iValues Digest
#InnovatingPolitics is What we Need in the MENA Region!

Innovation 2
© Shutterstock - PopTika - Abstract. Innovation. Hands holding tablet with light bulb future technologies and network connection on virtual interface background, innovative technology in science and communication concept

FNF MENA has been organizing for two consecutive years now its annual Innovation in Politics Forum. Between the Beirut and Amman editions, the aim was to create an annual experimental journey to expose groundbreaking political work - from new methodologies to the use of technology in politics.

We dissected politics into two main categories: politics as practice and politics as a theory. Through different formats, we created a space to discuss the impact of innovation on our day-to-day interaction with policies and politics and to explore the potential of new methodologies in shaping our behavior towards societal, historical and cultural trends. For example, there were incredible conversations on the role of games in reconstructing the collective memory in post-conflict periods and on the role of technology in breaking the gender barriers in our communities.

Despite the lingering stories of the past, change is visible and inevitable in the MENA region and this is why Innovation in politics is so needed.

Yara Asmar
Yara Asmar, Regional Strategy Manager, FNF MENA

The many reactions we received about this forum confirmed that the culture of innovation is no longer stranger to our region. While the mainstream media is interested in the contentions and social movements invading our regional capitals, an underground scene is trying to shape those demands and is advancing in influencing weak and old-fashioned systems. How? First, by simply bringing sustainable, innovative, interactive and apolitical tools to engage in scientific discussion about politics and democratic processes. Second, by introducing technology and knowledge to solve policy issues from a perspective that takes into consideration the universal values of openness, human rights, freedom and fair competition - without limiting itself to a specific political school of thought.

Despite the lingering stories of the past, change is visible and inevitable in the MENA region and this is why Innovation in politics is so needed:

  1. Innovation Enables Critical Thinking

Educational systems are complex. Deciding on a schooling program requires alignment between families, policy makers, professionals and investors. It demands a coherent national agenda and shared goals among policy makers. However, we are all aware of the obstacles inhibiting this process of consensus building in favor of developing strong educational systems in the MENA region. In this respect, Innovation comes into place. Innovation in education goes beyond applying technology to old methods. It comes in many forms: customized programs, services, products and collaborations that contribute to enhance critical thinking and therefore educational outcomes. For instance, serious gaming became one of tools to introduce the art of negotiations and decision making among youngsters. A typical educational system, for example in areas of conflict in the MENA region, disregards those important capacity-building skills. Nowadays however, a smart phone can replace the work of a broken state. It can also provide access to the marginalized communities to games or digital teaching platforms that would support them in discovering new horizons, hence, helping them in developing an internal and coherent process for making choices.

  1. Innovation Organizes Democratic Processes

Introducing innovation to solve democratic discrepancies requires the ability to match the scale of the solution to the scale of obstacles. Democracy as a practice is challenged by the mis-interpretation of processes. For instance, in Iraq and Lebanon, fair representation is evaluated based on the sectarian affiliation and not on the demographic distribution and the needs and challenges of each and every constituency. In this regard, digitization and Artificial Intelligence optimization can create an enlightened digital citizenship and safeguard democratic values and legitimacy in a world of algorithms and data.

  1. Innovation Solves Socioeconomic Disparities

The economic challenges that the MENA region is facing requires a new form of collective action between the public and private sectors. Innovation imposes a new approach to solve those problems while taking into consideration the co-evolvements of social and technological progress. As most of the socio- economic challenges are multidisciplinary in nature, innovation provides a platform of dialogue between the different actors (politicians, doctors, economists, natural scientists, artists, etc.) to find solutions to the lingering social issues and fostering mechanisms for growth and development. One can think in this regard of the different initiatives that emanated from the Covid-19 outbreak. As an example, the Jordanian government relied heavily on startups and web-developers to digitize the economy and try to evaluate and contain the virus. While the ethical dilemma of data privacy is still an issue in this stance, the online platforms supported the Jordanian economy in experiencing a hard landing instead of a complete crash.

Better education, stronger democracy and sustainable economic growth are what the MENA region strives to achieve. The solution is at hand. We just need to explore it. This is the right time to join this force and participate in iValues: Re-Think Politics in MENA, an initiative to adhere to change through Innovation.

About the Author

Yara Asmar
Yara Asmar is the Regional Strategy Manager at the MENA Regional Office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). She is specialized in the fields of Middle Eastern studies and party politics. She is a researcher on Iran and social movements. She published a study in 2018 on regime change and contentious politics in Iran. Yara holds a BA in Communication Arts and Journalism from Notre Dame University- Lebanon and an MA in International Relations from the Central European University – Budapest where she graduated in 2018. Yara Asmar started her adventure with Friedrich Naumann Foundation in 2014 at the Beirut based office.