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by Mohamed Abubakr
When I agreed to testify before Congress a year ago about Sudan, I understood that stating my opposition to the lifting of U.S. sanctions against my country could put at risk those closest to me. My decision to testify nonetheless hinged on the calculation that saying anything else would result in a U.S. policy that would imperil not only my family, but so many more vulnerable people in my country.
Sadly, in the year that has passed, I have seen this prediction come true. President Trump’s lifting of sanctions against al-Bashir and his regime in January 2017 has signaled to the Sudanese dictator that he can crack down with impunity against his most vulnerable citizens. And today, the most vulnerable person in Sudan is 19-year-old Noura Hussein, who has been sentenced to death by hanging for killing her husband, who she was forced to marry, and who raped her.
Hussein’s parents married her off when she was just 16 years old. She ran away to escape the marriage, living with a relative until her father tricked her into coming back and forced her to complete the wedding. Hussein has been convicted of murdering her rapist husband and has been sentenced to death. Yet with proper pressure on al-Bashir, non-execution of sentence, retrial, or even full pardon are all realistic possible outcomes. Indeed, similar pressure has yielded favorable outcomes before, most recently in release of pregnant Christian woman, Mariam Yahya Ibrahim, who was on a death row as well. Through direct and meaningful engagement with the government of Sudan, The U.S. can save Noura’s life, stand with the people of Sudan and reassert a modicum of leverage and influence over a country that could present a national security challenge to the United States in the future.
In Sudan, marital rape is not recognized, although some advocates are making the argument that a 2015 law on rape may allow it to be recognized. However, President al-Bashir does have the power to pardon - a power that he won’t use in Hussein’s case unless he is incentivized to do so. Although rights activists and groups across Sudan are pressuring al-Bashir to pardon her, he will only be swayed by significant pressure from the last remaining country with any real leverage over Sudan – the United States.
Though Europe once held such leverage, it all but evaporated when the EU struck a deal with al-Bashir to have his mercenaries prevent additional migration through Sudan to Europe. UN statements have never led to any real action either.
That leaves the United States as the only global power that can still sway al-Bashir. Despite the Trump administration’s mistaken decision to permanently lift sanctions against Sudan - following the Obama administration’s equally mistaken decision to temporarily do so in January 2017 - Washington can still wield significant influence.
The Sudanese government wants the country removed from the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. While the Sudanese government has not changed any of the behavior that got them on this list and thus are not likely to be removed, it means that Sudan will be particularly careful about any issue that captures U.S. attention.
Secondly, in the wake of a significant upswell over the past months in domestic protests due to massive inflation and rampant ongoing corruption, al-Bashir’s grip on power is loosening. Indeed, in recent weeks it has been reported that al-Bashir’s regime’s own officials are pushing for his ouster. If the current administration threatens this regime with the reinstatement of the U.S. sanctions that were lifted last year, it is no overstatement to say that al-Bashir will blink and listen to U.S. demands, including for the exoneration of Hussein.
Finally, Congress has a role to play in pressuring al-Bashir as well. The Sudanese government already has weak support in Congress. Al-Bashir is fully aware that losing that already tenuous support could quickly lead to a renewed state of animosity between Sudan and the U.S. The same members of Congress who supported the ill-advised decision to lift the sanctions have the moral responsibility to urge al-Bashir to pardon Hussein.
The current administration may not be swayed to act by human rights-related arguments. But by pressing for her pardon /sentence non-execution, President Trump also has an opportunity to demonstrate U.S. power in a region where Washington’s influence is perceived to be dwindling.
The cause of #JusticeForNoura enjoys unprecedented support from the people of Sudan, as well as the international community. With pressure from Washington, this woman can be saved from the death penalty. It won’t be complete justice for what she’s been through, nor a solution to the larger human rights abuses in Sudan, but it would be an important step in the right direction.
Mohamed Abubakr is a Sudanese human rights activist and President of the African Middle Eastern Leadership Project.
A passion for agriculture and its people drives Cedric Nwafor, a member of the Speakers Bureau of the African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL). Cedric grew up on the streets of Bamenda, Cameroon and immigrated to the U.S. in 2010, where he has become an activist and public speaker. He has organized, facilitated and spoken at various events throughout Africa and the United States and is a graduate of the University of Maryland-College Park, where he recently completed his Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and Resource Economics, with a focus on Entrepreneurship. Cedric was selected as the Student Commencement Speaker for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. A few days later, on May 25, 2018, he made his AMEL Speakers Bureau debut as the keynote speaker at the ADL's No Place for Hate recognition ceremony.
Cedric is a key leader in the Afrika Youth Movement, where he is a member of their “Power Team” and coordinator for five committees. He represented AMEL in Afrika Youth Movement’s 2nd Youth Empowerment Forum, which took place in Accra, Ghana. The forum brought together members from 14 countries across the continent. Cedric is also the founder of ROOTS Africa, a student-led organization that combats hunger and poverty by forging connections among students and agricultural experts across the U.S. and Africa. In March 2018, he brought a delegation of students to Liberia to formally launch the ROOTS Africa program on the ground.
To request Cedric as a speaker for your campus, community or event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
AMEL received the Making a Difference Award for "Extraordinary Leadership and Vision to Help Build a Safer and More Respectful Community" from the ADL at their No Place for Hate Recognition Ceremony! The ceremony brought together over 1,000 students from 153 K-12 schools across the greater New York City area. These students and schools were recognized because they completed the No Place For Hate anti-bias and anti-bullying program. By participating in the initiative, schools created a safer learning environment, promoted unity and respect, and ultimately reduced and brought awareness to the issues of bullying, name-calling, and expressions of bias.
Yesterday evening AMEL President Mohamed Abubakr was featured on a panel as part of the premier of National Geographic’s “The Muslim Next Door” hosted by the Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA).
Held at the Jack Morton Auditorium of George Washington University in Washington, DC, it was the first installment in the series AMERICA INSIDE OUT WITH KATIE COURIC. This new six-part docu-series for National Geographic brings Couric to dozens of cities across North America — from Freemont, Nebraska, to Montgomery, Alabama, to talk with hundreds of people to get an inside look at pressing social issues.
Following the screening, a panel of young leaders discussed their impressions and their reflections on being Muslim in America. Panelists included Sadaf Jaffer, a scholar focusing on Islamic, South Asian, and Asian American studies; Laurel Allen Hilbert, Founder and CEO of A Dignified Home Children and Youth Services; Donya Nasser, a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Truman Center for National Policy; Ahmed Flex Omar, Cofounder and Deputy Director of MALA; and Mohamed Abubkar, President of AMEL.
The first five speakers-in-training of the AMEL Speakers Bureau gathered for an interactive workshop during the past three days in New York. The culmination of two months of online speech-crafting and public speaking training, the workshop focused on the mechanics of public speaking, speech refinement and audience engagement. Closing the workshop on March 11/12th were first-look showcases of the Speakers for partners and supporters at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) headquarters in New York.
Originally coming from Cameroon, Iraq, Israel and Syria, the Speakers - Cedric Nwafor, Bnyad Sharef, Mor Yahalom and Ruwan Al-Rejoleh - are now based in the United States. Each with their own unique background and experiences, they all have inspirational stories of innovating and building bridges to fight hatred, poverty, discrimination and division. This first cohort of Speakers is part of a pilot program “My Voice, Our Future”, a joint campaign of the AMEL Speakers Bureau and the ADL New York Region to spread these inspiring voices across New York state and, subsequently, nationwide.
The My Voice, Our Future campaign leverages the stories of the AMEL Speakers to combat the rising tides of anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, other forms of hate in America, as well as to promote meaningful cross-community engagement and collaboration and to redefine to the American public what it means to be a person from the MEA region. Deployment of these incredible activists to campuses, houses of worship, and community centers and events across New York state are beginning in March 2018 and will continue through Fall 2018, with a particular focus on places with tense campus climate or spikes in hate incidents. Roll-out beyond the New York state area will take place in phases through 2019.
If you would like to request an AMEL Speaker, send us an email at email@example.com
Congratulations to Mohammed AL-Samawi, AMEL's Global Ambassador for Interfaith, Youth & Leadership, on his forthcoming book The Fox Hunt: A Refugee's Memoir of Coming to America, which will be published by HarperCollins on April 10th.
Born and raised as a practicing Muslim in Sana'a, Yemen, Mohammed's memoir recounts his personal transformation from a traditionalist to an interfaith activist and how he escaped the brutal civil war in Yemen with the help of a small group of Facebook friends, including several members of the AMEL team.
Reflecting about why he wrote the book, Mohammed notes: "I only hope this book inspires us to overcome our prejudices, see the humanity in each other, and deploy our capabilities to help others in need. Together, we will build the world in which we want to live."
The Speakers Bureau of the African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL) will provide public speaking training to young leaders of Middle Eastern and African origin who are living in the United States (temporarily or permanently). Once trained, the speakers will bring their stories of activism, bridge-building and hope to audiences across the U.S, sparking dialogue and positive action among diverse audiences.
The first campaign of the AMEL Speakers Bureau will be done in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League of New York and will focus on public events at college campuses and community centers across New York state. Preparation for these speaking engagements will be done through online training and a final 2-day in-person workshop in early March. Following the training, speakers will be deployed to events throughout New York state, which will take place between March and September 2018 and will address critical topics, for example combating anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, racism, and hatred; advancing women’s rights and LGBT rights; protecting minorities and marginalized groups; and promoting interfaith cooperation. With time, additional campaigns and events will be organized.
If you are interested in becoming an AMEL speaker, please fill out the application here or contact us if you have questions.
Applications for AMEL Speakers Bureau will be considered on an ongoing rolling basis, however the deadline to be considered for the first campaign is January 4, 2018.
You can now support the African Middle Eastern Leadership Project by shopping at AmazonSmile!
When you shop at https://smile.amazon.com, Amazon will donate a portion of purchases to the African Middle Eastern Leadership Project. So start supporting us today and every time you shop!
Simply follow these steps:
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On Monday December 18th the Anti-Defamation League's NextGen Outreach Network together with Peace December and the New York Peace Coalition will host a special event entitled "We Are The Change: How Young People Are Leading Movements for Civil Rights and Peace". The event will feature a colorful panel of civil society leaders, including AMEL Project President Mohamed Abubakr. Join us for this timely discussion about the power of youth and leadership, RSVP here.
In one week, on December 10, 2017, the world will mark 69 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was formally adopted at the United Nations. It is the most universal human rights document in existence, delineating the thirty fundamental rights that form the basis for a democratic society.
In honor of International Human Rights Day next week, AMEL is kicking off a social media campaign highlighting the first twenty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The full text of the Declaration can be found here:
"Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world...Click here to continue reading
Restoring Humanity to Humanitarian Aid
With the sheer scope of the global refugee crisis — the biggest the world has seen since World War II – it’s natural to quantify, homogenize and bureaucratize the issue. But when we do so, we lose the one thing that refugees need more than anything else: humanity.
Refugees need food, water and other basics to stay alive, but after enduring such danger, humanity is essential – and it does not cost a thing. Friendlier faces, processes and language might be the greatest investment any state can make, with greater impact than other projects that cost far more. Traumatized human beings who barely survived unspeakable horrors, who have lost everything they worked for and cared for and who were forced out of their homes need more than inflatable tents and food upon arrival in a foreign land.
They need more compassion than bureaucratic institutions offer, more tenderness than the border control and police officers show, and assurances that they can rebuild their interrupted lives. Instead, they are often greeted by the loud calls of populists who now rule much of the free world, who are compelled to close doors and shut borders.
As someone who has worked with displaced people seeking asylum from Africa and the Middle East, I have experienced how difficult and costly it is to help all those affected by conflict. However, if there is no humanity in humanitarian assistance, then the battle is lost from the start. The words of one refugee I worked with in my time in Germany – Mustafa – sum up the dehumanization of the asylum process perfectly:
I didn’t take so many risks on this journey for this kind of treatment. I endured feeling like livestock on the back of that truck only for the chance of feeling like a human being again. I don’t need Germany’s money or shelter, I just want my humanity to be acknowledged – I am a living, breathing person, not a number or a statistic. I’m heading home not because Syria is safer than how I left it, but because despite the fear, I felt more human there than I do now. I may or may not live for much longer after I go back, but at least I will feel human for as long as I will live. I just wish Germany will start treating those who are staying at least the way dogs are treated in Germany. That would be a major leap forward.
Mustafa filed for a retraction of his asylum application soon after and signed up to return to war-torn Syria. That’s the last I heard from him. The 24-year-old engineer, fluent in Arabic, English, Japanese and German, felt so dehumanized by the process that he preferred to take his chances with Assad and the Islamic State.
How can we re-inject humanity into humanitarian aid, and how will humanization actually help? First, we must recognize that humanizing responses to the refugee crisis can be part of the solution to the crisis itself. Among refugees worldwide are millions of doctors and lawyers, teachers and engineers, entrepreneurs and agriculturalists – every profession under the sun, ready and willing help both their fellow refugees and their newfound host communities. Instead of harnessing this extraordinary talent, it too often goes unknown – squandered in idleness or red tape. Allowing refugees to use their skills would benefit them and their host countries immensely.
Second, humanizing the response to refugees invites the population of host countries to participate directly. If we could pair small groups of refugees with individuals from host countries (perhaps using an app similar to popular dating apps), it would humanize the refugee experience while simultaneously building intercultural and interfaith understanding among citizens of host countries.
Finally, incoming refugees who feel welcomed, cared for and fully humanized are more likely to integrate quickly into their host countries. This type of integration would soothe tensions and encourage refugees to become productive, taxpaying citizens of their new society. Integrated refugees would not be a burden; instead, investing in refugees would reap dividends both immediately and into the future.
Nobody wants to leave their home and everything they know and hold dear. But if we recognize the humanity of each and every refugee, we can offer real help to those who need it most, while paving the way for a better future for all of us.
Mohamed Abubakr, of Washington, D.C., is a Sudanese human rights activist and peacemaker with over a decade of experience in the nonprofit sector.
Read the Op-ed on the Idaho Statesman here.
The national launch of The African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL) was held this evening in Washington, D.C. at the headquarters of Covington & Burling LLP. Featuring a keynote address by Amb. Dennis Ross and remarks by Sen. Mark Kirk, the launch was an overwhelming success with palpable energy and inspiration filling the room. Coming together around AMEL's mission to empower the region's young leaders to change the face of human rights, the event brought together more than 150 guests, including Members of Congress, diplomats, scholars, business leaders, lawyers, activists and journalists from all over the country as well as the Middle East and Africa.
"We aim to cultivate direct relationships between these [Middle Eastern and African] activists and Senators, Members of Congress, diplomats, scholars, and their American peers. Making sure that the voices of activists who are putting their lives on the line for human rights and liberal democratic values echo loud and clear in the halls of Capitol Hill, and all the way to the board rooms in Silicon Valley."
Mohamed Abubakr, President of AMEL
"You [AMEL] remind me what are the things that I consider to be important. And I hope that everyone who is here will recognize that you're looking at not only a special person, but you're looking at an interesting collection of younger people who've decided they are not going to settle; they are not going to accept. They are not going to wait for the world to change, they are going to change the world."
Amb. Dennis Ross, Counselor & William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Member of the AMEL Board of Advisors
"I told my staff that their job was to get one prisoner a year out of jail... When you think about somebody rotting in a Sudanese prison, a Bosnian prison or a Yemeni prison, getting that person out of jail in a way that reflects our innermost values and feelings about what it means to be a human being on this planet... Since we're in the middle of our [AMEL's] fundraising drive, how much would you pay to get one of your fellow human beings out of a total hell hole? A Lot. And I would say it is worth our time and our effort."
Sen. Mark Kirk, former Senator from Illinois and Member of the AMEL Board of Advisors
Op-ed article "Comprehensive dropping of sanctions against Sudan would be a terrible mistake" published by The Hill. Written by Richard Weir, a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council and a board member of The African Middle Eastern Leadership Project, and by Mohamed Abubakr, a Sudanese human rights activist and the President of The African Middle Eastern Leadership Project, the full article can be found here.
Bringing the perspective of a Sudanese civil society activist, AMEL President Mohamed Abubakr shared his story with the U.S. House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and Global Health on April 26, 2017. One of only four witnesses, he was called to testify to the Subcommittee’s "Questionable Case for Easing Sudan Sanctions" hearing alongside representatives from the US Institute of Peace, the Sentry (an initiative of the ENOUGH Project and Not On Our Watch) and the Sudan Relief Fund.
Mr. Abubakr provided a moving account to the Subcommittee co-Chaired by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), speaking from the heart about what drove him to become a human rights activist at the age of only fourteen and the impact of the US and the international community on the very civil society that holds the key to a more peaceful and democratic future for Sudan. Drawing upon his first-hand experience as a human rights activist for more than a decade in Darfur, Khartoum and throughout Sudan before moving to the U.S., Mr. Abubakr sought to bring attention to both the challenges and aspirations of young Sudanese activists seeking to make the country and the region more stable and peaceful.