Intern grapples with human rights issues

Posted on July 13, 2012 by Jennifer McManamay

Lilian Tauber isn’t waiting for graduation to make a difference in the world.

“I have had a special interest in human rights in the Middle East and North Africa — MENA — since the second semester of my first year at Sweet Briar,” Tauber says. “I took two classes, ‘The Ethics of Personhood’ [with associate professor of history Lynn Laufenberg] and ‘Terrorism and Insurgency’ [with assistant professor of international affairs Spencer Bakich], which together completely changed my view of the world by the end of the semester.”

Lilian Tauber
She wrote these words from Rabat, Morocco, where she is nearly at the end of an eight-week internship for E-Joussour. E-Joussour is an online forum that highlights the work of civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the MENA region.

As part of the editorial staff, Tauber writes, edits and translates various publications for the website on human rights issues in the region. E-Joussour publishes in English, French and Arabic. Tauber has posted several original reports, including one titled “Diplomacy unlikely to ease humanitarian crisis in Syria, despite recent massacre in al-Houla.”

She also compiles “folders,” research guides made up of websites and abstracts to quickly lead readers to information they need. In addition to providing research and analysis, E-Joussour serves as a “civil society portal,” which facilitates communication among CSOs and NGOs and allows them mobilize more effectively to address common issues.

Tauber, a rising junior double majoring in international affairs and history with a minor in German, isn’t one hundred-percent sure what she wants to do with her life, she says.

“But I do know that I want to spend it in some way working for the rights of persons who are less fortunate than I am.”

The internship is a great step in that direction and a good fit with her academic interests. Tauber was one of 10 sophomores who received a 2011-2012 Anne Gary Pannell Scholarship to fund an in-depth research project of her choosing. She spent the year studying the popular uprisings that have gripped the Middle East since early 2011. In April, she presented her research, “Examining the Arab Spring: An Original Revolutionary Phenomenon?”

Tauber is continuing her research on her own and hopes to complete her senior honors thesis on a topic related to the Arab Spring. She cautions her research is evolving, but key questions have emerged around how different regimes have responded to unrest and how the governments’ actions correlate to short-term outcomes of the revolutionary movements. Her plan is to examine four case studies in Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“The project is also developing a modification to one of the most important theoretical approaches to the study of revolutions. All in all, it’s a very promising project,” said Spencer Bakich, who is advising her with Lynn Laufenberg.

For Tauber, one of the great attractions of working in Morocco this summer is being able to learn Arabic. Most of her 10 or so immediate co-workers are Moroccan and speak only French and Arabic, so they communicate mostly in French. The office is relaxed and inclusive, but busy.

“We all know we must maximize our efforts because our work is very important and will affect people’s lives positively,” she said.

Still, they gather for occasional traditional Moroccan meals and people sometimes bring in pastries or chocolate bars to share.

“So, despite the frequently difficult topics and issues that we work with — the humanitarian crises in Syria and Libya or the hunger strikes of various reporters who were jailed in violation of their rights to free press — there is a real sense of friendship and optimism in the office.”

Perhaps there’s a lesson there, too.

See more photos on Flickr.