Countdown to COP28: ACT in the Middle East and North Africa

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Rachel Luce, ACT Regional Representative, MENA.

George Majaj, ACT Humanitarian Program Advisor, MENA. PHOTO: Simon Chambers.

As the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region prepares to host COP28, here we reproduce our interview in the 2022 annual report with Rachel Luce, ACT Alliance Regional Representative for MENA and George Majaj, ACT Humanitarian Program Advisor for MENA. The interview will give you an overview of issues in the MENA region and how ACT and its members approach these issues in peacetime.

What are the main problems facing the region?

Rachel: There are several protracted crises in the region. Added to this is massive migration. Educated people are leaving, as are the Christian minority. Christian migration truly occupies the hearts and minds of our local members, as that is where the historic churches are located. We’re also seeing big changes in the social fabric, and you’re losing the value of diversity. Migration is a big concern for all members, as are ongoing conflicts and wars.

George: Most crises are prolonged. There are fewer political means to end these problems – for example in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Palestine. There is a lack of interest from donors and the media. The political will, both domestically and abroad, is not there to resolve the protracted crises in most MENA countries, which has a negative effect on communities.

How do members of the region work together?

In the Middle East, national forums meet monthly to discuss their work, common areas of action such as training, what they are hearing from other platforms they are involved in and how they might coordinate advocacy. The forums are composed of country directors or their deputies. Iraq and Jerusalem have expanded their forums so that faith-based agencies can join.

MENA communities of practice (CoPs), such as Gender Justice and Climate Justice, are connected to the forums. Each national forum sends at least one delegate to a MENA CoP. They are generally the subject experts. MENA CoPs meet monthly and discuss aspects of the work they want to accomplish together. They attend in-person events, such as trainings, and then report back to their forum.

What opportunities do you see in the region?

The MENA Gender Justice CoP wants to influence change in Christian family law in the Middle East. For Christians, family law is governed by their church and covers inheritance, marriage, divorce, custody and similar issues. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) amended its family law a few years ago. The MENA Gender Justice CoP wants to see similar changes across the region. They began with a study of the family laws of the Jordanian Church. After hearing the consultant’s questions, the churches surveyed decided to consider changing their laws. No one knew their own laws until they went to court to find out.

One of the goals of the MENA Gender Justice CoP is to ensure that family inheritances are distributed equally between men and women and that women are not pressured to give up their inheritance rights. They also want family laws to be transparent and accessible. Changing these laws brings about real change in people’s lives.

in the MENA region COP on climate justice grows every year. The Season of Creation is on fire in the Middle East right now, which is incredible. ACT MENA members have also invested heavily in COP27 in Egypt. They are now discussing how to engage after COP28 in Dubai in 2023. They are showing their commitment to long-term global negotiations.

In the MENA region, we began by training members in country-specific multi-stakeholder dialogues where specialists examined adaptation, climate finance and mitigation. Once they understood climate justice at the national level, members engaged at the regional level because they could see the intersections. They now establish the link with the global level. They see how fighting at a UN COP can lead to additional funding and how they can promote climate ambition.

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A participant in the 2022 Season of Creation celebration sponsored by MECC. PHOTO: MECC.

Season of Creation “on fire” in the MENA region

The Season of Creation is the annual Christian celebration to pray and respond to the cry of Creation. The global ecumenical family unites to listen and care for our common home, the Oikos of God. It starts on September 1st,

the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and ends on October 4, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology. ACT Alliance has been part of Season of Creation for many years. Season initiatives encourage individual advocacy by ACT members to influence decisions at global climate meetings such as the UNFCCC COP which follows shortly after the celebration ends. The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) translated the Celebration Guide into Arabic, for the first time, and encouraged its members to participate. In Lebanon, young people of the Church walked in nature to “listen to the voice of creation”. Organized by the MECC, the activity inaugurated a series of celebrations across the MENA region.

Women learn sewing in Jordan. PHOTO: Paul Jeffrey/ACTE

Local members advance advocacy at home

The ACT Alliance welcomed a new Syrian member in 2022: GOPA-DERD (Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the Orient). Local members are indigenous organizations from the region or country in which they work. “Local members engage very quickly in CoPs. They see the value in advocacy and ACT programs,” says Rachel Luce, MENA regional representative. “They champion local voices here and internationally and advance advocacy in their own countries. They view this work as their long-term commitment to their country and their people.

Project profile: Restoring refugee livelihoods

The Department of Palestinian Refugee Services (PSPR), a member of the ACT Alliance, established a small business start-up loan program for Syrian refugees living in Jordan, but found that the high level of debt of refugees hindered success. The DSPR instead decided to focus on helping refugees escape poverty, an approach that has been tested with Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Gaza. Program participants now receive cash assistance to cover their basic needs for the first six to eight months, then receive training on topics such as life skills and starting a small business. They can then access loans and grants to start a small business and are better able to repay their loans.

Did you know? In a multi-faith Middle East, each religion has historically had its own family law. In addition, each Christian church has its own ecclesial law. In Jordan, there are six different ecclesiastical laws governing family matters like divorce, custody and inheritance.

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