Apr 26th, 2017, 05:10 PM

The Young Revolutionary Sanae Al Ouazen

By Verónica Ayala
Image Credit: Sanae Al Ouazen
From co-funding the Student Union in Morocco during the Arab Revolutions to becoming an AUP Sophomore, a look into the accomplishments of a young woman.

Sanae Al Ouazen is a Moroccan 19-year-old studying Politics and Gender Studies at AUP. She engaged herself in many social activities that started in 2011 with the Arab Revolutions, won a scholarship to study one year in the United States and returned home looking for a school that would provide the education she needs to accomplish all her goals. 

Student Union 2011

In 2011 the Arab Revolutions spread through the middle east as a form of revolution against their governments. In Morocco, a movement called the 20 of February movement, spread through different cities of the country, with people protesting against the system in place. The movement was formed mainly by students and also NGO's, or political party members. The slogan of the movement is freedom, dignity and social justice. Sanae explains that it started as space where people would protest corruption and demand more transparency from the government. The movement was divided into several groups destined to attend different social needs. There was women rights, civil liberties, freedom of belief, freedom of the press and the group Sanae co-founded which was the Student Union.      

"I took a special interest in education because as I attended public school I knew there were a lot of issues to handle. The infrastructure was bad, we couldn't study science in the winter because our labs had holes in the wall, teachers were constantly on strike, libraries were almost not existent in high schools, there were overcrowded classrooms (there were around 50 students in one small classroom)" Sanae explained. The Student Union started mainly in social media, she explains that she was not the only student angry at the poor levels of education. She was allowed to skip classes because she felt unfulfilled academically and her French level was much better than her peers. The principle of her school allowed her to only show up for exams. With her free time, she got involved in political actions, as many other young people in the world, especially in the middle east.   

"I feel that all the anger echoed in the youth"

What they did was try to find an alternative to education, due to the failures in the Moroccan education system. They created "The Popular School" that consisted of each of them finding a topic of interest, learn about it and teach it to others. They would meet in public places like parks. They had an interest in arts since schools in Morocco don't offer such classes. Sanae took part in the political theater which is the theater where the audience is invited to participate. The play would be about a certain social issue, they would stop in a controversial point and ask the people in the audience how would they solve the issue. "If you were in his/ her shoes what would you do?"

The National Association of Human Rights would provide an office for the Student Union to organize their meetings and plan for events, campaigns and more. The hashtag that trended was We Want to Study. They also wrote a proposal where they detailed what they expected from the education system. They spoke to many students and teachers to collaborate with their views and ideas. One of their most successful events, that started in the Arab Spring and continues to happen today, was called Philosophy in the Street. It is a discussion circle, "kind of like an agora." They would meet once a week and have a discussion about a philosophy question. The topics were about violence or queer theory or rights or justice and so on. It got replicated in a lot of cities and got a lot a coverage from the media.  


Image Credit: Sanae Al Ouazen  

Scholarship Program YES

According to Sanae, the United States Department created an interchange program for cultural ambassadors from Arab countries with a significant Muslim population. After the 9/11 attacks, the US created this program to create an intercultural dialog between these two cultures. It consists in a full scholarship for students the students to go study a year abroad in the US. There is around 40 countries part of this program which is called YES. Sanae applied, as well as other 3,000 Moroccans. Only 25 students were picked in Morocco, Sanae was between those who were chosen. She went to study her senior year in Utah. Her host family is a Mormon family. It was very important for Sanae to learn about other religions and cultures because like that she learned much more about her own traditions and culture. Although the program was of cultural and non-scholar purposes, Sanae finished school in the US, "I didn't want to go back to the poor education system back home." After that year, besides the personal experience, she found that she liked the American system a lot because she had "the opportunity to learn all kinds of things in different fields." She started looking for a University with an American system in Europe.     

"My ambitions don't have a place in Morocco" 


Image Credit: Sanae Al Ouazen  

Back in Morocco

She was back home and decided to contact one of the persons she did Political Theater with. Her name is Marike, a Dutch woman, and activist in Morocco. Marike was starting a new project to help Subsaharan immigrants in Morocco, mostly undocumented women. She was working with an NGO who advocates against racism and undocumented citizens. "They are a group of people that are vulnerable to corruption and violence from the police."

"Their narratives are never heard"

Sanae explains that she took a special interest in this project because it was a space where they were going to give a voice to women that society continuously ignores. The workshops were a big challenge at first, according to Sanae, because they didn't all speak the same language and they had to work in many different languages. "It was an interesting experience for me that taught me a lot about the women. We never hear their sides of the stories. People will always speak of them but never give them a space to speak for themselves, this project was really engaging and I liked it so much because we provided a space for them to be and feel heard." She volunteered for this project for around 4 months, her next stop was AUP. 


Image credit: Sanae Al Ouazen 

AUP

"It is really difficult to do studies in that field in Morocco."

She was always interested in social sciences and AUP is the school that provided that for her. She chose Paris because the idea of living in a big city, so culturally driven, fascinated her. AUP for her has been an enriching experience at an academic level, that she claims, she never had previously. She learned that she has a strong interest in critical theory. Before she was engaged in political action because she feels very passionate about it but now, with AUP, she has come to understand the structure and theories of what she was a part of back in Morocco. She now has critical knowledge about everything that she reacted against in Morocco. She learned that she is very interested in learning about how the political, social, educational systems we have today came to exist and to establish in society. It has been a period of enlightenment for her. "I now continue to question the systems that are in place and how we can react and change this." She also enjoys the fact that AUP is such a diverse school with so many student initiatives and activities. "I co-founded the Mema Mosaic club that aims to challenge the mainstream discourses about the middle east and north Africa and to question the cliches and stereotypes about the people from this region."


Image Credit: Sanae Al Ouazen 

Goals

"I feel like you can't have deterministic goals because you never know where you will end up, we are in constant movement and change. My goals today are not my goals from last year and next year I'm sure they are going to be different. Overall what I can say that it is important for me to keep my curiosity and to critically question everything that I encounter."