Middle Easterners visit Selma for a lesson in human rights

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Fifteen Middle Eastern participants in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program were in Selma Tuesday for a day’s lesson in human rights advocacy and awareness.

Arranged by Meridian International Center, the International Visitor Leadership Program selects current and future leaders in government, media education and other fields to experience the U.S. firsthand. This year’s participants are natives of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, West Bank and Yemen.

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The program aims to examine the historical context of human rights advocacy in the U.S., illustrate ways in which human and civil rights activists influence policy through legal challenges and grassroots campaigns, explore the role of associations in advancing U.S. civil rights and learn about the structure of human rights organizations.

City historian Alston Fitts led the group on a tour of the Queen City. They walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and made a brief stop at Memorial Park, where Fitts relayed the history of Selma’s voting rights struggle. U.S. interpreter Nawzad Muradi then told the story to the group in their native tongue.

Ahmad M. Rhwaidy, a legal adviser and project manager for the Arab Thought Forum and Citizens’ Rights Center in Jerusalem, listened attentively to Fitts. He said the struggle Selma endured in the 1960s is very much alive today in Middle Eastern countries, where the objective of a people is “to be free.”

Magda Lofty, also a U.S. interpreter, agreed with Rhwaidy, saying everyone is entitled to equal opportunities in life.

“We must teach our children to love each other and live in peace regardless of color, race and religion,” Lofty said.

In addition to Memorial Park, the group also toured the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, Live Oak Cemetery, Old Depot Museum, Sturdivant Hall and Brown Chapel AME Church.

The Rev. Wanda Gail Campbell, a volunteer with International Services from Huntsville, accompanied the group on the tour. She applauds the city for “taking that horrible history and turning it into a learning process.” She also said the group is very impressed with Selma’s southern hospitality.

“They’re happy to be here and happy with the way they’ve been treated,” she said.

The group will conclude their cross-country tour on the west coast before returning to their respective countries.