The $10,000 Dream Deferred Essay Contest 2012 for 25 and Below (Middle East)

06 May 2012
The $10,000 Dream Deferred Essay Contest 2012 for 25 and Below (Middle East)
Deadline: 27 May 2012

This annual contest comes from a 1951 Langston Hughes poem: What Happens to a Dream Deferred?. Just as the poem helped propel the civil rights movement in the U.S., today it can inspire your dream deferred for the Middle East. The contest has two parts: one for Middle Eastern youth and one for American youth. Please answer one of the questions below - but first make sure to read the rules & guidelines. Winning essays - selected by a panel of celebrity judges - receive $10,000 in prizes.

$10,000 IN PRIZES:
  • $2,000 for 1 grand prize winner each in Mideast & U.S.
  • $1,500 for 1 second place winner in each region
  • $500 for 3 runners-up in each region
  • 50 book prizes for additional outstanding essays.


Your Story: How does civil rights abuse in your local community impact you? Share a defining moment where you experienced civil rights restrictions (censorship, discrimination, etc.). How did this incident change you? Will your children's generation still face such repression?

Freedom: Given the historic changes in the Mideast over the past year, do you feel more or less free? Reflect on changes in the region and in your local community. Explain, with examples, whether you enjoy greater rights today than a year ago. Do you expect to be more free a year from now?

In the Streets: If you participated in grassroots protests against repression during the past year, why did you join and what did you learn? Describe in vivid detail what you experienced, as well as how your life - and your attitude on individual rights - has changed. What challenges remain now?

Advocacy: How can individual rights be secured in the Mideast’s new reality? Dictators may have fallen, yet individual rights remain fragile. What can you do to protect the rights of vulnerable members in your local community (women, minorities, etc.). Propose a concrete action plan.

Dream: What is your “dream deferred”: a vision of your society with civil rights for all? Share your dream of a civil rights movement in your community. If you like, write a mock newspaper article from the future reporting on the effort.

Film Fest: In 2008, an essay contest winner organized the first-ever Cairo Human Rights Film Festival. When authorities blocked theatres from hosting screening, she held the opening on a Nile River boat. Be inspired and share your vision for a similar festival in your community: What films will you show? How will you overcome obstacles?

Viral Video: You have been given $1,000 to make a short video (1-4 mins) about individual rights in your society. Share the script, which can expose repression, showcase a campaign or dream of a better future. Bonus: Make the film and provide a YouTube link.


Check out the Guide to Writing a Good Essay, which includes helpful tips for each question.

Who can enter the contest?

Entrants must be 25 years old or younger as of the contest deadline: May 27, 2012. Entrants must reside in Arab League member states, Iran, Afghanistan, or the United States. There is no minimum age requirement, and entrants do not need to be students. Prizes are awarded as cash, not scholarships.

Foreign Students: If you are a foreigner currently studying in the US, you can enter the contest. If you are a Middle Easterner studying in the US, answer one of the questions posed to Middle Easterners. If you are a citizen of the Middle East temporarily living outside the region, you can still enter the contest. If you are an American currently living overseas, you can enter the contest.

Equal Opportunity: All essays are evaluated without regard for race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation of the author, as well as other classifications protected by applicable international US laws.

How long should entries be?

Essays should be at least 600 words, but no longer than 1,500 words. Footnotes, citations, and essay title do not count towards the word limit.

Can an essay entry remain anonymous?

If do not want your name made public in the event your essay is selected as a winner, check the "anonymous" box when submitting your essay. Several past winners have chosen this option.

When will AIC announce the winners?

Winners will be notified (and announced on our web site) by Summer 2012. Judges evaluate each essay for clarity, creativity, and persuasiveness to determine prize winners.

What are common mistakes to avoid when writing an essay?

Do not focus on US government policy and regional geo-politics (the Iraq War debate, the Arab-Israeli-Iranian conflict, Iran's nuclear program, etc.). Essays based on these topics are disqualified. Judges are looking for essays that explore what ordinary citizens can do on the grassroots level to strengthen individual rights within Middle Eastern societies. These civil rights include, but are not limited to, free expression, women's equality, minority rights, religious freedom, economic liberty, and artistic freedom. Check out the Guide to Writing a Good Essay, which includes helpful tips for each question.

How can a brief essay cover the broad topic of civil rights in the Mideast?

There are several ways to address this challenge. Past prize winners have discussed the larger problem of civil rights abuses across the Middle East with a range of examples. Others have focused on one particular country (Middle Eastern participants are strongly encouraged to address their own society). Others have focused on a particular kind of civil rights abuse (e.g., press censorship). There is no one "right" answer to any of the essay questions. Check out the Guide to Writing a Good Essay, which includes helpful tips for each question.

Do essays have to be original and does AIC retain the right to reprint essays?

Yes and yes. Makes sure any quotations or outside intellectual material have citations. All essay submissions become the property of the contest's sponsor: the American Islamic Congress. At the same time, entrants can republish their essay on their own (e.g., on a blog, for a class paper, etc.) and use ideas for other writing.


Amber Lyon

Amber Lyon is a three-time Emmy award-winning journalist and correspondent for CNN, where she helps produce investigative reports and documentaries. She covered the Bahraini nonviolent movement on the ground, and was attacked by Bahraini police. Since then she has become one of the most cited American journalists on the struggle for civil rights in Bahrain.

Ahmed Benchemsi

Benchemsi co-founded Morocco's groundbreaking and best-selling weekly magazines TelQuel and Nichane, which made international headlines with taboo-busting cover stories on the salary of Morocco's king, opinion polls, free speech and more. Benchemsi has been recognized for his pioneering journalism with fellowships at the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek. At the same time, he faced on-going legal intimidation and recently left Morocco to serve as a fellow at Stanford University.

Marietje Schaake

Marietje Schaake is a Dutch politician who has served as a member of the European Parliament since July 2009. The Wall Street Journal identified her as “The Most Wired Politician in Europe”. She has introduced numerous resolutions and inquiries to support the civil rights movement in the Mideast and North Africa before and after the Arab uprisings.

Parisa Montazaran

Parisa Montazaran is the first Muslim to appear on the MTV hit show The Real World. A first-generation Iranian-American, this reality TV star is currently lecturing at universities on diversity, Muslim youth in America, cross-cultural and inter-faith understanding, and female/minority empowerment. Parisa hopes to leverage her freedom in the US to promote change back home in Iran.

Jane Novak

Jane Novak is a leading player in the Yemeni struggle for reform, press freedom, and women equality - and she does it all from her New Jersey home. This stay-at-home mother first became interested in Yemen in 2004 when she learned about the imprisonment of journalist Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani. Novak began to publicize his case on her blog and launched a petition calling for al-Khaiwani’s release. The petition soon garnered 1,000 signatures, and Novak was profiled in the New York Times.

Nasser Weddady

The son of an ambassador, Weddady grew up throughout the Middle East and witnessed firsthand the toll of civil rights repression. As an adult he became an outspoken human rights activist and had to flee to the US as a refugee in 2000. A few days after September 11, he was mistakenly detained by the FBI. Today, he organizes workshops for Middle Eastern activists and helps lead campaigns to free dissidents. He is the co-editor of "Arab Spring Dreams," a new anthology featuring outstanding writing from this essay contest.


For submissions: submit your essay online here

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