Reflections from Across Borders 2012

Coming from a country where the popular sentiment on the street is very anti-Israeli, I walked into this course with much skepticism and doubt. I felt like we’d be tiptoeing […]

Coming from a country where the popular sentiment on the street is very anti-Israeli, I walked into this
course with much skepticism and doubt. I felt like we’d be tiptoeing around the issue, and never fully
confronting the problem head on. The truth is we’re coming to discuss water issues, not the Arab-Israeli
conflict, but in a region so politically oriented and so sensitized, the water issue goes hand-in-hand with
the political climate and hence to resolve one you must attempt to understand the other. When I first
expressed my desire during the course to not ignore the elephant in the room, and to discuss it openly
in a diplomatic forum, I was immediately condemned by most of my Arab colleagues for wanting to stir
up trouble and open Pandora’s proverbial box. It was as if everyone had chosen to ignore the conflict
to make it easier to go on with their lives. I was stunned and slightly angered by their apathy, but later
realized a very important point. Most of my Arab colleagues have been dialoguing with the “other” their
whole lives due to their proximity, policies, and daily interactions, and on some level were quite sick of
the same rhetoric being used over and over. Whereas I come from a state where there is absolutely no
knowledge, no interaction, and of course absolutely no dialogue with the “other”. This has essentially
made it a lot easier to demonize them without fully understanding the underlying complexities of the
issue.

Across Borders allowed the platform to exist in a neutral climate where words can be expressed freely.
We spent the entire first week of the course being trained on conflict resolution tools and how to
diplomatically “dialogue” with the other to create an environment of understanding. Being able to have
these conversations with my colleagues to better understand their viewpoint has been very valuable
in being able to unravel questions that have often plagued me towards the conflict. In truth, I may
have returned with more questions than when I went, because once you begin to unravel the larger
questions, you become confronted with the many layers and depths of the conflict that aren’t always
apparent. In truth, I feel that with our many identities and interests we’ve lost the very basic innate
quality of our existence, our humanity. Irrespective of borders, religions, identities, and ideologies,
our humanity needs to prevail in today’s modern world. This concept has been lost amongst many and
challenged with our own personal interests, but the truth is our existence is dependent on one another,
and the vast array of colors that form our diversity is what makes us ever so richer.

At first learning about the Chesapeake Bay felt like a distraction towards the other conversations I
really wanted to have on the Middle East, but quickly realized how learning and understanding the
complexities of the Bay actually unveiled a whole new perspective in managing water resources and
whether or not that can be applied domestically in my own context. Being able to view the water body
from the perspective of the NGOs, Government, civil society, and local authority demonstrated how
the ecosystem services will differ for each entity based on their priority and their own agendas. Looking
holistically, however, at the water body as an outside observer enabled me to view the mechanisms by
which you can engage and encourage another party to take an interest in specific issues for win-win
mutual benefits of all parties and the benefit of the water body as a whole. Sometimes it requires us to
take a step back to see the bigger picture of all stakeholders and relevant parties to understand how
best to engage them all collectively.

Building upon this, I’ve come home to a region that is screaming of water scarcity, and is on the brink
of water wars. The hydrological dynamics differ considerably in these two regions, but the principle
of stakeholder engagement at all levels can be applied globally. In many of the water bodies in the
Middle East, the civil society voice is unheard and most often ignored. With the Arab Spring, and the
peoples empowerment on all fronts has created a new dynamic by which civil society is demanding
to be engaged at all levels. This opportunity needs to be seized in order to strengthen the institutions
that manage these water bodies. Across Borders course has given me the opportunity to not only
understand how all the stakeholders play a part in this ecosystem, but also demonstrated the power
that civil society can have in its protection and conservation. The magnitude of such power however is
within our own hands.

Sincerely,

An Egyptian Enthusiast