The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Get to know our Emerging Conflict Analyst!

Fast Facts: Colleen Fonseca is one of STAND’s Emerging Conflict Analysts. Currently she is a junior at St. John’s University, studying Government and Politics. She is also involved with SJU STAND and is currently serving as her chapter’s President.

Why did you first get involved in STAND and how have you been involved since then? 

I first became involved with STAND because I had seen a really cool flyer on my campus freshman year, and was looking for ways to get involved on campus. I knew that genocide and mass atrocities were happening around the world, but didn’t really know why. Since that first meeting I became Secretary and then President of my chapter at St. John’s. Also this past year I was selected to be an Emerging Conflict Analyst for STAND national.

Name a favorite STAND memory! 

By far my favorite STAND memory was in my second year with STAND, when the chapter President had established a partnership between our members and the International Rescue Committee. On one of my days at the IRC I was working with a newcomer from Iraq who grew flustered and annoyed with me having him practice in English. He challenged me to write my name in Arabic, so I did it and he laughed at how absolutely horrible it looked. From then on, in addition to his homework I was expected to practice my Arabic until it became somewhat legible. It was a great STAND memory because too often working on these issues in the States we feel detached, and don’t get the immediate satisfaction of seeing the benefits of our work. This was a unique opportunity to be one on one with someone who had endured the same issues I was interested in and reading about, but just as a normal 9 year old boy laughing at my abysmal Arabic skills.

What has your experience being on a Task Force been like? 

Way better than I expected! I feel more articulate when I’m talking about issues, and have had a great opportunity to check out what some other people are up to and researching about. Never in a million years would I have ever expected that I would be interested in another region beyond the DRC, but I was able to really immerse myself in other conflicts and the intricacies of them in each individual country.

Can you tell us a little about what you do in your role as an Emerging Conflict Analyst? 

Essentially what I do is keep up to date on conflicts that are “emerging,” and that can take a lot of different terms since each conflict and country/region is different. Each week I provide an update of what’s been happening in the international community that has the potential to result in a conflict. This update can happen via a blog post, storify, video, or a series of relevant tweets. Tapping into different forms of social media and news outlets I’m able to summarize the week in a neat little package for members to read up on.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from your time in STAND, whether as a result of your experiences with your chapter, or being involved on the national level?  

With STAND National, I’ve especially learned the importance of individuals in this realm of work. With conflict and mass atrocities typically we see people as numbers. For example, according to Reuters currently 140,000 Syrians have been killed as a result of the uprising-turned- civil war. When we see that 140k we automatically think, “Wow that is a lot of people.” It’s once you really see the value of each person individually that you really witness just how truly devastating these conflicts are. Instead of just 140k people being murdered as a result of conflict, we know that Zayir who drives around his neighborhood dropping off kids at school was murdered and now those kids won’t go to school anymore. It’s really when we see those who endure these volatile times as individuals, that we get “the bigger picture.”

Interested in joining one of our Task Forces next year? Apply today!

Thinking Outside “The Square”: Moving Forward Part 2/2

This piece was written by Colleen Fonseca, STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator.  Colleen is junior at St. John’s University in NYC and can be reached at colleenfonseca 7 at gmail dotcom.  Read the first half of this two-part piece here.
“We’re all one hand and our demands are one: a country by the people. ” The voice of Ramy Essam fills the eardrums of Egyptians in an intense emotional scene from the documentary The Square. Essam, labeled the unofficial song-writer for the revolution, is profiled with five other characters from January 2011 to July 2013 in Egypt. Through the eyes of Khalid Abdalla, Madgy Ashour, Ahmed Hassan, Ragia Omran, and Aida El Kashef we are given a unique glimpse into the Egyptian Revolutions. During such a pivotal moment in international history, the take-aways from this film are almost more significant than the film in it’s entirety. A profound and intimate testament to the “utopian aspirations” of it’s revolutionaries, we come away from the film eager and anxious about the future of Egypt.
The eagerness and anxiety that we have as an audience are reflected in each character’s consistent anxiety over the status and future of their nation. Despite the various opinions they shared, they agreed that the existing traditions of leadership must be revised and reconsidered. As Egypt again moves into the direction of democratic elections, we must critically look at the events that have transpired in the past few years. The revolution and evolution of Egypt are critical in this time as soaring unemployment and increasing poverty creep into the Egyptian vernacular. Critical decisions are necessary in order to prevent complete social and economic collapse, and yet who will be making these decisions? With recent announcements for presidential nominees and rumors circulating that Egypt’s former Minister of Defense and current Field Marshall al-Sisi will be running, this is a critical time for Egypt. Despite the lack of confirmation, posters of al-Sisi have sprouted throughout Egypt, raising suspicions of the beginning of a presidential campaign.  Would we continue to see the army held above a functioning and democratic constitution? What would a potential transition from a military leader to statesperson mean for the future of Egypt?
Despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) performance in President Morsi’s regime, achieving a truly democratic government is impossible without their inclusion. Under the control of Mubarak, the Brotherhood was not even able to practice and was extensively repressed. Excluding a political movement as organized and ingrained in civil society as the MB would only produce further instability.  The Brotherhood’s large and devoted population was made very apparent in the last month, as supporters demonstrated and coordinated massive sit-ins. Many Islamists, who were not previously affiliated with the political group, have joined in on the protesting. By reviving the suppression against the Brotherhood, some worry vicious rule may return.
In Egypt there still remains a dangerous possibility for more and continuous violence. The same dysfunction that prevented a vibrant democracy under the Morsi and al-Sisi regimes’ rule will continue unless deep political reform is achieved. A violent confrontation seems somewhat imminent as both sides mobilize, and violence ravages the streets of Egypt. The issues will not be quickly solved, and sustainable reform has to happen for the political system to thrive, not just an election of parliament and the president.

Thinking Outside “The Square” Part 1/2

This piece was written by Colleen Fonseca, STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator.  Colleen is junior at St. John’s University in NYC and can be reached at colleenfonseca 7 at gmail dotcom.

Jehane Noujaim’s The Square is a riveting and eye-opening documentary in which he uncovers the truths of the Egyptian Revolution. If you happen to own a Netflix account, this is definitely a movie you need to see. Besides all of the buzz that the film has been acquiring over the past few weeks, this is a documentary that might make you question what you thought you understood about the last three years of Egypt’s history.

In this fast-paced and gripping film, we watch anxiously and helplessly as divisions and lines are drawn between the newly liberated Muslim Brotherhood and “everyone” else. What is it about this film and the unfolding scenarios in Egypt that result in such a gut-wrenching drama? The polarization of religious and political groups is fairly evident, and the film is strategically framed around this concept. In article after article pertaining to Egypt, there seems to be a focus on the religious division as a justification of the nation’s chronic political instability.
Truthfully however, it is sources like The Square that show us a lot more than merely the divisions of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Egyptians. Upon watching this film closely (which I encourage you to do!) you will find that there is discontent among Egyptian civilians that goes much deeper than religious belonging. In fact, throughout the film we witness these same religious lines become increasingly blurred only to be violently rigid, and then blurred once again. Despite this movement, and the Egyptian ousting of President Morsi as one of the largest public demonstrations in the entire world, some still seek to rationalize it all as a mere religious issue. This, in my opinion, is a strongly Western imposed idea to justify the uprisings of Egyptians, that inhibits us from rationally understanding a pivotal portion of world history.
Historically, Egypt has been a nation which has become familiar with almost consistent repressive rule. After decades of being under the control of President Hosni Mubarak, the people of Egypt took to the streets urging for change in 2011. Under Mubarak’s violent policies, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned from politics and open acts of violence were perpetrated against active and alleged members. Even before Mubarak’s reign, political turmoil had brought tensions to a boiling point between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and fellow Egyptians. It should come as no surprise that in the 2012 elections, the Brotherhood was victorious after decades of organizing as an underclass of citizens.
Once the Brotherhood did reach their height of power in Egypt through the election of President Morsi, negative perceptions of the political party intensified as they engaged in political grabs that enraged Egyptian civilians. There is a scene within the movie as pivotal in shaping our thoughts and discussions of the Egyptian crisis. One of the main characters Khalid Abdalla, famous for his leading role in The Kite Runner, poses the single most important phrase throughout the film: “Who created this situation?” This is the central question in determining the future of Egypt, as well as discerning the future of other countries descending into chaos. Throughout the entirety of The Square, we see revolutionaries such as Ahmed and Ramy claim time and time again, “the streets are our ballot boxes.” As viewers, we have an moral obligation to see that these cries from the streets of Egypt are more than religious tension, but a call for systemic reform of the institutions governing Egypt. The vigor for reform that fills the streets must be felt in all institutions of the government, something that has yet to happen. Even in the transition from Mubarak to Morsi, there was not much of a change in terms of the constitution and how government organizations function. The power players and institutions that dominated in the Mubarak era, remained almost completely intact in the transition to Morsi.
Despite the strain of living in volatile times, Egyptians continue to diligently work towards a better future for their nation. Even in the face of failed attempts to build a new democracy, they pursue on in Tahrir Square making their voices heard. In the film’s conclusion we see this unmistakable commitment to a country that may prosper without the fear of violence, subjugation, and restriction. In the words of Ramy Essam: “Freedom is coming that’s for sure. Liberty was written in our destiny.”