February 27, 2024

Around the Table with Israa Nour

Three Questions with the Make Room Email Newsletter

Around the Table is a three-question interview series from the Make Room email newsletter. Each edition features a conversation with a peer in the national security community to learn about their expertise and experience in the sector.

Israa Nour is a Policy Analyst at the Open Society Foundations and a 2024 NextGen National Security Fellow. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of Open Society Foundations.

What challenges do you face in working in contentious and rapidly evolving issues in the Middle East and Africa?

The Middle East and Africa represent unique geopolitical dynamics and U.S. policy and priorities toward them differ. Despite many differences, the regions are interconnected and developments in one can have ripple effects on the other. As an advocate, I do find myself balancing competing interests and pushing toward a coherent and effective foreign policy strategy across both regions. For example, the United States has a longer history of engagement with the Middle East compared to Africa. Today, however, Africa has the fastest growing, youngest population in the world, and with that comes an expanse of opportunities and potential for engagement. I’d like to see the U.S.-Africa partnership evolve into one that is more consistent and founded on shared interests. There are plenty of opportunities to expand trade and security cooperation on the continent in addition to humanitarian assistance and development aid.

Much like Africa, the Middle East is home to several ongoing conflicts and security threats. There has been an emphasis on counterterrorism efforts and military interventions in the post-9/11 era, as well as maintaining strong, longstanding relationships with allies. As a policy analyst at OSF, my policy recommendations and advocacy are guided by the lens of promoting democracy, human rights, and justice. When urgent issues are threatening the stability and security of a region, sometimes those principles lose relevancy at the highest levels. My responsibility is to steer policy in a way that is compatible with our core American values, even under immense pressure.

Can you talk about your experience working at the cross section of U.S. foreign policy and DEIA?

At OSF, I co-lead a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) Campaign that supports policy-focused organizations that demonstrate a commitment to DEIA principles. Those guiding principles being: intentionality, transparency, and accountability. Working in the foreign policy/national security space as a Black, Muslim, immigrant, woman, has its upsides as well as its challenges. As an Arabic speaker, I’ve broken down language barriers with people from the regions in which I engage. My inherent understanding of the cultures and religious contexts allows me to navigate diverse spaces and foster inclusive dialogue and collaboration with ease. I think bridging those gaps brings us closer together and ultimately leads to improved national security outcomes. Through a combination of direct advocacy, convening diverse natsec professionals, capacitating underserved communities to explore careers in international affairs, as well as grant-making to support organizations led by underrepresented groups, our team aims to lay the foundation for a U.S. foreign policy that integrates diverse perspectives and identities. DEIA principles are oftentimes intertwined with broader human rights promotion efforts in U.S. foreign policy and have seen an increase in efforts by institutions to enhance diplomatic effectiveness. As we work towards emphasizing the importance of DEIA in our policies here and abroad, we remain vigilant against tokenism, systemic barriers, and structural inequalities to continue to promote more inclusive and equitable outcomes on the global stage.

What advice do you have for someone who is early in their career?

My advice for those who are earlier in their careers is to trust their timing. Everyone is on their own clock. Have faith in the process and incremental progress. There are times when we need to put family commitments, our health, or other personal milestones ahead of our professions, and that is okay. The balance is important, and we need all those elements to bring our best selves to the work. There will be days when I prioritize work and others where my daughter or husband need my full attention. But in the end, regardless of the order of things, they will pass so I try to enjoy my present.


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