was a simple citizen; a microbus driver or a plumber, can causing a permanent disability to the person that continues with them the rest of their life be normal???
If this person was not a police officer, would he dare to attack the sanctity of a house with such audacity???
Police assaults and bullying affect everyone!!!
Even inside my house!!!
Mubarak’s soldiers have spread their corruption allover Egypt!!!
This must be stopped!!!
And I’m not giving up my right

 
Thank you to all who tried to contact me and I could not reply because I was at the police station or hospital, and all of the knowledge of the attack
And in particular the great Professor Hisham Qassem, professor and journalist Wael Abdel Fattah and Mr. Gamal Eid, lawyer and professor Nasser Amin a lawyer and journalist Amr Badr and Al-Constitution and the Egyptian day, the seventh day and Marwa Rakha and Hossam and Alhamlawi Jimehud Alaa and Manal and Cecilia Uden and Noha Atef and we Jiryes and Barmawi and military Abeer Mohammed and Adel and brain Mac and Hafsah Zgmot and Mandy Murad and Hrnkc Sheriff Ezer leftist Egyptian Razan Ghazzawi and Rasha Khoury, Maha Black Maysan Hassan Nivine Lutfi Sarah Demerdash and Zinobia and Rovetologi Gillian York and the Princess Al-Husseini, and Melissa Gera Ahmed Omrane Sami Ben Western and Kichelsavli Anna and Andrew Weiss, Mustafa Hussein, Ahmed Abdel-Fattah, the International Center for Journalists ICFJ and Chris Michael, Hamdi Qenawi Shawqi Recep Samuel Tadrus, Rami Rauf Down Orteja bloggers and the Commission on the Protection Committee to Protect Bloggers, and Global Voices Global Voest and Marcy Newman, Sameh Ahmed Sami Laroussi and BBC Radio and Freedom House, Freedom House

 

Excuse me, if you have forgotten any one
I leave you now to see what to do with the pain of my broken teeth and the headache.

 

Follow Up of YLVP

April 4, 2009

ylvp

Today will be the start of a follow-up meeting in for the Young Leaders Visitors Program (YLVP), organised by the Swedish Institute (SI) and held in Stockholm last Oct/Nov. I have a post expalining what the YLVP is and what we did in Sweden.

The methodology of the YLVP is based on the notion of ‘experience-based learning’ and that’s why the participants were divided into groups and assigned to a projct – so each can directly apply what they learned about personal development and team dynamics. So the meeitng which will the be held in the SI HQ in Alexandria will have 3 main things to focus on. First, to see how participants have been working on the personal development that each has but to themselves and to get feedback from the participants and organisers on what was achieved/not achieved.

The second this, is to follow up on the projects that were started by each group in Sweden. Each project is solution innovated by a group using social media to promote human rights and democracy primarily in the Middle East and hopefully to the whole world.

The first group, Mind Space , have come up with “Push It Forward” which is supposed to be a community aiming at spreading good deeds and creating a virtual network of individuals willing to have a positive role in their societies.

The second group, called Vanilla Peace Agents, had the idea of “Arab Calls” that is a social network for Arab Non-governmental Organisations to have a space to showcase their work and cooperate.

The third are Hyper Hummus, which have a composite project of several (five) applications. You can read about them in their blog.

The fourth group is the G4 group, and their project is called “ShowIt”, which is supposed to be a social network for Human Rights, were user can upload whatever content they have (audio, video, text) related to the subject and on the long-run that should create a repository for HR contet. In addition to creating a social network for users interested in the subject of human rights.

The fifth group, The Frozen Five, had the idea of the “Social Arena”, which is basically a space for debating. An issue is raised and you are either with or against stating your argument and at the end the audience decide the winner. The site should also contains tools in social network (profiling, messaging, etc..)

So following-up on projects progress and getting feedback about it is the the 2nd focus. The 3rd and last focus is also related to the first 2 points, which is providing sustainability to personal actions and to projects. There will be guests who are going to speak about their experience in the field and provide inspiration for the partcipants. Also the participants will be able to learn about Tallberg Forum, and how they can develop their projects to be eligible to participate in the 2010 version of the forum.

The meeting promises to be exciting and busy, and above all it’s a great opportunity to meet many friends!

In the Arab Youth Forum

February 26, 2009

The main session

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina organises for the 4th time its forum for Arab youth, inviting about 400 youth from 19 countries who have been active in their communities.

The title of the conference reads ” Arab Youth Culture in the Age of Globalisation” – a quite braod term. The opening session comprised formal words from representative from the sposoring organisations. I liked most when one pointed that when students from Egypt, Syria, KSA, etc. goes to study in the West, they are always regarded as ‘Arabs’, not by their  nationalities. Further, there’s no such distinction between ‘Moroccan’ youth, ‘Libyan’ youth in terms of specific traits for each. The differences between Arab youth is just as the differences between compatriots – in the same countries there are leftists, secular, religious, and the list goes on. Yet, their nationalities are not the reason for differences, but their collective Arab identity in what gothers them.

I’m now siting in a session for ‘Young Leaders’ Arab and non’Arab. From Pakistan there’s Ali Khan, speaking about the Youth Employment Summit (YES) campaign, that has put together youth from tend of countries who are networking and sharing best-practicies on how to solve the unemployment problem, specially through social entrepreneurship. He stressed that youth have always be considered as part of the solution, not just the problem.

Tala Nabulsi, from Jordan spke about the Youth For Change Project, that’s a collaboration between TakingITGlobal and the Bibliotheca.   It’s an example of how the internet can be a useful tool in encouragement to a positive engagement in the soceity, and in the same time bridging the geographical gab and open a space from sharing knowledge and collaborating on projects and discussing pressing issues.

From Egypt Abel-Rahman speaks about his involvement with the wikimedia foundation and his passion to the idea of making knowledge available for all for free. He works with the Arabic Wikipedia which is growing from 6o thousand article-strong to hundred thousands, and more importantly is promoting for the culture sharing knowledge and open-source sites that is built and serve all.

Samar Mezghanny, from Tunisia, – according to Guiness Book of World Records- is the youngest ever short stories writer. She gave a moving (and much applauded) speech about the fading Arab identity with the sweeping cultural moves coming from the east and west and then need and the hope for a stance to define ourselves and be proud with our culture without cutting ourselves from the outsed world. Afterall, boundaries do not exist in reality, it’s only in our minds. 

A remarkable moment was when Tala asked all the the participants to stand for a minute in remembrance to those who died in Gaza in defence of their identity and existence.

Siwa

February 18, 2009

I have been to Siwa Oasis last week. Far far away from ‘civilised’ world this green spot in the heart of the vast desert boasts some merits over the metropolis I live in.

 

 

 

 

Water Spring

Water Spring

 

The oasis has hundreds of palms that surround you everywhere. Among these are dispersed tens of springs. These alone (together with its shining sun and clear sky) warrant a breath taking scenery wherever you point you eyes, but when you observe that desert that surrounds these greenery from the 360 degrees, you just can’t help this shivering that sweeps you from grandeur.

 

Palms of Siwa

Palms of Siwa

 

The small town’s style is more rural than urban. The buildings have a distinct architecture that has infected the bank. The remains of old Siwan houses stand at the entrance of the oasis embodying this beautiful architectural style.

 

Banque Du Caire - Siwa

Banque Du Caire - Siwa

The desert itself offers a great opportunity for Safari. Sand skiing is one of the very intriguing activities to do. I never imagined to use a ski-board in my African country that seldom (never!) sees any form of snow.

 

The people of Siwa, however, make the best of the experience. People are very nice, helpful and smiling. There, people still trust each other. One of the legends about the country is that people don’t close their shops, for instance, when they go to the prayers because nobody steels anything. I witnessed that for real in Siwa. After midnight, shops and cafes are closed but they left their chairs/goods lying in the street, and to my surprise nothing was taken in the morning.  

Young Leaders in Sweden

February 9, 2009

As I said before, I’ll use the first posts on my new blog to speak about my visit to Sweden where I attended the Young Leaders Visitors Program (YLVP for short). I will start now by a short article that sums up the whole of the trip, and will go more detailed on each of mentioned stuff later….

When you set your feet on Arlanda Airport, you not only see images of famous International Swedish figures like Alfred Nobel, ABBA & Björn Borg, but you also notice that it’s a ‘silent airport’. This is one thing that accompanies you during your stay in Sweden – it’s a Country with strong passion for the environment. Every wrapping is from recycled material, and people sparsely use private cars. Another feature is that the World Conscience (this is how Sweden is called) which hasn’t engaged in any war for almost 2 centuries is an extremely peaceful country – you never feel
threatened walking in the street no matter how late you are.

I have been in Sweden for 3 weeks this autumn attending the Young Leaders Visitors Programme (YLVP), organised by the Swedish Institute, the official body that promotes Swedish culture, civilisation and values abroad.  They aim of the programme was to build long-lasting relations with young voices in the Middle East. The YLVP gathered 21 participants from 5 Arab countries; Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Jordan & Lebanon together with 6 participants from Sweden. The objective was to empower the participants with modern tools to shape public opinion with a focus on leadership and intercultural skills.

 

The ‘young leaders’ came from diverse backgrounds ranging from journalists and bloggers to projects managers and university lecturers, but all having some link to media either ordinary (old) or social (new).

The first part was designated for teambuilding and personal development. After that there was an intensive workshop for training the participants on the usage of innovative internet tools helping them to be young opinion makers. Participants were then divided to 5 teams, each assigned to come up with a solution using social media tools to promote freedom of expression in the Middle East, thus combining and experiencing what was learned in the first part. Thus during most of the remaining time teams were working on their assignment, along with several lectures, study visits, internships and workshops by renowned Swedish speakers/trainers about creativity, media in Sweden, stereotyping, leadership, among many other topics. The venue was Hyper Island, an academy for digital media, whose alumni create digital media solutions for big companies in the 4 corners of the planet.    

With the busy schedule we had, it was only possible to see Stockholm on the only free week-end we had. On a sunny Saturday (a very unusual event in the grey autumn) we took a trademark sightseeing trip by boat. Stockholm is called ‘Venice of the North’ because it is made up of 14 islands between the Baltic Sea and Lake Mälaren and is linked by 57
bridges. That’s why the ideal start of touring the city is to take a boat trip allowing to you see almost all tourist attractions together in just a couple of hours. You also appreciate the style of the magnificently
looking building everywhere. There’s the city hall that hosts the Nobel Prize banquet with its majestic tower adorned with 3 gold crowns and overlooking the city. Stockholm boasts its cultural richness with 70
museums and 100 art galleries. The number 1 attraction is the Vasa Museum that showcases a warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was only rediscovered 333 years later – it’s the only surviving ship from the
17th century in the whole world. Also the Historiska museet (Museum of National Antiquitues) is the place to go for the richest Vikings collection in Scandinavia. But above all Gamla Stan (the old town, the oldest district in Stockholm) was the most adorable place in the city. Wondering around between the very beautiful old buildings (among which are Nobel Museum and the Royal Palace), big churches, narrow cobblestone alleys and souvenir shops was almost an every-day ritual.  The city also features an impressive multicultural aura. You can see that from the variety of restaurants available. I ate in Thai, Japanese, Italian, Syrian, Persian, Greek restaurants, that’s besides a host of other
national cuisines that I didn’t try (the Mexican is the one I’m sad I missed).

Sweden has an economic system that is a blend between socialism and capitalism. It’s a welfare country, where everyone lives luxury, but you can’t easily get filthy rich there due to the heavy taxes you have to pay. However, they have prosperous industry, with many famous brands – IKEA, world’s number 1 furniture manufacturers, Volvo, Scania & Saab in Vehicles Industry and Ericsson in electronics.  

As part of the YLVP, we all moved to Malmö for a weekend. Malmö is the 3rd largest Swedish city and the largest in the southern most province, Skåne. This province was historically part of Denmark, it speaks a dialect that is a blend between Danish and Swedish (which are quite close to each other and to Norwegian – ‘tack’ is ‘thank you’, when pronounced with strong ‘a’ it is Swedish and with soft ‘a’ it is Danish!) and its flag is a mélange between the countries’ 2 flags. Malmö is 30 minutes by train from Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital. I took the train to visit Copenhagen with my passport in my pocket, but I never wanted it and I only discovered I crossed the borders when my mobile line was roaming on a Danish network (a lamentable fact when compared with moving across Arab countries). The Swedes are always pictured as the beautiful blonde model. But the fact is that this isn’t 100% true (but it’s true they’re beautiful). Out of Sweden’s 9 millions, 20% come from foreign backgrounds (12% born outside the country).  Sweden is a truly cosmopolitan country, and it’s Malmö that demonstrates it the best. There, people come from 180 nationalities, and it’s very common to hear Arabic while walking around. It’s to be remembered that Sweden is one of the most receiving countries to Iraqi and Palestinian refugees in Europe second only to Norway and thery’re mostly living in Malmö. And while the Swedes are one of the most tolerating people in Europe, they are very conscious about the racism and stereotyping in their society. There are many programmes tackling these issues, and there is a magazine that is specified only in fighting fascism, islamophobia and anti-semitism (Expo Magazine).    

Talking about stereotypes, there’s this one about the Swedes that they are introvert and boring (colourless!!). I had the chance to get a close-up on the every-day life of average Swedes taking the metro everyday, and the impression I got is that they are extremely helpful, always eager to lend a hand. I came to know Swedish families and have close relation with people there, and they are very warm-hearted and funny, too. I also made very good friendships with young people from the Levant and such human relationships are the most valuable thing I got from my trip.

 

On the last day, each of the five groups presented the idea they came up with. There will be a follow-up meeting in Alexandria in April for the groups to discuss the progress in their projects. In the closing ceremony we each received a diploma, a Dala Horse (Sweden’s symbol), and as a final reminder to Sweden’s passion with the environment a wooden (recyclable) USB flash drive.

 

If I get the chance to visit Sweden again, I will gladly cease such chance, and I strongly recommend Sweden to anyone who wants to visit a very beautiful country that prospers on valuing human beings.

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