The Arab Spring and a new era

May 6, 2011

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    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

The death of Osama bin Laden continues to dominate the news in the U.S., yet here in Amman, Jordan — where I've spent the last few days at a regional meeting for Mercy Corps' Middle East and North Africa programs — I've seen that the Arab Spring, not bin Laden, is still strikingly at the forefront of our team members' minds. The energy of this gathering, particularly from our younger team members, has led me to hope that the death of bin Laden is just part of the end of an era in the Middle East, and that the Arab Spring will replace that old story of terrorism and intolerance for a new one of fresh and courageous aspirations for democracy and peace.

Libya remains at the center of our attention, as the conflict continues and humanitarian needs escalate. Our team has made multiple trips from Benghazi to Misrata to help facilitate with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) the evacuation of thousands of foreign nationals, deliver food assistance, survey civilian conditions, and lead coordination efforts among other groups. We've just wrapped up our fourth visit to Misrata after conducting several rounds of humanitarian assessments.

Our team reports that critical supplies including food, medical and basic hygiene items are dwindling and limited amounts of aid are arriving in the midst of continued fighting, with no clear or protected humanitarian corridor. There is an urgent need for increased medical staff and supplies to treat extensive civilian casualties. Most foreign nationals have been evacuated and the city’s remaining residents are in dire need of assistance. The Mercy Corps team will return to Misrata shortly to continue its humanitarian efforts and determine what more we can do there.

Mercy Corps doesn't have a political agenda in the Middle East, North Africa or any of the other regions we work in around the world. But we do have strong values. We believe — to borrow from Martin Luther King, Jr. — that the arc of history is long, but that it bends toward justice. We also believe that courageous, inspired individuals and local actions can accelerate the timing of this arc. Our work is to help equip and empower the people taking those actions.

Our team members, who have been working alongside communities in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza, and are now starting up activities in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, recognize that we need to create jobs in order to meet the aspirations of the Arab Spring. The priority agenda item, next to civil liberties, is getting unemployed youth the economic opportunities they need. This will be a key focus of Mercy Corps' programs — particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, Egypt, Syria and Yemen — in the months to come.