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AUCians Recognized Among Top 99 Foreign Policy Leaders Under 33

October 8, 2013

Three AUCians were named in a list of the world’s top 99 foreign policy leaders under the age of 33, published by the Diplomatic Courier and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Robtel Pailey, Eric Trager (MA ’07) and Katherine Maher (ALU ’03), who all either worked or studied at AUC, were each identified as young individuals who are tackling the world’s critical global challenges. Pailey came to AUC in 2004 to work in the Office of Communications as a presidential intern. After spending one year writing articles for AUC’s website, three years later, she found herself writing speeches for the president of Liberia as the special assistant for communications. “My interest in strategic communications was birthed at AUC’s communications office,” Pailey said. At AUC, she learned about branding and speaking to different audiences, and was able to transfer these skills to an office in the highest level of Liberia’s government. One of the accomplishments that Pailey is most proud of while she was working for Liberia’s president was a weekly radio program that she hosted. This radio show, Lift Liberia, brought in prominent local stakeholders to talk about poverty-reduction strategies in Liberia. “The program became less of a government talk show, but more of a dialogue,” she explained. Pailey is currently pursuing her doctorate in development studies at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies as a Mo Ibrahim Foundation PhD scholar. Her research focuses on the factors that led to the introduction and postponement of a proposed dual citizenship bill in Liberia. “I'm using the proposed bill to ask questions about the connection between transnational citizenship and development in Liberia and elsewhere,” she explained. Pailey affirms that her knowledge about foreign affairs and development expanded through her year at AUC, where she was able to observe the interconnectedness between Egypt’s experiences and other areas in Africa. “Living in Egypt gave me a different scope because it allowed me to view the continent as a whole,” said Pailey, who had previously studied in South Africa and Ghana. “It is incorrect to say that what happens in North Africa doesn’t affect what happens in the rest of Africa.” Eric Trager also learned more about Egypt’s political and religious spheres after attaining his Master of Arts from AUC in 2007. At AUC, Trager wrote his thesis on Islamic legal reform, and his studies influenced his future research significantly. “My study of Islamic jurisprudence gave me the proper context for understanding Islamist approaches to law and politics when I began examining Islamist parties as a political science PhD student shortly thereafter,” Trager said. Trager is particularly grateful for the support of his thesis adviser, Mohamed Serag, professor of Islamic Studies. “[Serag’s] emphasis on the very important, yet overlooked, distinction between sharia and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) continues to frame my understanding of what it means, for example, when Islamists say they want to ‘implement the sharia.’” Trager is currently working as a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His research focuses on the Muslim Brotherhood and prospects for its re-emergence. In the next year, he hopes to write a book about the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise and fall in Egyptian politics. “My book will focus on the way in which the Brotherhood’s insular, cultish organization made it uniquely capable of winning elections in an otherwise politically disorganized society, and also show how these same characteristics alienated many Egyptians once the Brotherhood had achieved power and, thus, catalyzed the June 30 uprising against it,” he explained. Katherine Maher’s experiences at AUC also molded her understanding of the Middle East and foreign policy. She studied at AUC for three semesters through the Arabic Language Institute, now called the Department of Arabic Language Instruction. She recalls, in particular, her experiences living in Egypt during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. “In 2003, I saw how ordinary people responded to state policies they didn't agree with –– in this case, protests against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but with a strong subtext of disapproval for the Mubarak government’s relationship with the United States,” Maher said. “I was really interested in how protestors managed to use this opening to make the protests about more than just Iraq and a reflection on how the Mubarak government didn’t reflect the needs and views of Egyptian citizens on a variety of levels. It made me much more aware of the fragility of even seemingly omnipotent state power, and my work ever since has focused on that tension: What happens when people are fully empowered to organize and communicate, and what does that mean for the national and international status quo?” Maher is currently the director of strategy at Access, where she observes the intersection between technology and foreign policy. “My research currently focuses on the ways communications technology is changing our understanding of various foreign policy actors, especially the role of the individual,” Maher explained. In the future, she is hoping to strengthen her team at Access and is also looking forward to organizing an initiative called the Khamsoon Project, which aims to “highlight the incredible talent and intellectual firepower of a young generation of Arab scholars, thinkers and innovators.” All three of these former AUCians were honored to receive the recognition as the top foreign policy leaders under 33. “It is often difficult to translate my work to traditional practitioners of foreign policy, so I am excited that my work is being recognized,” Maher said. Similarly, Pailey was proud that she was recognized as a “shaper” of foreign policy, especially as a young African woman in a field largely dominated by the middle-aged establishment. “I hope to be a shaper now and certainly in the future,” Pailey said. The top 99 foreign policy leaders under 33 is a highly selective list of the most influential individuals. “With the ‘Top 99 under 33,’ we saw an opportunity not to create just another label for an over-analyzed and too often over-generalized generation, but rather a community of some of the brightest and most innovative minds of the time,” explained Chrisella Sagers Herzog, Diplomatic Courier managing editor. “From poverty to summitry, defense to diplomacy, education to entrepreneurship, our third class of 99ers continues to prove to the world the power of breaking traditional models and thinking outside the box for new solutions to old problems. Bring a group of 99ers together in a room, and feel the world shift.” Photo caption: Eric Trager (MA ’07), Katherine Maher (ALU ’03) and Robtel Pailey To read the complete list of the "Top 99 under 33," clickhere.