Middle East studies in the News
Scholars Assess Future of Middle East [incl. Shai Feldman, John Esposito, Farhad Kazemi]
by Josh Weiner and Patrick McGrath
Academics and policymakers last week discussed future developments in the Middle East in its current time of transition during "The New Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities" conference.
"I don't remember a period in my life where the ratio of questions and answers in the Middle East was anything like it is today," Brandeis University Professor Shai Feldman said at the annual conference. "All of this political uncertainty … raises many, many more questions than answers."
The Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies sponsored the two−day conference held in the Cabot Intercultural Center.
Thomas R. Pickering (F '54), a former U.S. ambassador to six countries and the U.N., delivered Thursday's keynote address, emphasizing the region's importance to U.S. foreign policy in the long term.
His lecture touched upon many of the region's most pressing current events, including the existing power vacuum in Egypt and the question of Arab−Israeli peace.
Pickering challenged the United States to make effective use of diplomacy, rather than military action, especially in dealing with Iran and its uranium enrichment program. He added that there is "no military victory in sight" for the United States in Afghanistan, which is now home to fewer than 100 members of Al−Qaeda.
"Military action is not a good substitute for diplomacy," Pickering said, explaining that there is has been a lack of Western diplomacy in the Middle East.
A three−person panel, titled "Continuing Tensions in the Levant" and chaired by Professor of International Negotiation and Conflict Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Nadim N. Rouhana, followed the keynote address.
Feldman opened the discussion with a critical examination of the ongoing political upheaval in Egypt, a country that has been leaderless since the forced resignation of President Hosni Mubarak in February. He questioned whether the events in Egypt could be considered a revolution if Amr Moussa, former foreign minister under Mubarak, wins the 2011 presidential election.
"If General Amr Moussa takes Mubarak's place as president, has anything really changed?" he asked.
Randa Slim, former vice president and current board member of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, analyzed the turmoil in Syria. She addressed the destructive actions of the militant group Hezbollah and mounting international opposition to Syrian President Bashar al−Assad.
"The demise of al−Assad would hurt the Hezbollah, but would not cause them to collapse," Slim said. "They are definitely here to stay."
The final speaker of the evening was Rami G. Khouri, editor−at−large for Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star.
Throughout the Arab world, countries have been striving for constitutional justice and social reform, which laid the grounds for "unparalleled citizen−based national self−determination," Khouri said.
"Tension is like cholesterol," he said. "There can be good tension and bad tension. The type of tension we're seeing now is good. We're seeing the birth of a new Arab world, one which acts on the basis that we all deserve some rights."
Khouri added that U.S. sanctions and force no longer hold as much weight in this new Arab world. "The most powerful country in the world now has less diplomatic credibility in the region than ever in recent history," he said.
He was optimistic about the region's transition to diplomatic autonomy and said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' motion for Palestine's full recognition as a state in the U.N. demonstrated the power of diplomatic leadership.
The conference began its second day with an introduction by Ambassador William Rugh, the Edward R. Murrow visiting professor of public diplomacy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
The sessions for the day included, "Economic and Social Development," "Afghanistan and Pakistan," "Security Issues in the Gulf," "Domestic Political Issues and Transitions" and a webcast keynote address on "U.S. Engagement with the New Middle East."
During the "Economic and Social Development" event, chaired by Associate Professor of Economics and Director of the International Relations Program Drusilla Brown, four specialists discussed different aspects and approaches to development in the Arab world.
New York University Professor of Politics and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Farhad Kazemi broke down his argument into the demographic, economic and cultural challenges facing the area's development.
Important factors in demographic development include the rapid increase in population across the Arab world, especially in young age groups, which has led to improved political and social conscience, an advancement in technological knowledge, more international travel and better access to social media, Kazemi explained.
True hope for the Arab world can best be seen in the potential of its increasingly globalized and active youth, especially in the increased rates of female literacy and education, according to Kazemi.
Georgetown University Professor John Esposito discussed the changes and development in the region, especially through the lens of a recent Gallup poll in post−revolution Egypt.
"Many activists are concerned about the transition to democracy," Esposito said. "The prime concern is the economy."
Esposito acknowledged the challenges associated with the changes in the Arab world. The United States will have to learn to deal with more independent regimes, he said.
Retired General Stanley Allen McChrystal, who delivered Friday's webcast keynote address, gave a brief overview of U.S. relations with the Arab world, especially between the United States and Iran. McChrystal examined the Iranian perspective on past U.S. actions, including the controversial shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988.
McChrystal urged the audience members to consider the reasons and causes for Iranian attitudes toward the United States, adding that the Unites States needs to improve communication and teaching of Middle Eastern culture and language to help facilitate better relations.
The United States also needs to reduce military presence in the Middle East, while still serving as a potential back−up resource for those in need, according to McChrystal. "We've got to make sure we don't get over involved," he said.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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