It’s an exciting time to be in Cairo. Since my arrival, Egypt successfully held presidential elections, placing the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, in the presidency. It was the first free and fair election of a chief executive in Egypt’s history, and the jubilation that a candidate, any candidate, won by popular vote was palpable in the air. The democratic transition is still very new, and there is still so much uncertainty over the country’s future, the stagnating economy, the role of Islam in Egypt’s politics. But people are optimistic: a taxi driver told me that Morsi will make things better—and if he doesn’t, they’ll just vote him out of power in four years.
I’m spending the summer as an intern with the United Nations Development Programme Regional Centre in Cairo. The office works with the 17 countries in the Arab region, from Morocco to Yemen and from Somalia to Iraq, plus the Palestinian Territory. Earlier this year, the Centre launched the 2011 Arab Development Challenges Report, a multi-disciplinary report that argues for a new path to development in the Arab region, based on a new social contract with states that are accountable and responsive to the needs and aspirations of their citizens. The report is a response to the Arab Spring and an attempt to positively influence the direction of the region’s young democratic transitions. My main responsibility at the beginning of the summer was to revise, edit, and help promote this new report. In addition to this, I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of different areas, and I was able to take on a couple of different projects.
Earlier in the summer, I worked with the Gender Practice to draft a new Gender Strategy for the Arab Region for 2012-2015, with an eye to incorporating elements of the Arab Development Challenges Report, including its emphasis on the new Arab social contract and changes in the region post-Arab Spring. I also authored a section of a paper on the current economic situation in Syria. My section was specifically about the effect of the international sanctions regime on Syria’s economy.
The project I’m most excited about is a report on political Islam in the Arab region. The report is meant to be a primer for UNDP country offices to explain the basic tenets and various interpretations of Islam in politics, since it seems that so few people have a good grasp on what it means to apply Islam and Sharia law to modern governance (including me, before doing this research). The goal is to understand how UNDP can work towards achieving its human rights and governance goals within an Islamic system. The report is not quite finished, but it’s going well and I think it will be very informative.
So far, this has been a great opportunity to gain experience in a number of different focus areas related to development in the Arab region. I’m really looking forward to finishing this report and seeing it released into the world. I think it could really make a difference in how people respond to the growing influence of Islam in the Arab region. Insha’allah! (Hopefully!)