CAIRO: Young contestants from all around the Middle East and the United States put the finishing touches on their essays in a rush to meet Wednesday nights’ deadline for “The Dream Deferred contest.
Currently in its third year, the essay contest is organized by Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance (HAMSA).
Inspired by Langston Hughes poem What Happens to a Dream Deferred, the contest focuses on civil rights freedom in the Middle East and is divided into two parts. One part is youth in the Middle East – under the age of 26 – and another for American youth of the same age group.
Participants are required to answer one of three essay questions from two sets: one for Middle Eastern contestants and another for Americans. The length of essays is within 600-2,000 words – written in English, French, Arabic or Farsi – and should discuss civil rights restrictions in Middle Eastern societies rather than focusing on regional politics or US foreign policy.
First place winners are awarded with a cash prize of $2,000, second place winners receive $1,500 and three runners-up receive $500 each, in addition to book prizes for 50 outstanding essays.
In a previous interview with Daily News Egypt, Jesse Sage, HAMSA program director, said We thought it was very important to send a message to young liberals in the region that there is a reward for expressing their views and desires for a more open society.
Last year s contest saw two Egyptian winners out of the 2,500 people who submitted their work. Tarek Shahin came in first place for his mock news story Egyptian Apostate Refuses Asylum in the United States. Mohamed Salem won second place for his essay Denied to Protest Against Terrorism: A True Story.
Two winners from the US division were also of Middle East origin: first prize winner Mohamed Halawi, and Zeinab Saab, who came in fourth place.
The winning essays are selected by a panel of celebrity judges. This year s judges include Azar Nafisi, author of the bestselling book Reading Lolita in Tehran ; Gloria Steinem, co-founder of the National Women s Political Caucus and Coalition of Labor Union Women; and Mahmood Al-Yousif, a prominent blogger in Bahrain.
HAMSA is a non-profit organization, an initiative by the American Islamic Congress to promote civil rights in the Middle East.