Finding Common Ground at the ACYPL Middle East Alumni Summit
The idea was born two years ago – ACYPL would host our first ever Alumni Summit in the Middle East, where we have been conducting exchanges for nearly 25 years. We could not have imagined then the recent political and human events that have transpired and transformed the region…events that framed our Summit, Looking Forward: Future Leadership in the Middle East.
On December 17, 54 ACYPL alumni from Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the US and 7 young American political and policy leaders gathered in Amman, Jordan to talk, listen, argue, laugh, eat, dance, and explore the future. We had the good fortune to learn from guest experts including Dalia Mogahed, director of Gallup Center for Middle East Studies; Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution Doha Center; and Peter Hessler, The New Yorker’s Middle East correspondent. Smaller, lively conversations on topics like US-Middle East policy, the power of social media to affect political change, the role of religion in modern politics, and women’s empowerment were led by ACYPL alumni and the amazing and delightful Raya Abu Gulal, who joined us from Abu Dhabi. Everyone came prepared to share their perspectives and insights. When there were differences of opinion and viewpoint (which there surely were), civility and even humor perservered.
As inspiring and thought-provoking as the substantive sessions were, it was the time spent together sharing meals and quiet personal moments that were the most meaningful. Seeing Jordanians and Israelis share a laugh, Americans listening intently to stories of the Egyptian revolution, or the entire group forming a conga dance line at dinner reminded me of the real and enduring power of our mission – connecting people, encouraging mutual understanding, and fostering friendship.
We listened and learned. We talked and talked and talked. We hiked Petra. We shared amazing meals. We stormed a curbside schwarma stand. We shared long bus rides. We even coined our own greeting, shaloha.
At the end of it all, there was a shared sense that our differences should not make us indifferent. We recognized that the Summit was a unique and valuable effort to bring us together, and that we owed it to each other to look ahead, to lean forward to the future.
— ACYPL CEO Linda Rotunno
Hiking Petra [photo courtesy of Cassidy Burton]