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​Leaders for Democracy Fellows arrive on Grounds

Center for Politics to host fellows for five weeks

<p>The fellows have participated in workshops and seminars, such as a briefing on U.S. politics by Center for Politics Director and Politics Prof. Larry Sabato Tuesday.&nbsp;</p>

The fellows have participated in workshops and seminars, such as a briefing on U.S. politics by Center for Politics Director and Politics Prof. Larry Sabato Tuesday. 

Twenty-three nonprofit, journalist and civic leaders from 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa arrived in Charlottesville Feb. 18 to participate in the Leaders for Democracy Fellowship. The University’s Center for Politics Global Perspectives on Democracy Program operates the fellowship in Charlottesville.

The goal of the fellowship — sponsored by the Department of State’s U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative — is to provide civic leaders with experience and practical skills they can use when they return to their home countries.

For five weeks the fellows participate in workshops and design a civic action plan for Charlottesville that will serve as a model for projects in their own communities. The fellows remain in Charlottesville until March 26, and after they go to Washington, D.C. to participate in internships for eight weeks.

The internships are coordinated by World Learning, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people, communities and institutions around the world. The fellows will be placed in organizations related to their interests.

Maram Suleiman, from Amman, Jordan, works for Oxfam and volunteers with the World Youth Alliance. She said her passion is working for youth and women’s rights, and she applied to the program to learn different advocacy strategies.

“I’m hoping to gain more tools to work with youth and gender, especially men’s enrollment in women’s rights projects,” Suleiman said. “ I’m hoping I will have some new ideas and initiatives that I can work on as a personal level and in my community with youth and the people in my network. Maybe our project will open more doors for grants or sponsors and donors.”

The fellows have participated in workshops and seminars, such as a briefing on U.S. politics by Center for Politics Director and Politics Prof. Larry Sabato Tuesday. The fellows also have the opportunity to tour the University and meet with University and Charlottesville advocacy groups.

“We also get a chance to meet with very good speakers from Charlottesville, like women in leadership positions,” Suleiman said.

While many of the fellows have different interests, Suleiman said she believes the program will provide each fellow with the knowledge and experience to better their communities.

“There’s exchange experience, there’s many experiences you can have, and it will open the doors for us to learn from each other, to network and to get the chance to gain more expertise from the State Department, World Learning and U.Va,” Suleiman said. “So I think it’s a very interesting opportunity for all of us, and it will open many doors.”

The fellowship will specifically benefit Suleiman’s work in Amman, as she applied to learn more about lobbying, advocacy and campaigning. She is interning with Youth Service America in Washington, D.C., where she will learn those specific skills.

“My work in Jordan for the rest of the year will be an advocacy campaign on my project, so it will be interesting for me,” Suleiman said.

Abdulrahman Elgheriani, a Libyan who recently earned his master’s degree in the United Kingdom, applied to the fellowship program to learn more about American politics.

“Since I studied in the UK, I’m familiar with the UK’s administrative model and Westminster model of politics,” Elgheriani said. “I was excited to learn about the American model of politics and administration — and to network.”

Elgheriani was recently appointed acting manager of a new government organization in Benghazi, Libya called the Elmresia Free Zone. He hopes to be able to implement what he learns as a fellow when he returns to Benghazi.

“I would love to apply as much as possible from what I’ve learned, but it would be quite difficult because of the context on the ground,” Elgheriani said. “However, it would be great if we can establish channels of communication.”

Libya was one of seven countries affected by President Donald Trump’s executive order signed on Jan. 27. Until the suspension of the executive order was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 9, Elgheriani was unsure he would able to attend the program.

Elgheriani said he was relieved when he learned the executive order was suspended.

“I was excited as much as when I applied to the program the first time,” Elgheriani said. “I knew from the beginning it was going to be a great opportunity to learn, network and sharpen my skills to hopefully better serve my country.”

The fellows are part of the 21st exchange group that the Politics Global Perspectives on Democracy Program has hosted at the University.