Breaking the cycle of inequality in the MENA region through cultural approach

Culture brings young people together to construct personal and cultural identities, providing voice and contributing to resilience

This session will explore the power of communicative processes – especially when combined with culture – to enable individuals and groups to construct personal and cultural identities, to provide a platform for a more diverse range of voices to be heard, to build capability of people with influence, and for marginalised groups to work together to solve problems. Speakers will draw on their personal experiences and the evidence from evaluation and research generated by three European Commission-supported programmes, and will consider the implications of this evidence for development strategy and programming. Two activist rappers will showcase their work that focuses on youth inclusion across communities in Iraq and on current affairs such as the Basra water crisis or youth unemployment.

Key points

  • Culture, including music, digital platforms and social media, can give voice to disadvantaged youngsters

  • The EU-funded Aswat Faeela project gives young people a safe space to interact together

  • Experience shows there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a myriad of problems

  • The next step is to build bridges with other participants from the MENA region


Culture and communication tools such as Facebook can help bridge the gap in Middle East and North African countries between those with influence and marginalised groups. One notable European Commission-supported programme provides evidence of what can be achieved. The Aswat Faeela project is led by the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. It is implemented via two consortium partners - International Alert and Search for Common Ground. Aswat Faeela (translated as Active Voices) encourages young people to work in their communities to find solutions to issues that may challenge them on a daily basis. It aims to supply them with opportunities to be heard on topics such as conflict transformation and ‘community resilience.’ There are many inspirational stories about how Aswat Faeela has helped young men and women. One concerns Tarek, a young Syrian refugee who fled his war-torn homeland for a new life in Denmark. But he did not always feel welcome in his new home. A year ago, after attending a Aswat Faeela workshop, he started conducting focus groups and interviewing immigration officials in Denmark to try and improve the integration of Syrians in their new host community. Another story is that of an Iraqi journalist-turned-activist who used a novel approach to combat Islamic State, which had cut off communication in parts of the country. He launched a letter-writing campaign in Iraq which saw 1,000 letters distributed by military aircraft across five provinces. The message – that liberation was at hand – was taken so seriously by IS that they tried to collect the letters by hand. The Aswat project is important, not least because it helps bridge what is seen as a widening gap between refugees and the European host communities where they resettle. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution and something that may work in, say Iraq, may not be quite so effective in Syria or Lebanon. Even so, the project is providing one of the few platforms that physically brings together a diverse range of people around common issues. The next step is to build new bridges, this time with other participants from the wider MENA region. Wrapping up the session, two activist rappers, Muaamar Dhannoon and Murtadha Kanaan, showcased their work that seeks to focus on youth inclusion across communities in Iraq and on current affairs such as the Basra water crisis and youth unemployment.


We live in an age where people’s sense of identity is connected to their nationality. One key challenge therefore is to help people adapt while, at the same time, staying connected to their roots.

Organised by


Fatme Masri
Director Programmes and Partnerships
British Council
Amina El Abed
Impart Peace
Rahaf Alsharif
Globally Connected, Syria
Sakar Abdulkader
British Council
Murtadha Kanaan
Artist - Genesis
Muaamar Dhannoon
Artist - Muaamar