Essam al-Rubaie (Iraq)

Essam al-Rubaie

Civil Society Activist

A group of unsung champions are bringing change to the war-torn country of Iraq.  A new generation of young activists has emerged since the withdrawal of coalition forces and the 2011 Arab Spring.  Addressing violence and corruption with new civic tactics, 23-year-old Essam al-Rubaie symbolizes the hope and promise of a movement poised to rejuvenate Iraq’s politics and governance over the long-term. Essam founded and directs the Al-Najah Center for Training and Development, a civil society organization based in Basra that fosters volunteerism and creative youth initiatives in Iraq’s second largest city.

“Youth have the capacity to breathe new life into a community, stop arbitrary governance, rekindle national unity, and build a new Iraq,” he said. “Now many youth actively participate in dozens of activities and campaigns, which was once very rare.”

Essam and his colleagues mobilize student leaders and recent graduates of Basra University to implement numerous projects in the region. Public spaces were painted with murals calling for peace and films on anti-sectarianism went viral throughout the country.

Essam harnesses the aspirations and energy of young people into focused advocacy campaigns, such as those to reduce the minimum age requirement to run for office and increase youth participation in local government decision making.

“We always see light in the darkness,” he said, “and if we stopped doing our work, that light would extinguish.”

One legacy of Iraq’s war and its communal and partisan divides has been to cripple decision making, efficiency, and transparent governance.

“Poor leadership and corruption caused by insecurity from multiple wars have uprooted and driven wedges in our society,” Essam said.

Essam al-Rubaie

  • Age: 23
  • Title: Director
  • Organization: Al-Najah Center for Training and Development
  • twitter

Essam and the Najah team are working with youth to reunite the country and its people around civic themes. He regularly appears on national radio and television to encourage young people to come together and get involved in making a difference in their community.

His outspoken advocacy of volunteerism and democratization in Iraq has made him a target for harassment and threats. But his determination and courage to appear on platforms that extend his message beyond Basra have helped his work reach other regions of the country. Through charismatic and strategic leadership, Essam has had success expanding local activism to the national level, inspiring thousands of young Iraqis to get involved with the movement.

Change in Iraq is within reach, he says. But like most struggles for democracy, it is a process that takes time. Understanding this, he continues to build Najah’s capacity to inspire youth.

“We always see light in the darkness,” he said, “and if we stopped doing our work, that light would extinguish.”

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