Maher Gabra is an independent writer, speaker, and commentator on the Middle East based in Washington, DC. He has been featured on major media news outlets including Al-Jazeera and Huffington Post.
My name is Maher Gabra. I was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. I have been working in the civil society sector since 2001, trying to create positive change. In 2006, I co-founded the Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions, now one of the leading child rights organizations in Egypt. I played a leading role in the successful campaign to change Egypt’s National Child law to be in further compliance with international standards. In 2008 I became a Fulbright Scholar, obtaining my Masters degree from Boston College in Applied Psychology, with a focus on community psychology and social justice.
I went back to Egypt in March of 2010, full of passion to create change. I worked as the Director of Training at the Egyptian Democratic Academy, where I trained other trainers on how to promote the ideas of liberalism and civil engagement to the general public. In 2011, I was on the front lines of the Egyptian revolution demanding freedom, human dignity, and democracy. After the revolution, I remained politically active and I received a fellowship from the World Affairs Journal to do an internship in the U.S. Congress to learn more about democratic institutions.
For political reasons, I was not able to return to my home country, so I decided to continue the fight right here from the United States. I was the Advocacy and Outreach Programs Manager for the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), an organization that advocates for democratic change in the Middle East.
I believe that advancing liberal alternatives and supporting cultural reform are key ways to counter religious extremism and create stable democracies in the Middle East. I work with many liberal and secular activists to spread the culture of tolerance, pluralism, freedom of thought, and religion.
In Egypt I regularly spoke about liberalism, human rights, equality, child rights, LGBT rights, and more. However, I was not able to apply these values in practice around me. Since arriving in America, I have been able to continuously witness the living, breathing applications of these values. This experience in America has provided me a richer, deeper understanding of the liberal values that I have been advocated for all my life.
I did experience a culture shock when arriving to America. Everything was new, even accommodating to physical spaces was a challenge initially. I had to assimilate, adjust, and integrate… these were actual strengths for me to continue moving forwards not just in my life, but in the work that I have been doing. One can only dream of such freedoms in closed societies. But my eyes have opened, and my passions have stirred immensely.
I use everything I see here in America—national and local news, the streets, and observations from my daily life—as material to challenge the traditional taboos that I grew up with in Egypt. I primarily use social media as a way to convey these liberal ideas, interact with others, and discuss topics that have themselves been long taboo to bring up.
Over the years I have developed a wide network of like-minded people from the USA and the Middle East. We work together, talk together, and coordinate our efforts with the aim of strengthening the liberal movement in the Arab region. I believe that without having a strong liberal movement, there is no hope for establishing sustainable democracy or eradicating extremism. We must also push for dialogue to further help progress.
We still have a long way to go to shift the paradigm and lead the quest for equality regarding universal human rights, but I am very hopeful about the long term. I see how my generation challenges dictatorships through activism and social media, among other tools. And I am confident that speaking up against different types of injustices is the way to make more positive change take effect.