The Center for Environmental and Social Development
Environment, Tourism and Culture Center
Founded in 2003, The Center for Environmental and Social Development is one of the first non-profit organizations to work towards human rights in Syria. Journalist and researcher Issam Khoury formed CESD in Syria, with the initial focus of environmental and economic development. These programs positively impacted Syrian youth and provided a lasting effect on civil society. During 2003-2005, CESD, then consisting of 100 members, launched cleanup and restoration efforts along the Syrian coast.
Due to a changing political climate in the Middle East, we decided to participate in journalist training sessions, leading students to craft their own investigative articles about development in Syria and the Middle East.
In 2005, our website was shut down by the Syrian government. All articles, photos, videos, interviews, and memos documenting harsh truths in Syria and the Middle East were wiped from the public view. The website was viewed by around 400,000 Middle Easterners at the time. The government, fearing widespread public knowledge of information which exposes them, is known to impose internet crackdowns on the pretext of ‘threats to state sovereignty.’ CESD continued under a new domain, but that site was once again banned later in the year.
In order to avoid a third shutdown and to continue to inform the public, we established Monitor, an electronic newsletter which was the first of its kind in the Arab world. E-mail blasts were sent out to thousands of recipients who chose to provide us with their contact information. Monitor featured information regarding important non-profit organizations operating in the Middle East & North Africa, local information about Syria,and reports on Millennium Goals and democracy in the Middle East. In 2007, due to the vast expansion of similar activist websites and organizations across the Middle East, we decided to work on different development projects, such as EuroMed. The popularity of Monitor allowed our writers to venture, and they later became some of the most well known journalists in the Arab World. However, with success comes setbacks, and our writers were later arrested, interrogated, and tortured by Syrian prison guards and officials.
Since its founding, CESD has participated in various projects in the Middle East, such as the World Social Forum, Arab Social Forum, and governance/journalist training. In order to gain experience and to better grasp the concept of development, we sent our members outside of the country, so that they would become better familiarized with training-to-training programs, gender equality facilitation, children’s and women’s rights initiatives, democratic and youth projects, and environmental stability. Upon their return, they were able to provide training to those who support civil society and change inside Syria. CESD has also assisted local non-profit organizations with their work in environmental health, autism and disability awareness. Through our coordination with political activists in Syria, we have advocated for programs to support democracy and advocacy in the region.
We created a training program in order to share our own expertise with non-profits and non-governmental organizations, which have attracted activists in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, and Iraq. Our activities challenge the concept of dictatorship and call for complete democracy and equal human rights within the MENA region. The programs allow for organizations to better implement their own effective strategies and improve decision making skills.
From 2009-2011, the Syrian government placed a travel ban upon multiple members of CESD. Due to this constraint, our work during this time mostly focused on the situation inside Syria. Training programs continued to operate between the coastal areas and the northeastern cities and villages. We succeeded in increasing our viewership as well as membership, now standing at over 200 members inside Syria alone. Our team covers news regarding the Syrian Civil War, and we document human rights abuses. CESD often coordinates with international official media press in order to share our findings.
When the Arab Spring began in 2011, our members were vocal in their support for the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions. When the Syrian Revolution began, we were among the first to document human rights abuses during the crackdown of peaceful protesters. As the global and regional media do not often have journalists on the ground in Syria, we provided them with detailed and accurate reports about the ongoing crisis in various cities throughout the country.
CESD continues to release articles, documents, and reports on the Syrian Revolution and civil war. We speak out against terrorism and radicalism, and analyze the situation in the MENA region during the post-Arab Spring era. Across the MENA region, CESD provides training for journalists and citizen journalists in the digital media field. We will continue to fully advocate for and support peaceful democratic initiatives in the Middle East and North Africa.