Tharwa Institute for Democratic Leadership

Tharwa Institute for Democratic Leadership: an initiative launched by the Tharwa Foundation back in 2007 to help train young democracy activists from around the Broader Middle East and North Africa region. The Tharwa Institute hopes to facilitate the emergence of new leaders in the region capable of managing the transition to democracy.

Today, the Tharwa Institute (TI) focuses on training of local activists and opposition members from Syria in particular on the challenges of local governance especially during the transition phase to democratic rule.

During its heydays in 2007-08, the Tharwa Institute trained scores of young pro-democracy activists from the Broader Middle East and North Africa region to undertake their own, independent reform projects in their local communities. The TI training program imparted on participants both a theoretical understanding of political systems and democratic transition methods, and a practical training in grass-roots activism. The program culminated in participants proposing their own democratic reform initiatives, which they carried out at the end of their training period as their graduation projects. The projects were funded by the Tharwa Institute.

Participants in the training attended two in-person workshops held in Istanbul, Turkey in 2007. They also attended weekly online chats for a period of 6-months focusing on discussing of the TI curriculum.

The TI curriculum focused on four modules, each devoted to one of the following thematic components:

a)          Dictatorships, Authoritarian Rule and Tyranny
b)         Principles and Concepts of Liberal Democracy
c)          Democratic Activism – Opposing Dictatorships and Mobilizing Civil Society
d)         Transitional Processes

The TI curriculum was designed as a collaborative effort between Tharwa Founder, Ammar Abdulhamid, Director of the Center for Liberties in the Middle East, Eleana Gordon, and Steve Heydemann of the United States Institute for Peace.



  1. Message of Tharwa Founder, Ammar Abdulhamid, to participant in TI training programs in 2007: “For yes, let me not be too shy about it. Hell, let’s not be shy at all. There is no need for that here. What I really want most from this life, which is what many of you are yearning for, I am sure, amounts to nothing less than a full-fledged, far-reaching and all-encompassing, yet definitely nonviolent, revolution. Reforms, especially considering the haphazard manner in which they are often proffered, if they ever get proffered that is, will hardly suffice for us. On the other hand, I seriously doubt that there is anything acceptable or appealing for us in the status quo to merit mourning should it be discarded or changed. Oppression, corruption, poverty, ignorance, backwardness, fanaticism, communal hatreds, external dabbling… these are not exactly the hallmarks of healthy cultures and societies, and they give us very little to hold on to, very little of which we can be proud, and about which we can be hopeful.” 
Syria 2008

One of the most amazing projects to emerge out of TI training in 2007 was a project for documenting the poverty belts surrounding major cities in Syria, a project that ended up capturing in word and picture the growing restlessness of local communities and the spirit of revolution that is steadily in the country. In fact, it was this project that encouraged Tharwa Founder, Ammar Abdulhamid, to assert that Syria will be witnessing a revolution in the near future during his Congressional testimony in April 24. 2008.

For TI's activities beyond 2008, see Tharwa's Current Projects