The Arab Education Forum was founded in 1998 under the umbrella of the Contemporary Arab Studies Program at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, USA. In 2000 the regional office for AEF was established in Jordan, functioning still under the legal and financial umbrella of CMES. The staff of AEF constituted of the Director based at CMES, Harvard University and the regional director based in Jordan. Occasional part-time staff were hired for specific tasks or projects.
The idea simply stated at the time that instead of looking at what is Missing or what the needs are in education in the Arab world, we should pay more attention to what exists and what people have. There are many inspiring community initiatives in the Arab world that are dispersed both geographically and intellectually, but which, if brought together can bring about the seeds of the renaissance that everyone who is active in the field of education/learning seeks. The basic conviction here is that a group vision or visions based on the reflection on and expressions of grass-roots experiences implemented by the same people who are actively involved in these experiences can constitute the way forward for Arab societies.
Based on this simple idea, seed money was allocated to the Contemporary Arab Studies Program budget to follow up the idea and begin some practical steps. In September 1998, Dr. Munir Fasheh made his first visit to Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where he met a number of individuals and educational organizations, among them was the Lebanese Association for Educational Sciences which became the second educational organization to become actively involved in the future development of AEF.
The first meeting was planned for April 1999 in Beirut Lebanon. An announcement was published in Al-Haya newspaper throughout Nov/Dec 1998, inviting people with educational experiences and initiatives to send an outline about their work, relating it to the vision they believe in. The announcement was also published in some local newspapers in Arab countries. As a result, more than 50 people sent their presentations and expression of interest to participate in the meeting; about 20 people were selected as a first group to discuss AEF's vision and idea by presenting their projects and how they relate their work to their vision.
Dr. Hassan A. Al-Ebraheem, Chairman of the Kuwaiti Society for the Advancement of Arab Children, contacted Dr. Fasheh following his reading of an article published in Al Hayat newspaper about AEF's vision. He took part in the first meeting and, along with Dr. Sali at Turki (Dhahran Ahliyyeh schools), Dr. Adnan el Amine (Lebanese Association for Educational Sciences), and Dr. Munir Fasheh, they formed a Coordinating Committee responsible for the continuation of this important and vital project. The committee submitted a funding request to the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development (Kuwait) and the request was approved for financing AEF's activities for three years as of July 2000. The Ford Foundation, Cairo office, also agreed to partially support the project for three years as of January 2000. This support was renewed for an additional three years as of January 2003. Omar Al-Khudari Foundation in the U.S.A is another supporter of the project.
After several years of working in the Arab world it became imperative to have a legal base for the development and continuity of projects that have developed over the years with several partners, particularly in Palestine and Jordan. For this purpose, and in August 2005 an NGO was registered as a non-profit association in Palestine, under the name "Almoultaqa At Tarbawi Al3arabi". Its board consisted of 7 founders from Ramallah and Jerusalem. They are: Basima Takrouri, Bouthaina Hamdan, Mary Fasheh, Wassim Kurdi, Hania Aswad, Serene Huleileh, and AbdulSalam Nakhleh. In 2006, a non-profit company was established in Jordan called: AlMoultaqa At Tarbawi Al 3Arabi al 3ilmi whose board consists of the two co-founders of the Arab Education Forum, Dr. Munir Fasheh and Serene Huleileh (Regional Director of AEF since 2000 based in Amman-Jordan).