A Palestinian graduate has won the Young Writers Prize of MedReset, a European Union (EU) funded project.
Twenty-three-year-old Omar Shanti graduated from Northwestern University in Illinois, USA, in 2018 with a degree in computer science, economics and Middle East and North Africa studies. He was born in the UK to Palestinian parents, before living for some time in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Shanti was awarded the Young Writers Prize earlier this week, with the award presented by Federica Mogherini, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Council.
On accepting the award, Shanti thanked the EU for the opportunity to address the conference, saying: "I'd like to acknowledge my university professor […] my mother in attendance today, without whom nothing would be possible, and my biggest academic influence, [Palestinian intellectual] Edward Said, whose thoroughness, eloquence and refinement – as well as whose relentless pursuit of humanism – have provided a model for much greater figures than myself."
Shanti spoke at length about the paper for which he was awarded the prize – "El Haraga" Read Through Maghrebi Literary Production – which, in his own words, explores "how clandestine migration across the Straits of Gibraltar is represented in a small sample of recent Maghrebi fiction". The Maghreb consists of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
He explained that, by exploring the themes of migration and Maghrebi identity, his paper hoped to challenge the dominant representation of Maghreb migrants and refugees that has developed in the wake of Europe's so-called migrant crisis, which has seen thousands attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea since 2013. He wished to explore those factors "which not only make the human a migrant but which make the migrant a human," he added.
Shanti also placed his paper in the context of Palestinian-Maghreb relations. In concluding his acceptance speech, he explained:
I hope that this can be seen as an earnest gesture of love from a Palestinian, in myself, to the Maghreb. As far as national salutations go, and at risk of being a little bit reductionist, I don't think that any outweigh the phenomenal support and love the Palestinians have received from the Maghreb.
Maghreb countries regularly express their support of Palestine and the Palestinian cause. In February, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said that the Palestinian issue would be a "top priority" on the agenda of the upcoming Arab summit, due to take place later this month. Essebsi stressed "the constant and lasting support of Tunisia for the Palestinian people, its defence of the people's just cause, and its commitment to support and defend it in all regional and international forums".
In January, Algeria's president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika renewed his country's "constant" support of the Palestinian cause, saying: "Algeria will continue to support the Palestinian people in their struggle to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital."
The strength of this support has been thrust into the spotlight in the wake of rumours that Morocco is considering normalising relations with Israel, and that Moroccan and Israeli ministers have met in secret to this end. Morocco has repeatedly denied the claims, while Moroccan institutions have condemned any move to support Israel and weaken the country's support for Palestinians.