I'm at the airport, about to making my annual pilgrimage to Norway for the Oslo Freedom Forum, so I thought I'd write a quick note on what it means to me.
You probably know that Iyad and I started Kawaakibi Foundation together, but we met, got to know each other and worked together entirely online. We began to write our first book, the Arab Spring Manifesto, in late 2013, and continued to work through Iyad being detained and expelled from the UAE, living in an airport for a month, and living a refugee in Malaysia. The book was eventually abandoned (though we'll pick it up again someday), and when the OFF managed to bring him to Oslo that year - the first time he'd been to Europe - we managed to meet in person for the first time. The rest, as they say, is history.
It's almost 5 years later, but we've been going back to the Oslo Freedom Forum ever since. We met the third member of our team there - Kholoud - there, as well as regular contributors like Nasser (@weddady), and many others who've helped on the journey.
It's also at the OFF that we really kicked off our podcast last year - we recorded nearly two-dozen interviews - some of which we haven't even released yet (and hopefully we'll be doing the same next week - stay tuned for more details). We met Raed Fares and Jamal Khashoggi - two amazing people who've left their mark on us forever. The picture above is our team with Raed after recording our episode, two years ago today.
Of course, there are many others who've left their mark and who we hope will still be around for decades to come. All in all, it's probably one of the most amazing communities of people you will find anywhere in the world - people of every race, language, continent and economic or social background imaginable, putting down their careers, livelihoods and safety for the liberty and rights of others. From anonymous bloggers, to investigative journalists, to street protest organisers and veteran campaigners, to religious leaders, politicians, musicians, artists, former political prisoners (and the families of current ones) - some activist by choice, others forced into it by circumstance. Every year we come back energised and inspired, and often with several tentative collaborations to work through.
Some of the more well-known people attending this year - who I'm hoping to meet, and maybe record with: Ai Weiwei, Bill Browder, Yousra Elbagir, Gary Kasparov, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, Timothy Snyder and many more. Here's the official speakers list for this year:
If anyone on it strikes you as particularly exciting, let me know and we'll try extra hard to get an episode with them for you! You can stream it live on the OFF website (Monday to Wednesday), and the talks will be online later too.
We'll probably be live-tweeting a lot of it too - myself (@gatnash), Iyad (@iyad_elbaghdadi) and Nasser (@weddady). I'm also hoping to release an episode this weekend - a leftover from last year, a fascinating, spontaneous and deeply introspective discussion that happened when 7 Arab activists found themselves in a single room together.
Catch you soon,