Bridging the gap between Europe and the Middle East

Just one year ago I was one of the millions of Europeans that had no idea about the Arab world. I had

Delegates from Qatar, Poland and Iraq in front of Bibliotheca Alexandrina

these negative pictures in my head and was thinking in stereotypes. Then one day Shift – Euro-Arab Youth Initiative established a partnership with the European Students Forum AEGEE-Kraków and I became the coordinator of the second stage of the EuroArab – Media & Culture Project, which was an exchange programme. Before making this decision I had a lot of doubts, as I had little knowledge about the Arab culture and I already had a certain way of thinking. But then I said to myself: “Hey, isn’t this the perfect opportunity to verify everything I had learned from the media until now?”. And so I started to work on the project with Shift.

First steps in having an intercultural dialogue

We had regular Skype meetings in which we planned, discussed, exchanged ideas and best practices – we learned a lot from each other. During the dramatic events that took place in Egypt in November 2011, I was in direct contact with Karim Gaber, the president of Shift, every single day, and I was updated about the current situation. I heard tragic stories about human rights being violated on a daily basis on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities. I watched videos posted on YouTube where I could see how the youth was fighting for their country and they inspired me greatly.

When the Egyptians finally came to Poland for the exchange programme, my team and I had the opportunity to learn more about the Egyptian revolution, about the problems that young people are now facing, but also about their dreams. I realized that the Arabs were so similar to the Europeans in so many ways. I understood that all those negative pictures I had in my head were nonsense and that we could truly become friends. This intercultural dialogue was continued afterwards on social media platforms and via Skype.

The EuroArab Youth Forum

When I heard Karim’s idea of having a EuroArab Youth Forum in Alexandria, I thought that this could be a fantastic start in creating strong foundations for building real Euro-Arab relations. I supported the idea from the very beginning, and so eventually AEGEE-Kraków became the official partner for this event that took place in Alexandria (Egypt) in the beginning of May. There are not many Euro-Arab initiatives in the world, so this event was unique and I had the feeling we might be making history. During the Forum we discussed various issues connected to sustainable development in both regions and were looking for implementable solutions. The participants got the opportunity to do some networking and already there are some plans for establishing different projects together. Not only AEGEE-Kraków participated in the Forum – delegates from AEGEE-Durham, AEGEE-Rodos and AEGEE-Tilburg were present too. Meeting all the people involved in the Forum, whether it was the participants, organizers or even the local people that approached us, was so inspiring and heartwarming. Thanks to the interaction, we were able to leave a positive impact on the local society and hopefully we have activated young Egyptians to join or even create similar initiatives. Egypt needs an active and wise society now,

Egyptian media was present during the Closing Ceremony

especially with the political transition going on. The youth plays a huge role in shaping the future of the country and the actions they take today will affect it. The cooperation between youth from Europe and the Arab world might not be on the high political level, but our will to cooperate comes purely from our hearts and that is what makes it so special and true. AEGEE-Kraków is already working on another project with Shift, more information is yet to come.

The Egyptian Revolution

During my stay in Egypt I saw with my own eyes that the revolution was continuing. There were some demonstrations going on (even in front of Bibliotheca Alexandrina, in which we had our workshops; or in front of a police station, while we were visiting the pyramids in Giza). You might think that the youth has no say in politics – but the Egyptians (of my age!) proved that they do have a say and that they really can make a difference! Their determination and courage was simply impressive! Walking around the center of Cairo, specifically Tahrir Square, where the Revolution had begun, I felt as if I was witnessing history – indeed I was. I saw burnt buildings (including the former headquaters of

Press Conference at the end of the Forum

Mubarak’s political party) and beautiful street art, painted by young people, who wanted to tell the world the truth about what was and still is going on in Egypt. Everywhere around I spotted posters of candidates running for President. The first democratic elections, after the fall of the regime, are about to begin and so the world, along with me, will be watching the post-election events. Hopefully we will witness the rise of a new democratic country. Egypt still has a long way to go, but with the new generation –  the revolutionaries – I believe it will become a country of justice, where human rights are respected and where everybody can live a worthy life.

To be continued…

The EuroArab experience has made such an impact on me, gave me new precious friends and fresh inspiration, which makes me want to come back to Egypt once more and take more action. I believe that together we are able to achieve big things.  The adventure has just begun…

If you are interested to know more about the Euro-Arab initiatives visit:


Written by Sandra Oborska, AEGEE-Kraków