MGA alumnus helps build peace in Libya through UN role

Mohammad Omar Metwally (MGA ’19) loves to walk through historic Old Cairo at night. The crowded city of 20 million people slows down, allowing him to enjoy a view of the Nile River and think about his peacebuilding mission in the quiet streets of the place he has always called home.

“You can actually enjoy the beauty of the city,” said Metwally, a conflict analysis and conflict reduction strategies coach in the Division for Peace at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). Working remotely from Cairo due to the pandemic, Metwally supports UNITAR’s Stabilization Facility for Libya, a project that aims to foster national unity and strengthen state authorities through community-based reconciliation initiatives, inclusive municipal planning, and practical improvements in basic city services.

photo of quiet street in cairo at night
A quiet street at nighttime in historic Old Cairo, a favorite neighborhood of Omar Metwally, MGA ’19, who grew up in Cairo and now works remotely from the city for a position with UNITAR, a research arm of the United Nations. Photo by KA Photography, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Working with local partners throughout Libya, Metwally contributes to the design and implementation of capacity-building training and coaching programs, which, by developing the capacity of civil society organizations, support locally led peacebuilding and stabilization processes. He also advises local civil society organizations on conflict sensitivity—minimizing negative impacts while simultaneously creating positive impacts—and the use of conflict analysis tools. 

Metwally came to the Keough School in 2017 as a Fulbright Scholar and a member of the school’s first master of global affairs class. Though his undergraduate degree from Cairo University was in biotechnology, he chose the Keough School so he could further his interest in peacebuilding through Keough School’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, one of Keough School’s nine international institutes and the administrator of the master of global affairs concentration in international peace studies. 

“Some of my Egyptian friends were familiar with the Kroc Institute’s work and thought highly of the Kroc Institute, its vast network of alumni practitioners, and faculty expertise in peacebuilding,” he said.

As a student, Metwally said that he appreciated the guidance of Susan St. Ville, director of the international peace studies concentration, and assistant director Jennifer Betz, his academic advisor, who connected him with faculty mentors. Metwally worked closely with his research advisor George A. Lopez, the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Professor Emeritus of Peace Studies, and David Cortright, director of the Global Policy Initiative and the Kroc Institute’s former director of policy studies. Lopez and Cortright’s mentoring proved invaluable as Metwally completed his student research with the Global Center on Cooperative Security and the Prevention Project. Metwally also credits Scott Appleby, Marilyn Keough Dean, for his influence during Metwally’s experience of the master of global affairs program’s very first class.

“He showed up on a Sunday to help us work through complex issues,” Metwally said. “His wife was very kind and brought us sandwiches. Everyone went the extra mile.”

Metwally said he appreciated the multi-disciplinary makeup of the Keough School faculty. Laura Miller-Graff, associate professor of psychology and peace studies, guided and supported his overlapping interests in peace and psychology, and Rashied Omar, associate teaching professor of Islamic studies and peacebuilding, offered guidance and resources while Metwally wrote his capstone project for the course Islamic Ethics of Peace and War. 

Above all, Metwally said the diversity of his classmates helped him to grow and advance his goals. 

“Thirty-eight people from twenty-two countries is something that was very unique,” he said. He remembers a class taught by development economist Lakshmi Iyer that used case studies to explain specific issues in different countries and learn how these countries were able to overcome the challenges but quickly students would relate to the case studies and bring possible solutions that were implemented in their own countries.

student taking selfie of classmates in graduation gowns
Omar Metwally MGA’19 takes a photo of classmates before the Notre Dame Graduate School’s 2019 commencement ceremony.

After graduating and returning to Egypt, Metwally did consulting work on multiple peacebuilding and preventing violent extremism (PVE) projects before landing his UNITAR job in 2020. Metwally’s work on PVE always reflects a “whole of society”comprehensive approach; “I think sustainable solutions to preventing violent extremism can become reality only when we engage all actors of the community and recognize their different interests and broader connections to further strengthen the social fabric and community resilience,” Metwally said.

The pandemic has meant disruptions, but Metwally says building long-term relationships has always been a priority and has become even more important at present. Like the hard work of conflict resolution itself, any “success” and its meaning exist within the context of community. It’s what Metwally keeps at the forefront of his thinking as he moves beyond the Keough School in a career committed to service in the cause of peace.


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