Magazine article Politics Magazine

Exporting Expertise: American Politicos Teach Middle Eastern Women How to Campaign

Magazine article Politics Magazine

Exporting Expertise: American Politicos Teach Middle Eastern Women How to Campaign

Article excerpt

As a journalist, Reem Qasem had a unique view of her hometown. Zarqa, Jordan was in rough shape. There was not always reliable clean water, no safe playgrounds or parks for children, and development in general was lacking severely. Women like Reem had few rights. Society was strictly patriarchal, especially in Zarqa where a strong Bedouin tribal influence kept everything in check. But Reem didn't see the situation like that. She saw the need for reform and no one stepping up. So she decided to.

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But she was going to need help--lots of help. As charismatic and reform-minded as she was, she still lived in an atmosphere that was often hostile to women wanting to get involved. And on top of that, she had never held a public office. How would she organize a campaign? How would she compete when the odds were so stacked against her?

Fortunately, while Reem couldn't answer those questions, Nancy Bocskor could. Bocskor works with a nonprofit called The Center for Liberty in the Middle East, CLIME for short, and runs programs for women wanting to enact change in their communities.

"We're developing The MENA Online Activism Institute, with an eight-lesson curriculum on how to become an activist paired with personal one-on-one mentoring through the miracle of web conferencing on Skype," Bocskor says. "It's basically, 'What do you need to do to develop a strategy and a message?' In America, we've been doing things like this since seventh grade, but it's very different in the Middle East. So we're really teaching very basic skills like, What is a leader? How do you give a good speech? How do you develop a message?"

And Bocskor would know all that. She's been in the political consulting business since her first days out of college and now has over 20 years of experience. "I ran my first campaign in 2nd grade when I did second graders for Barry Goldwater," she says. But now she had a new challenge--how to translate her experience into something that would help women living in a very different environment.

When Reem started attending CLIME training courses taught by Nancy, the two women faced a dilemma unique to the region. "Vote buying is a major challenge over there because so many people are so poor," Bocskor says. "When you ask someone for their vote, they'll say. What will you give me? And how do you know if that person has voted the way they said they would? Voters take a little snap shot of their ballot with their phone so they can get what the politician promised them."

But Reem didn't want to buy votes, nor could she afford to. …

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