MEM Summer Summit 2021 - the future of the Middle East: perspectives of the young

Institutional Communication Service

27 August 2021

A platform dedicated to young women and men from the Middle Eastern and North African region to share and exchange new ideas. This is the Middle East Mediterranean Summer Summit (MEM), an event organised by Università della Svizzera Italiana with the support of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), which was held in Lugano from 21 to 28 August 2021. This fourth edition saw the actual participation of 30 young change-makers from the region. We present here a series of interviews with four of them, realised by the FDFA.

Fatima from Morocco, Amin from Iran, Myssa from Oman and Zakaria from Syria join about 30 other peers in Lugano and another hundred online from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to become part of the group of young change-makers. They are central figures at the fourth MEM Summer Summit, where exchanging ideas, projects, and initiatives is the watchword.

The vision and ideas of this young generation are also the reason why Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, gives such importance to the MEM Summer Summit. Cassis met with the young change-makers together with Omani Minister of Foreign Affairs Sayyid Badr Al Busaidi. Speaking at the event, he reaffirmed the potential of the younger generation: “In the MENA region, about 45% of the population is under 25. To me, that rhymes with new beginnings and optimism. During my trip to Oman last spring, I had the opportunity to meet several motivated young men and women, and I was very impressed by their inspiring ideas”.

Supporting young people in the MENA region is a priority for Switzerland, which is also reflected in the MENA Strategy adopted by the Federal Council in 2020. Peace, security, sustainable development and digitalisation are among the central fields of action. Priorities that are also reflected in the words of the young people interviewed.

“Young people understand the power of collaboration beyond small communities”

In Morocco, Fatima Zahra works on projects concerning the inclusion of youth in the processes of policy-making. It is precisely among her peers that she identifies great potential. “Young people understand the power of collaboration beyond small communities; therefore, they are seizing collaboration opportunities with their peers across different regions”, says Fatima Zahra.

Education, innovation and new technologies are key issues in the Swiss strategy for the MENA region, including Morocco. As a trained engineer, Fatima has seen the growth in recent years of innovative youth-led initiatives focusing on advancing formal and informal education using new technology. “To boost the impact of these initiatives, exchange and collaboration stream with other countries in the region have been opened to connect and join forces”, Fatima Zahra explains.

“I am driven by the passion for solving global challenges in food systems”

Amin works as a technical consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. What drives him? Solving global challenges and complexities in food systems. He took part in the Swiss project “Bites of Transfoodmation”, launched by the Swiss permanent mission to the UN in Rome, the Swiss embassy in Italy, the Istituto Svizzero, the Università della Svizzera italiana, and Presence Switzerland.

This project seeks to encourage debate amongst young people on how the transition to sustainable and crisis-resilient food systems for everyone can be achieved. “We have managed to produce a manifesto projecting our collective commitments to the future of sustainable food systems”, explains Amin. “I believe we can transform the future of food systems at the political, social and most importantly at individual levels effectively with such collaborations”, he concludes.

“Young people can bring about change through the power of knowledge”

Myssa works in communications and social media and has just set up her own business in this field. Communication and knowledge sharing play a key role for her: “I believe in the power of knowledge. Young people, coming from different sectors of work, can enable change by sharing knowledge and working hard together”.

Switzerland and Oman work together closely in mediation and peacebuilding. Myssa underlines that there can be no change in the MENA region without stability. “The stability of Oman allows the people to be more united and more able to focus on developing and strengthening expertise in the areas that contribute to the country’s growth and of its people”.

“Civil society plays a central role in rebuilding trust between Syrians as well as with their MEM neighbours”

Zakaria is a researcher at the European University Institute’s School of Transnational Governance and a trainee at the European Parliament’s Secretariat of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He strongly believes in the role of young people to enable change and stability in the MEM region. The Summit in Lugano confirmed his point of view. “Stability comes from understanding, but understanding requires carrying out a difficult conversation in a safe environment”, he affirms. Encouraging freedom of movement in the MEM region and promoting large-scale academic and cultural exchanges are, according to Zakaria, examples of how it is possible to create virtuous cycles that lead to change.

Switzerland supports the Syrian peace process in Geneva and ensures that civil society is involved. “I believe that we should learn from Europe’s post-war experience in rebuilding both society and the country. Significant investments in civil society are required to rebuild trust between Syrians as well as with their MEM neighbours, which can lead to economic interdependence and ensure political stability”, adds Zakaria. In his opinion, cooperation in renewable energy at the regional level and encouraging regional trade can be a starting point for regional stability.

The MEM Forum, featuring among others Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis and Oman's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood Al Busaidi, is available online on the dedicated website www.mem-summersummit.ch.

Attached please find some articles on this fourth MEM, which appeared in the media, together with interviews with Ignazio Cassis, Federal Councillor, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Gilles Kepel, Professor at USI and École Normale Supérieure in Paris.