WHO IS BELABBES BENKREDDA?
Belabbes Benkredda is an award-winning social innovator, open debate advocate and the founder of the Munathara Initiative, a fledging online and television debate forum for Arab youth. In 2013, he received the Democracy Award from the National Democratic Institute in Washington, DC for his work in fostering citizen participation in the Arab public sphere.
Prior to the Initiative, Belabbes worked with the German Foreign Office, the League of Arab States and the Council for Arab-British Understanding. Since moving to Dubai in 2005, he’s been a government consultant specialized on public diplomacy in the Arab world, a frequent television commentator, and op-ed columnist for the region’s largest English daily.
Belabbes studied International Relations, Philosophy of Law and Middle East Politics. A son of Algerian immigrants to Germany, he is a polyglot conversant in six languages and with a basic knowledge of another three.
You can connect with Belabbes here:
IN TOR 045 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Munathara (previously Dubai Debate), the debating forum format that seeks to use the discipline of competitive conversation to bring the Arab world together.
- The quick development of the initiative and Belabbes’s experiences during launch, which started with the Arab Spring.
- The value of international cooperation in bringing light to regional issues; how social media, Silicon Valley, international foundations, and the European Union have helped to recognize the assets, people and opportunities existing in the region.
- How Belabbes and Munathara stayed safe throughout the turmoil, the security issues in the region, crackdowns on funding NGOs and the general culture.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Dubai Debates (inactive)
- Konrad Adenauer Foundation
- CNN International
- The U.S. Government
- Germany’s Federal Foreign Officer
- Robert Bass Foundation
- The European Union
- Al Jazeera
- Social media
- Technology for democracy and public discourse
- Critical thinking
- Cultural change
- Dubai, United Arab Emirates
- Silicon Valley
- State of Virginia, USA
- The European Union
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Online and TV debate forum, trying to change public discourse, make it more inclusive. Online debates, workshops.
Audience votes on the winners. Algorithms help detect patterns of manipulation and mass voting.
The idea is perfected in Silicon Valley.
It is in Arabic. Participants are from 22 countries, but foreigners who speak the language are welcome.
On Arab debate
Debate happens, but Belabbes wants structure, adds competition, looks for a result.
A live debate in Yemen. Terrorist targeting power grids delayed it, then an oil crisis. The debate took place, people showed up. “There is a thirst for what we do.”
Diplomatic aides participate in the workshops and are there for the debates, sometimes ask questions.
People realize there are smart, inspiring people in their world. Youth gets discovered.
Arab Spring was the beginning of Belabbes’ Munathara. Free speech is nice, but he has a vision for a culture of critical thinking and dialog that move people forward.
Started quickly. The first debate was held when Hosni Mubarak was still president of Egypt.
’11 Dubai Debates (DD), predecessor. Activists were involved, focus on social media (#DD). After an NGO crackdown on the UAE, they moved to Tunisia.
5 countries: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen. Trainers on the field organize workshops, policy debates. There is an organic reach, people coming thru social media.
It is the largest component of Munathara.
Munathara is a grassroots, citizen-based initiative.
DD was funded by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (FAK) and CNN International. FAK was asked to leave.
Tunisia is the most NGO friendly country in the Arab world.
Munathara is actually registered in Virginia.
Security and other challenges
Always a concern. A debate on the future of Syria, bashing Bashar would prove dangerous for Syrians, including refugees, and their families. Faces had to be blurred.
Online debates are still open, televised debates will happen wherever it is possible.
People are not familiar with the concept of the debate. “It’s not going to be sold overnight.”
Their take on debate is different.
People get confused and think Munathara is advocating for the opposite side.
Funding and fundraising
Funds have come from the U.S. Government, Federal Foreign Officer, Robert Bass Foundation, European Union.
Belabbes has a deputy director for administration and business development, she’s based in Washington. But he is involved in grant writing in Germany, where he is from.
A couple of partnerships with Al Jazeera.
Belabbes time, now and then
Travels frequently throughout Europe and the Arab world. Lots of technology to rely on.
Has a column.
Advises for other Non-profits.
In 5 years, he sees Munathara working independently, more technology.
Work on more sustainable models, independent from grants and donors.
“Collaborate. Identify individuals who are already working on similar issues. Add to their efforts or join forces. A lot of created initiatives are redundant, it’s a big problem in development.”
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