In Egypt, Celebrating Human Rights through Art
Yasmine Mahmoud Fakhry
“It is time for us to build Egypt and contribute to peacebuilding and positive change, rather than engage in violence and create chaos.”
This is a time of great turbulence in Egypt, during which the country has been shaken by violence and political instability and people have become increasingly desperate and frustrated every day. This is especially true because the Egyptian media’s focus has been only on negative and disturbing news. In such a critical time, I seized the opportunity to engage my students at the College of Engineering in Alexandria University and inspire action. The first week of January more than 100 students participated in a “Celebration of Human Rights through Art” to promote, defend, and raise awareness on human rights issues through the medium of art. Through this event, we sought to shine light on human rights and send a clear and positive message to our society.
As a human rights educator, I encourage my students to relate human rights issues to their own lives and experiences, become aware of their rights, and be active participants in promoting human rights; to not only be recipients of rights granted by others. My focus is on empowering my students to realize their own potential to effect positive change in the world. Since I understand what it means to be a change agent and how crucial this role is to social transformation, I thought that we could use art as a creative tool for the dissemination of knowledge and to influence public opinion on violations of human rights and global issues. The idea of planning for this event came upon the desire to urge young students to raise their voices and become agents for change, and to send a positive message to our community and call for action.
The aim of the event was to give voice and bring about greater awareness of our human rights and enable young people to develop critical understanding of their life situation, to bring about attitudinal change and action. “In this event, we want to show our commitment to the promotion of human rights ethics and values,” 18-year-old Nada Mamdouh commented on the Facebook page we set up. The event invited students to explore their beliefs, judgments, and visions of social justice. We asked them to think about issues ranging through discrimination, child labor, gender inequality, human trafficking, poverty, climate change, education, democracy, diversity, and freedom of religion, conscience, and opinion. The goal was to celebrate young people’s talents and give them a platform to address and explore the causes and effects of inequality and paint a future based on dignity and respect.
More than 100 students gathered in the garden in front of the main classroom building to campaign for human rights and represent their vision of human rights through art. The students made caricatures, cartoons, portraits, slogans, and simple drawings that criticize the negative aspects of our everyday life and send a message of peace to our society. Concurrently, an art exhibit took place at the back of the main building on the other side of the garden, where more than 20 students displayed posters expressing key articles from the UN conventions. The posters illustrated real stories of violations.
All students enjoyed the cooperative experience and felt positive about the meaningful contribution they made to their society. Karim Ismail, a freshman student, stated: “I feel very proud that we could really enjoy our right to use our voice and express our opinion freely, probably for the first time ever. We never participated in something like this before, and we were never encouraged to take part actively in our community.” They liked working with their friends and sharing and analyzing with others their vision of the world. The group work and participation in one campaign increased positive interpersonal peer relationships, self-esteem, and sense of security. Students also sent a strong message to the community, especially to all those who have been engaging in violent acts lately: “It is time for us to build Egypt and contribute to peacebuilding and positive change, rather than engage in violence and create chaos”.