My name is Esra’a Al Shafei and I’m a 23 year old digital activist from Bahrain. In the next few weeks, I hope to contirbute my opinions on One Young World on WHYS. Needless to say I am very excited about this opportunity.
So here’s a little about me: Moved as a young child by the disrespectful and inhumane treatment of immigrant workers that I witnessed, I kept in my heart a deep sense of outrage and injustice. I was increasingly frustrated in my early college years by the one-dimensional portrayal throughout media of Middle Eastern youth – a portrayal virtually unanswered because of censorship and state control of media in the region. I took to my keyboard to answer with my own voice, to show not only the diversity of ethnicities, religions, and cultures in the region, but also the diversity of political opinion, fervor and hopes.
I was joined over time by a growing number of similar voices, declaring in unison that we are Muslim and moderate, idealistic and hopeful, Jewish and peaceful; we are Christians, Baha’is, Sunnis and Shias; Persians and Arabs; Turks, Berbers and Kurds.
This became the concept behind MideastYouth.com, the network I founded in May, 2006, with the mission to provide young people with the freedom and opportunity of expression, and promote a fierce but respectful dialogue among the highly diverse youth of all backgrounds. We use this freedom to create social change and to prove that the collaboration necessary for stability is possible. We risk our safety to do what we do because we believe that liberty and our right of free expression are worth fighting for.
In 2007, Mideast Youth actively expanded its online presence and now operates a series of initiatives and campaigns that target the human rights of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as the rights of migrant workers in the Middle East. I do what I do because I want the next generation to grow up in a society where everyone’s human rights are respected, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity. I know that such a future is possible, but only if we work hard enough today.