During the conference held by the United Religions Initiative (URI) in Dakhla, we had the opportunity to speak with one of its participants. She is Safaa Ikaz, a Moroccan national. Like the rest of her colleagues, Ikaz is optimistic about seeing change in the region and firmly believes that dialogue is the first step to building peace.
What are your objectives here?
This is my first time at a conference like this. The URI is a global network of people from different settings who are coming together to bring about change, especially in the MENA region where many conflicts are mainly driven by religion.
The aim of this event is basically to bring people from this region and others. We have people from Bosnia, people from Southern Africa, from the United States... in order to bring solutions.
There are also people from different religions, Christians, Muslims and Jews, even atheists. They come here to talk about current problems and propose solutions. The solution is basically the title of this conference: interfaith dialogue. Bringing people who are completely different and putting them at the same table is the first step to finding solutions because they have probably never been able to talk to each other.
If you refuse to have that communication, reaching a solution is going to be practically impossible. I am very happy about this initiative because I learn a lot, especially from the people.
Everyone has a personal story and that makes you empathise more. Every workshop we are doing, every conference is very special because of that. I feel very grateful to be able to be here. It inspires me to be better and even encourages me to give birth to my projects such as founding my own NGO that will look after these values.
Do you believe that dialogue is the key to change in the region?
I think dialogue is a fundamental tool. It is not easy, but it is what we have to use in this constant attempt to seek peace. The good thing is that there are many good people who do not give up. We have people at this event who have dedicated their whole lives to this cause.
The people who are attending this initiative are like a symbol of hope. I don't know if finding a solution is easy but what is clear is that all these people are part of the change.
This event involves Israelis and Palestinians together?
That's right. This is something unusual and you won't find it in many other places. These kinds of conferences bring people together who could never meet in their home countries. That's one of the reasons for hosting these kinds of events in foreign countries.
When you talk for example with people from Israel, you can usually have a number of stereotypes or get an idea of what they think. You think they might be very patriotic or nationalistic, but even I have been surprised myself, I spoke here with a Jew from Israel who is more of a supporter of the Palestinian cause than some Palestinians.
He is very politically activist, he is doing an incredible job. We need more people like that. Politicians do want to give this image that everyone is violent and has to protect themselves from an enemy, but that's not the only reality that exists.
Do you think that little by little and through these kinds of initiatives it will be possible to build peace?
I hope that the region can know real peace, even in Jerusalem. At least to be able to see that everyone is living together peacefully. The URI is an incredible initiative that is committed to peace, even in this region where there is constant conflict. The people who are here are the hope for it and believe in it, so I am optimistic.