Hall speaker: Dalia Ziada, civil rights activist

The School was privileged to hear from civil and human rights activist Dalia Ziada in Hall on 16 May. A native of Cairo, Egypt, Ms. Ziada is a dynamic social entrepreneur, pushing forward cutting-edge programs to empower her generation of Egyptians who spent their entire lives under the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

Ms. Ziada’s interest in advocating civil freedoms and human rights in the Middle East and North Africa began as a personal cause for women’s rights. While a college undergraduate, she co-launched a campaign with four classmates to spread awareness about the ruinous psychological and physical consequences of female genital mutilation, and to try to convince parents not to practice this excruciating ritual against their helpless daughters, as it had been to her when she was 8 years old.

Moving from women’s rights to human rights was a logical progression for Ms. Ziada. Today, she runs the North Africa office of the American Islamic Congress (AIC), a civil rights organization formed after 9/11 to promote tolerance and the exchange of ideas among Muslims and between other peoples. Inspired by Martin Luther King’s philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience, she undertook in 2008 a project to translate into Arabic and distribute a long-forgotten 1958 comic book, The Montgomery Story, that dealt explicitly with Dr. King’s non-violent strategies. The project represented her own civil rights strategy: popularize intellectual concepts in an accessible way for young Egyptians. Her next innovation was the launch of the Cairo Human Rights Film Festival. It was the first of its kind in the region, and has become an institution, attracting international attention. As a modern model of leadership—young, female, and taboo-challenging— Ms. Ziada has inspired a new generation of social entrepreneurs. Indeed, it seems as if Ms. Ziada’s groundbreaking work has been presciently preparing for the historic moments in North Africa and the Middle East, when her vision, talents, and determination are needed more than ever.

It is through the efforts of alumnus Jesse Sage ’94, also a member of the AIC, that we were fortunate to welcome Ms. Dalia Ziada to Roxbury Latin.

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