TED fellow Esra'a Al Shafei.
By Jamie Reygle
It's not easy being gay in the Middle East. If you get caught, you could face the death penalty, flogging, or an extended jail sentence - not to mention the probable spurning from your family and friends. It's a lonely, dangerous life for many homosexuals in that part of the world.
But where there is fear, there is also courage. Mideast Youth - an all-volunteer team with representatives from countries like Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Tunisia - is committed to working "against repression, discrimination and persecution" in the Middle East, and homosexuality is one issue that has recently hit their radar.
The group have created Ahwaa - "A safe space to debate LGBTQ-related issues in the Middle East." It's essentially an anonymous forum that utilizes game mechanics to allow legitimate users to get deeper into the site, while keeping the trolls and the haters at the surface, because the more the Ahwaa community like what you have to say, the better access you get.
They are trying to make it as inclusive as possible, by inviting people of all sexual persuasions to participate, and by making it bilingual (Arabic and English), thereby allowing non-Arabs to offer their perspectives as well.
With all the changes that have been taking place in the Middle East recently, the time is ripe to address issues there that are as controversial as this. And now you can be a part of it all.
What are you waiting for?
Al Shafei is the founder and Executive Director of MideastYouth.com, a grassroots, indigenous digital network that leverages the power of new media to facilitate the struggle against oppression in the Middle East and North Africa. She is driven by her passion for civil engagement, freedom of speech, and employing innovative solutions to pervasive and persistent human problems.
Her advocacy on the internet bridges seemingly impenetrable barriers of faith and geography to unite young people committed to fostering constructive discourse in the Middle East. She is also the director of a series of international campaigns for rights for ethnic, religious, and intellectual minorities.
Among those she runs is the global campaign to free an imprisoned Egyptian blogger at FreeKareem.org. She is a recipient of the Berkman Award from Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society for "outstanding contributions to the internet and its impact on society," and is currently a TED Fellow and an Echoing Green Fellow. Most recently, her project won a ThinkSocial Award for serving as a "powerful model for how social media can be used to address global problems." She servers on the Advisory Board for the Meta-Activism Project and the European Summit for Global Transformation.