March 2014

March 2014 Bulletin
In this issue:
In Memorium: Ali Mustafa

“After following the war in Syria very closely for the past two years, I felt it was important to go there to cover the war firsthand … I could not ignore this ongoing human tragedy.”

From beyond the margins (Facebook page), From beyond the margins (blog)

CAI Partners with the Ontario Science Centre

"Back in the glory days of the Arabs …"

How many times have you heard this statement and wondered what your parents, grandparents, and history books meant? Well, now is your chance to see a replication of the Golden Age of Islamic Science at The Ontario Science Centre. Along with its community partner, the Canadian Arab Institute, the Centre is featuring an exhibit which presents an enhanced version of the popular Sultans of Science: 1000 Years of Knowledge Rediscovered. 

Meet Al-Jazari’s genius in a four-metre replica of his Musical Boat, featuring a mechanical ‘robot band’ with dancing musicians, as well as many other fascinating items. The exhibit will invite you to unveil other interactive displays on inventions, innovations and discoveries covering a broad spectrum of topics such as astronomy, mathematics, medicine and optics, to name a few, all of which were well ahead of their time. You will enrich your mind and be filled with wonder as you walk through the exhibition.
After your stimulating time travel, stop by the centre’s IMAX theatre and brace yourself for a unique interspatial journey. The Helen of the Middle East, Jerusalem and its alleyways, is brought to you by National Geographic as you step into the marketplace and smell its spices, meet its people, and take in the wonders of the sacred city.
The exhibit will run from March 7 to June 7, 2014. For screening times, exhibit tickets and more details, please visit

CAI's Canadian Arab to Watch

Our Canadian Arab to Watch initiative is going strong, launched in December 2013 to highlight the wealth of leadership, innovation and contributions within our community. For more details about the program, past honourees and for nominations forms, please go here.

Dalal Al-Waheidi: Raising eyebrows, donations, and a generation of engaged youth

When she started at Free the Children as an intern just out of university, it was a small nonprofit with 12 full-time staff. Today, the organization and its We Day events feature prominently in the media, attracting thousands of students and prominent speakers and stars. It boasts a network of engaged youth; it raises millions in donations; and Oprah Winfrey is a big fan. Amazingly, this growth has much to do with the drive and leadership of 35-year-old Dalal Al-Waheidi.
Dalal has always been a little unconventional. As a young student in the conservative Gaza Strip, she spoke out against the lack of extracurricular opportunities for young women. In fact, it was a speech she gave about that gap, in her strong English (which she credits with dutiful TV-watching), that first attracted the attention of a visiting Norwegian minister. Impressed, he spoke to the Palestinian education minister about the possibility of Dalal attending the Red Cross Nordic United World College, a unique IB school that draws students from all over the world.
Boarding school. Co-ed. In Norway. No parental supervision!
Needless to say, the decision was not an easy one but she credits her family with being somewhat unconventional themselves. Despite what the community would say, she says her parents saw her palpable, jumping-up-and-down excitement and gave their blessing.
“They always wanted us to try things, even if for one time, so at least you can say you’ve done it…. It gives you experiences.”
That was the start of Dalal’s independent life, but it would not be the end. After boarding school, she got a full scholarship to attend Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., where she studied international development and political science. Toward her studies, she spent nine months in Ecuador working with indigenous street children.
Soon after graduating, Dalal interned at Free the Children, the organization famous for its 12-year-old founder, Craig Kielburger. The nonprofit’s holistic approach, domestic engagement, and youth empowerment resonated with Dalal’s own ambitions and values.
Not long after that Dalal became Free the Children’s Executive Director, and it was at that juncture that she decided to move back to Gaza temporarily. She laments that in the 12 years before, she probably saw her family for the equivalent of a year or less. Not able to keep still, and despite officially resigning from her job, she started up FtC’s first girls’ education and empowerment program in the MENA region while there. One can almost hear her responding to her younger change-seeking self.
Despite having been away for so many years, Dalal is still very much connected to her Arab identity, and credits her unique background for her drive. She witnessed war in Kuwait, where her family lived before moving to Gaza, and also experienced the Intifada and atrocities against her people which affected her deeply. “You learn you have to do it on your own. As a Palestinian, there’s not always solidarity from other Arab countries.” Her determination, her tenacity and independence, she says, have much to do with those difficult experiences.
She also feels passionately about being a woman in her field, suggesting that women bring something different to the table. “It’s not about being caring, loving … we read situations quickly and adapt very fast.” Women are often great networkers and are socially intelligent, she says. While it’s both a blessing and a curse, she proposes that women often have a harder time setting boundaries, which also means they end up pouring more of themselves into their work.
Despite all her success – she is currently Executive Director for Global We Day (Free the Children); was honoured with Trent’s Distinguished Alumni Award; and has been named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women (“future leaders” category) – Dalal is still on the move. She thinks about one day leading her own Middle-East-based foundation whose core mission is to integrate community service with education for young people. “We start talking about leadership too late in the game; it should start at the primary, middle level.”  She touts the “staggering” positive impact of service learning on the community, citing data that shows changing social attitudes, better connections within families, and greater civic engagement, all of which she has witnessed first-hand.
And ultimately, her goal?
“To raise a generation of young people we want to see in the world.… I think we’re focusing more on the challenges and we’re missing the opportunities.”
Spoken like a true leader!

'Age-Old' Conflict, Reconsidered

In a full room at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto, Prof. Ussama Makdisi laid out the problem of taking the historical record at face value when analysing the problem of sectarianism in the Arab world. The second lecture in the series, Perspectives on a Changing Middle East, presented by the Bill Graham Centre and the Canadian Arab Institute, explored “The Emergence of Sectarianism as a Modern Historical Problem."  Makdisi talked about wars, Western perspectives of Eastern problems, empires past and present, diversity versus equality, as well as the reconstruction of reality through a closer and more nuanced examination of history.
“Sectarian affiliations are overplayed in the understanding of the Middle East,” stated Makdisi before he proceeded to explain the myth of perpetual co-existence paralleled by the myth of perpetual strife that are often used to characterize the Middle East. These are myths that have been produced and are being reproduced by Western historians, rendering the Middle East as a region that is either idolized or demonized, and that allows for no middle ground.
He explained that sectarianism was part of the nationalism and citizenship that amalgamated in the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and the Ottoman Empire alike. Sectarianism started to appear after the re-ordering of the Ottoman Empire, and not necessarily at the onset of Islam or the genesis of human life in the Middle East. In order to re-examine that prejudice, Makdisi suggested we study historic conflict through the following prism: was this event a systemic or an episodic one? Had it been done before or was it a one-timer that was hyperbolized to complement the Western myth of perpetual strife?
He emphasized the idea that history is both created by and contingent upon the era in which it’s written, a way of thinking that can be reproduced just as it had been initially produced. If studied well, history can be employed to better reflect on the present. If studied well, it can prove to be open to new interpretations and not carved in stone. It can be deconstructed and used to debunk outdated ideas. “Sectarianism is always a work in progress, not a natural, obvious state,” Makdisi concluded.
Sectarianism, then, is as much invented as it is real, an invention that without the collective agreement of history books may not have existed in the first place. For history books and newspapers can both document and invent historic trends. They can claim a people sectarian and laud another as tolerant. Thus, Makdisi paid homage to the critique of those history books and challenged the discourse typically used to paint the Levant.

UofMosaic Intra-Arab Dialogue Series: Challenges of Democracy and Sectarian Divides

The Mosaic Institute and the Canadian Arab Institute on Feb. 12 presented former Canadian ambassador to Egypt, Ferry de Kerckhove, who explored the social, political and economic conditions of Egypt that influenced the Jan. 2011 revolution. As a live witness to the uprising, he highlighted that it seemed to happen in waves, the first led by youth and the aspiring middle class, while the second wave was influenced by the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

He drew correlations between Tunisia and Egypt and said Tunisia may be on a more foreseeable path to democracy due to increased foreign direct investment and higher literacy rates.

De Kerckhove’s discussion generated many questions for reflection: Is Egypt on the path to democracy? Is Arab nationalism a myth? How did the recent developments in Egypt affect the Egyptian diaspora in Canada? How do current events impact Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East?

Another session on Feb. 25 concentrated on the rise of sectarian tensions in Syria and its implications on regional co-operation, security and peace. Speakers Dr. Paul Kingston and Afra Jalabi spoke about historical trends in the region and explored the origins of sectarian divides and how they become imported into the social and political affairs in Syria. The speakers also evaluated the current Geneva talk progress and the role of the international community.

Upcoming CAI Events


March 12: The Arab Spring: Women & Peace Building. Session 4 in Intra-Arab Dialogue Series for Young Canadians co-presented with The Mosaic Institute. 
Details: 285 Victoria St., Rm. 302, Ryerson University, 1-2:30 p.m.

March 24: Governance in Transition across the Arab World, co-presented with Rotman School of Management. Raed Charafeddine is First Vice-Governor, Banque du Liban, and an international lecturer on the current challenges of the Arab transitions particularly on the economic, financial, social and cultural aspects.
Details: Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, March 24, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
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