Saturday, July 16, 2016

Chester joins delegation to birthplace of 'Arab Spring'

Mark Kitchin,, July 13

Image from article, with cpation: Michael Inganamort of Chester, right, presents a book on former Gov. Tom Kean to the Moroccan Ambassador to the United States, Rachad Bouhlal.

CHESTER – While most of us spent the weekend celebrating our democracy, people like Michael Inganamort are interested in helping others achieve theirs or at least finding out how America can help.

Inganamort, 32, is a Chester resident and a member of the American Council of Young Political Leaders. The organization, which is sponsored by the State Department, takes an active role in encouraging policy makers and promising political leaders and gives them a chance to travel internationally and practice public diplomacy.

In late May, the organization sponsored a 10-day tour in Tunisia and Morocco to evaluate the impact of the Arab Spring and progress on security and human rights.

In addition to Inganamort, members of the delegation included: New Mexico State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, Ohio State Rep. Stephanie Howse and Ben Stratmann, chief of staff to a member of the Texas Senate.

The trip was an eye opener for Inganamort. It was his second tour with (ACYPL). He traveled to El Salvador and Guatemala in 2012 to study the area’s growing problems with violence and drugs.

“It was an amazing trip,’’ Inganamort said. “Tunisia and Morocco are so close but so different. Tunisia is where the Arab Spring started.’’

The Arab Spring actually started in the winter of 2010 in Tunisia. That country’s revolution set off major insurgencies in Syria, Libya and Yemen and uprisings in Egypt and Bahrain as well as demonstrations in most Arab League countries. Only Tunisia’s translated into a change in government.

Tunisia and Morocco are both North African countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. They have both the benefits and problems relative to their location.

In Tunisia, the delegation met with the Minister of Tourism, former Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, members of Parliament from four political parties, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Tunisia to discuss opportunities for increased tourism and investment.

“Tunisia has been the only true success story,’’ Inganamort said. “It is an open and functioning democracy. They want to get the economy on the right track and get rid of terrorism. They are on the cusp of doing some big, amazing things.’’

There is a very different atmosphere in Morocco. Their government is considered a constitutional monarchy with a parliament and an independent judiciary. The area has some ingredients for aspects of a democracy to grow.

“Morocco is a total contrast,’’ Inganamort said. “Instead of emerging as a democracy, Morocco is a kingdom. There are portraits of the King (Mohammed VI) everywhere. You can feel his influence everywhere. You can see it in the highways, in the downtown. There is plenty of security. They take it very seriously.’’

The delegation was hosted by the OCP Policy Center, a Moroccan think tank, to consider the kingdom’s balancing of security measures and freedom of expression. The agenda included a formal briefing with Youssef Amrani, the King’s foreign policy advisor. The group also had a dialogue with the Muhammadan League of Scholars on countering the extremist narrative and also visited a community center that shields at-risk youth from terrorist recruiters.

“One morning we were at the palace of the King talking to his foreign policy administrator and hours later we were taken to a center in an area where children were being taken away to be recruited as terrorists,’’ Inganamort said.

Inganamort, who grew up in Sparta, works for the consulting firm ASG Advisors. The Morristown-based business provides strategic planning, research, program design and impact assessment for a variety of organizations.

Inganamort has had a longtime interest in politics. He has degrees in political science from American University and Georgetown, both in Washington, D.C. He has worked for several Republican organizations in the past and would have played a role in Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign in New Jersey if his candidacy for the GOP nomination for president was still active at the time of the state primary.

Inganamort encourages anyone interested in politics to look into what ACYPL has to offer. Its alumni include Sen.Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-11.

“Basically they hold exchanges with other countries,’’ Inganamort said. “They lead groups especially in and around New York City. The organization is a non profit and they get a lot of their funding from the state department.’’

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