Maher Gabra: The Demand for Freedom and Democracy

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.

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