President Barack Obama delivers a policy address on events in the Middle East at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
In a little noted paragraph towards the end of President Obama’s speech on the Middle East, he highlighted how the events in that region trace an arc that should sound familiar to Americans: revolution against a dictator, conflict between different ethnic and religious groups, and the challenge of spreading rights to all citizens.
As we witness the convulsions in the MENA region (the Middle East and North Africa), we ought to recognize that it took the United States several centuries – from the revolution in 1776 to the Civil War in 1860 to the Civil Rights Acts of 1964-1965 – to fully confront challenges. But it’s not enough to be hopeful and patient. This is the time to be active partners.
It was the talents of people from Lincoln to King – elected officials, concerned citizens, entrepreneurial leaders – who stepped in and engaged the challenges that faced America.
It is in fact what any nation relies upon. As Obama said in his speech: “The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people.”
This is the logic behind Partners for a New Beginning (PNB), a collection of public-private partnerships committed to broadening and deepening engagement between the United States and Muslim communities abroad.
PNB is based on the fact that 1) the solutions during these moments of crises arise from the talents of people, and 2) in a globalized world, we have a stake in each other, whether there’s a crisis down the road or across the ocean. We all have a stake in overthrowing dictators, whether they’re English monarchs or Arab tyrants, building bridges between different communities rather than barriers, and ensuring all people are fully enfranchised citizens.
What is developing in the Middle East and North Africa right now is driven by local leaders – many of them young – who know that the only way to advance freedom, dignity, and opportunity is to build something better, together. Just as young people here pushed for universal values and built bridges of cooperation between different communities, so too are the leaders of the new Middle East. Martin Luther King was 26 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Wael Ghonim was 30 when he became the face of the revolution in Egypt.
This presents great opportunities for partnership, which is precisely why we are eagerly anticipating the PNB summit two weeks from now when global partners will gather to discuss the concrete initiatives underway and identify next steps to advancing them.
There’s an entire generation in the Middle East and North Africa ready to build bridges between divides – between Sunni’s and Shia’s, women and men; between ideals and reality, history and the future.
We need to be ready to partner with them.