Mohsin Mohi-Ud Din (MIA ’12) was selected as a 2012 United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Fellow. He joined twelve fellows from the United States and Europe in touring the Middle East from April 2nd to April 14th, visiting various cities in Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The UNAOC was a 2005 initiative of then Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the governments of Spain and Turkey. The program was established to enhance dialogue between the West and the Muslim world, especially after 9/11 and subsequent events. Under that banner, UNAOC has a fellowship program, whereby young leaders from Europe and North America are chosen to travel to the Middle East each year, and vice versa.
Mohi-Ud Din is one of four Americans in the 2012 fellows group. Others from the United States and Europe who travelled with him include a former White House fellow who worked with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, lawyers, lobbyists, a Professor of economics from Sciences Po, journalists, entrepreneurs and leaders of civil society.
“It was really gratifying and humbling to be in that diverse group of leaders in their field,” said Mohi-Ud Din.
“My role in going there, especially as a member of the Muslim community in the United States, was to really touch on how the Arab Spring is affecting things, and how U.S. policies and Islamophobia are affecting things,” he added. “Islamophobia was a great concern, wherever we went.”
The UNAOC fellows spent 4-5 days in each country meeting with government officials, civil society leaders, youth activists, and presidents of universities, among others. Their travels began in Morocco.
Mohi-Ud Din inside the Moroccan Parliament, where the fellows met with several members.
“The three best meetings in Morocco were with members of parliament and especially three female members of parliament from the opposition, which was very insightful,” said Mohi-Ud Din.
Next, the UNAOC fellows travelled to Jordan, where they were hosted by the Ministry for Political Development and had the opportunity to meet with the Speaker of Parliament.
The UNAOC fellows meet with the Speaker of Parliament in Jordan.
In Saudi Arabia, the fellows were hosted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as with alums of the UNAOC fellowship.
“Saudi Arabia was probably my favorite part of the trip,” said Mohi-Ud Din. “Because, first, it’s hard to get in the country. And second, I had many preconceptions of oppression there. My preconceptions about Saudi Arabia were shattered. I found pockets of innovation, women empowerment and activism that I never thought I would see in a place like that… It’s very empowering. They want to change the status quo.”
They also met with one of the chief architects and philosophers in the country, Dr. Sami Angawi.
Mohi-Ud Din (right) with Dr. Angawi.
“He connected architecture to how we should see international affairs. He said, in life, there are constants and variables. And right now, there’s an imbalance to those forces. The key is a third player, which is us, that we need to be a balancing force,” said Mohi-Ud Din.
“He also talked about how he designed his house to accommodate for winds from the north and winds from the south, so there’s a constant breeze—in a place like Saudi Arabia where it is always so hot! That was really symbolic to me, for why we were on the trip.”
The twelve Middle Eastern fellows will be travelling to the United States soon, where they will meet their Western counterparts. Mohi-Ud Din said that they were planning to develop a network and possibly create a conference to present conclusions from their travels and strategize recommendations on how to move forward.
“Once you’re in the Alliance of Civilizations, it’s a lifelong membership. You’re constantly thinking of ways to promote dialogue,” he said.
He was first encouraged to apply to the program because of his time as a Fulbright scholar in Morocco, where he created an arts diplomacy initiative geared towards youth empowerment, particularly disadvantaged Muslim youth. The program was implemented in three orphanages in the country, and last year, Mohi-Ud Din travelled to Kashmir to implement the program in a fourth orphanage there.
Before coming to SIPA, Mohi-Ud Din had been working on human rights in Kashmir, where his family is from, since 2003. He first did independent investigations of human rights absues in the region, which he started writing about on The Huffington Post. This work lead to internships with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and a job at Human Rights First in the Crimes Against Humanity division.
His blog on The Huffington Post has since expanded to various other topics, such as on U.S. Muslim relations.
“My next series on the column will be about the fellowship,” he said.
- Michelle Chahine