It is with cautious optimism that the Swedish Institute Alexandria embarks on a new year and a rich program of activities.

The political situation in the Middle East and North Africa region is very troublesome with open conflicts, polarization, uncertain democratic steps and excessive violence. However there are also a few lights in the tunnel and these are guiding the institute in its upcoming activities.

The focus on youth and women continues during 2014 and is reflected in our first TV debate this year, discussing the “The youth today – their social and political role” It is imperative that youth feel that their voices are listen to, taken seriously and acted upon. Youth have high expectations, and it is the role of the decision-makers to meet them. Youth make up more than half of society in the Middle East and North Africa, and that quota is growing year by year. Without the inclusion of youth; a true democratic development in society will not take place. Youth is also facing challenges within the educational system and unemployment. The institute will consequently focus on providing space for youth to be heard, interact, and build capacity and network with each other and decision-makers in their society. Together with our partners we will continue the program, “Youth in Politics” and our national initiative Dardasha Masriya” (soon in Qena and Asyout). The institute will also develop the local program together with the Anna Lindh Foundation, Dardahsa Inskandarani that was initiated in 2011.  The third phase of the Alexandria Educational Convention presenting a guidebook on Education for Intercultural Citizenship in the Euro-Mediterranean will be held this spring in Alexandria.

Women’s participation in the development of society is another priority of the institute. It is evident that women’s awareness and will to participate in public life has increased since 2011 uprising. A new initiative this year is “Women in Economy” together with Wilton Park.  This program aims to identify the opportunities and constraints in women’s involvement in public and in private employment in the Middle East and North Africa. The seminar will also examine pathways to women’s economic empowerment and identify potential areas of co-operation between government and civil society. Our program in the governorates regarding Young women in Politics will continue in cooperation with Menofiya University. This year we will organize workshops in Upper Egypt.

Harassment and violence against women are global problems that need recognition from all segments of society. The latter has been reported as growing immensely in Egypt after the uprising in 2011. Therefore the institute together with partners will drive a nationwide Campaign against Harassment this spring. The key to counter this development is to involve young men in this work.

The recent rise of political Islam has raised issues of Women in Sharia and Islamic feminism. The institute will explore these areas and nurture a constructive dialogue based on international conventions and studies of feminism. The first seminar is planned spring in Alexandria and the second in autumn in Stockholm. Islamic feminism is also the proposed topic of this year’s debate in Almedalen in Sweden. Further the Almedalen (political week) concept is initiated to take place in Tunisia this year. The Tunisian experience is moreover important to highlight in the region and as an example for Arab Spring countries in several aspects. Experience sharing between the countries is crucial and the institute seeks to develop the cooperation with the Bibliotheca Alexandria and the Ahmed Tlili Foundation in Tunisia regarding The Role of Labour Movements in Democracies.

 Media is playing an important role in strengthening societies where its duty is to inform, educate and entertain the people. Media has a strong social and cultural impact upon society due to its inherent ability to reach large numbers of the public and being widely used to convey messages, build public opinion and advocate awareness. The institute sponsors the Alexandria Media Forum 2014 which will bring together the best key players in the community media scene in the Arab world for 3 days of high-level discussions, experience sharing and networking about community media issues.

Lost spaces is this year’s theme for our program together with Alexandria University(Faculty of Fine Arts), Gudran for Art and Development and Färgfabriken within the program New Urban Topologies Alexandria.

 Our cooperation with researchers in the Middle East-North Africa and Europe will continue during 2014. Our first research workshop will take place in Istanbul in February on the topic of “Religion, Law and Society”.

The institute will soon launch a new web platform that is more interactive in both English and Arabic. We hope that you will take part in our virtual dialogue and share your ideas of how we can bridge our two regions, (Europe and Middle East-North Africa) and foster a constructive development.

2014 is a year when all stakeholders in our two regions need to be determined and stand up for the values of human rights and democracy. It is with these common denominators we can take progressive steps forward.

We wish all of you a fruitful and successful year!

Cecilia Sternemo

Deputy Director