If you haven’t met Mohamad Radwan Al Omar, you probably will. Affable and enthusiastic, funny, very talkative, and unbelievably gracious; fittingly in charge of membership and outreach for the WYA Lebanon National Committee. He is known for his prolific WhatsApp posts in group chats and quotable quotes like, “the only problem is a lack of time” or “every day there’s a fight with life.”
A lawyer by training, Radwan studied Law at the Université La Sagesse, one of the few law schools in Lebanon that is the door to enter their judiciary system after completing his higher education at ISC-Koura (SABIS). There, he was selected for the International Criminal Law and Procedure program organized by The Special Tribunal For Lebanon in cooperation with the Asser Institute and traveled to Den Haag, Netherlands. Always energetic to learn more, he asked the woman organizing logistics for the program how he could get involved; she happened to be the project manager at UNESCO and invited him to intern there.
It was at UNESCO that he was introduced to WYA. “WYA Middle East & North Africa region signed a partnership with UNESCO, and so the President at the time, Lord Pomperada, gave a presentation. I loved the idea of WYA right away and signed up.”
As an active member, he has also signed up hundreds of others, including cousins in other parts of the world and he’s helped to organize events and conferences with the WYA Lebanon National Committee. “For us, 90% of the people in our region agree that there’s nothing controversial about WYA. Our laws prohibit abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia, and there are no loud voices calling to undo this. But even if we believed in these principles, we didn’t have the language to express them.”
Radwan studied the Certified Training Program (CTP) and then the Advocacy Academy, completing both while amid Law School. “To me, when you’re interested in something, you always have time. Law is what I studied, but I needed something to nourish me.”
He had a special connection to the CTP chapter on Freedom. Now, re-reading the CTP texts for weekly discussions with fellow interns led by staff in the Brussels office, he’s “really loving the chapter on the History of Ideas at the moment. You read it again, and you think, oh, why did I pass over this before? It really opens your mind to wider perspectives, and depending on what’s happening in the world, every time you read it, you see new connections.”
“We use the word education, but it’s more than education, it’s enlightenment; learning to think and to open yourself up to the world and to each other.” As we’re talking about enlightenment, the light on Radwan’s phone suddenly goes out so that only a glowing orb – the light fixture on the ceiling above – is visible. “I don’t think this is a coincidence!” he laughs.
It seems like I could make a joke about how many lawyers it takes to screw in a lightbulb. Still, this one continues in the dark, unperturbed: “…with law, there’s no space to give your opinion or analyze… local and international laws… academic modules, accreditations…you don’t have time to go into the philosophy behind the law or the reason for it. The law says: you’re not allowed to cross the street. WYA says: what is a street? Why does the street exist? Are there any other streets?”
After Law School, Radwan landed a paid internship with a Kuwait law firm based in Beirut. “The crisis in Lebanon – political, economic, banking… everything. It all started before the pandemic, with riots and strikes and protests. Then came COVID-19. No president, no government, from then to now… You wake up one morning and discover that 100,000 Lebanese lira makes one dollar-hyper, hyper, inflation. Now, the war could happen anytime… But I want to remain positive. Every day there’s a fight with life. So, I thought: I have to go. I used the money I made from the Kuwait law firm internship to attend the WYA International Solidarity Forum conference [in Spain] in-person.”
Radwan explains that he used his savings from the Kuwait internship to buy a small tricycle and to go to the ISF. I sent him a screenshot of a tricycle for clarification: “Noooo, not a tricycle; the situation is still not that bad in Lebanon!” he laughs.
During the ISF discussions, Radwan was one of two notable representatives for the MENA region with strong opinions formed by hard first-hand experiences on the conference theme: Foreign Aid and Coercive Practices. “To some people, WYA is a school. For others it is a door to different opportunities. For me, it is everything. When I went to the ISF, I really loved it. I loved every person. I was so happy. So happy.”
But after a week of the ISF with other members in Spain, “I returned to Lebanon and felt this depression,” he honestly expresses. “I flew back from the ISF to Beirut and landed in the middle of the night. I get back home and there’s no electricity. Everything is shut down. So, I went out to find a coffee shop since it was dark at home, and I reached out to my roommate from the ISF on social media. For us, it’s not just a distraction. It’s a lifeline. As I’m scrolling through social media, I see that applications are open for the next internship batch in Brussels, and I apply.”
We joke that he then tricycled from Beirut to Brussels for the internship – which is not such a wild fable if you listen to the personal cost of being there – and consider the joy he brings to those around him. Working at the European Union and discussing the philosophy of international law, Radwan is in his element. “I am loving every single thing in this internship. I am so blessed to be here with WYA, this internship… I like my colleagues, the quality of work… the ideas we are promoting, introducing people to WYA. There’s something to do wherever you look.”
Would you like to do more hands-on work with WYA? Click here to apply for a WYA internship!
WYA Staff, November 2023.