Promoting Diversity, Dialogue and Solidarity

The first Euro-Mediterranean Youth Parliament will bring together students from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian Autonomous Territories – and Israel, among others. The young participants have now met in Alexandria for a preparatory conference. Nelly Youssef reports
Participants of the programme come from Egypt, Israel, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian Autonomous Territories, and Mauritania, among others

A young Palestinian woman with a headscarf, a Mauritanian woman in national costume and a Lebanese woman in a mini-skirt are sitting together with an Israeli man and an Egyptian man at a table for lunch. They are having an animated and lively conversation.

Lunch is a break between the seminars that 43 young women and men from eleven Mediterranean countries are attending. These participants come from Egypt, Israel, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian Autonomous Territories, and Mauritania, among others.

The young people aged between 18 and 25 years old traveled from their native countries to the Goethe Institute in Alexandria in order to participate in a conference from March 9 to 15. They are preparing themselves for the first Euro-Mediterranean Youth Parliament and for the parliamentary assembly that will be held in Berlin from May 26 to June 3, 2007.

In Berlin they will be meeting with the usual participants from the EU member states, and thus their numbers will increase to 102 participants. Topics such as migration, labor, the internationalization of art and culture, globalization, the role of the media as well as their own image of the other will be discussed.

Practicing forms of parliamentary debate

After written exams, interviews and tests of their English knowledge, the Goethe Institutes in North Africa and the Middle East together with the Anna Lindh Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures and the Euro-Mediterranean Youth Platform selected applicants and prepared them in seminars for the parliamentary meeting.

On the agenda during their one-week stay in Alexandria is getting to know one another, participation in various seminars, working groups and lectures as well as visiting local sightseeing attractions. Led by mediators from every Euro-Mediterranean country, the young participants will discuss a series of questions on Euro-Mediterranean cooperation.

In five working groups they will practice forms of parliamentary discussion by debating questions such as the prevailing image of the European Union in the Mediterranean countries, possible solutions for the Darfur conflict, the role of youth in resolving Euro-Mediterranean conflicts, as well as the founding of sustainable networks between young people and youth organizations in Euro-Mediterranean countries.

A common basis for all

“There are positive signs that a special bonding occurs between the participants despite their different nationalities and despite the disparities in socioeconomic conditions,” says Stephan Winkler of the Goethe Institute.

“This happens when they learn about each other. Shortly after their arrival they approach each other and tell about themselves and their lives at home. This project, after all, has the theme ’Diversity, Dialogue, Solidarity.’ These are among the aims of the project. “Furthermore, we hope to eliminate stereotypes and forge bridges.”

“In the discussion rounds we try to incorporate aspects that could be a common basis for us all. When we see the other, we try not to generalize and try not to work with stereotypes. It is thrilling when young people from different cultures and living conditions meet, have experiences with one another, and discard the images familiar to them from the media,” explains Hassan from Egypt, who just completed his translation studies at Azhar University.

The goal is to learn from one another

This is the first time that Almo from Israel has visited Egypt and met with Arabs. And he is amazed at what he is learning. Until now he had never had the opportunity to talk with Arab or even Palestinian youth, although they also go to the same Hebrew-speaking university where he studies international politics.

He sees the Youth Parliament as a protected place for all participants – far from the political tensions between his country and several other countries. He also believes that young people – unlike governments – are capable of creating peace. When he returns home, he will have made many new friends.

For Nour, a young Lebanese woman, it is a special experience to meet young women from Mauritania for the first time. Until now she did not even know that Mauritania was an Arab country. Moreover, the conference is an opportunity to rid oneself of the stereotyped image one has of others. For example, she had believed that Egyptian youth were conservative, but she is experiencing them now as open and is amazed that many young Arabs smoke.

Impressive energy and passion

The young people had the most fun with the idea of the “Mediterranean Community.” For this the participants brought national costumes und dishes as well as photos from their native country and presented them to the others.

Philipp Scharf of the Heinz Schwarzkopf Foundation was impressed by the energy and passion of the young people. The Heinz Schwarzkopf Foundation is involved in the organization and supervision of the Youth Parliament. The foundation selected the European participants who will make up the other half of the youth parliament.

The participants will draw up a series of recommendations and ideas in parliamentary sessions in Berlin. These will then be presented to government representatives and the competent institutions with the goal of planning and implementing projects together.