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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Arab league to learn, debate on Middle East

A team of UH students has approximately five months to learn everything it can about the country of Oman – something that takes most diplomats a lifetime.

"It’s interesting to hear that we will be representing Oman because I really don’t know anything about Oman. But, I mean, I could tell you the leaders of most of the larger countries in the Middle East," biology freshman Cynthia Goble said.

For nearly 15 years, UH has been participating in The Model Arab League. The "summit," as it is called, is an event where students from schools across the United States are assigned to represent one of the 23 Arab nations and debate policy of that particular country. This year, UH will represent Oman.

"It’s an opportunity to learn a bit more about what’s going on in a country that you may not know much about, like Oman, but it’s also a chance to see how other countries in the Arab League interact," Andrew Curry, director of the UH team, said.

Curry has been taking students from the league to Washington D.C. for about five years. The work of the students will culminate in a three-day period at the end of March when they will test their policy against other student-represented Arab nations.

Curry also said it’s an opportunity for students to learn how policy is discussed in the real Arab League. Model Arab League gives students the opportunity to learn about Arab nations that don’t make headlines often, said Curry, who is also the coordinator of academic services at the Honors College.

"This is a nice opportunity to stimulate your mind and to pay attention to things that are beyond just Iraq, that are beyond just the war that is going on right now," Curry said. "It’s an interesting way to figure out how countries interact with each another."

The League has five general committees: The Council on Palestinian Affairs, the Joint Defense Council, Council of Arab Social Affairs Ministers, Council of Arab Environmental Affairs Ministers, Council of Arab Economic Affairs Ministers and a Special Summit of Arab Heads of State. About one or two students are assigned to each committee, and they spend the majority of their time sending information and ideas back and forth.

About 10-12 students actually make the trip to the district, even if more are on the team. Curry said this is because he is the only person who travels with them, and that more people means more expenses.

Computer science senior Jonathan Green has been head delegate for the past two years and will serve as committee chairman this year. He’ll moderate debates and consult with Curry to decide who will go to Washington D.C.

"You learn more about the Middle East than you really thought was possible," Green said. "I think the most valuable thing you will end up learning from this is really being able to take your opinions and policies and put them aside and really represent someone else."

Judges moderate the debate sessions for accuracy. The sessions are long and can even keep a committee member inside all day, Curry said.

On a brighter note, he said, when students finish their debate they have the entire city of Washington D.C. to explore.

Political Science, Spanish and French junior Julia Mekdessi has participated in the Arab League in Washington D.C. before.

"It’s a really small, tight group," Mekdessi said. "To really get something out of it you have to know your stuff. It might not be real policy, (but) there’s really policy being born."

Mekdessi said she hopes nation leaders are approaching their individual policies the same way the students are.

In the past, the UH Honors College has paid for a majority of the expenses associated with the trip, which is why most students who go to Washington D.C. are in the Honors College, Curry said. Usually students have had to pay about $250 to contribute to the cost.

"Typically, students who participate in the Model Arab League have been expected to be in the Honors College," Curry said. "If you’re not in the Honors College, it does not necessarily mean you cannot go, but it does mean that we may have to work something out to make that happen."

Meetings are about once a week until the date of departure gets closer – then the group will meet more often. The meeting times will be decided based on the number of people who will be able to attend.

Curry said he wants this to be a fun experience for students and not a burden. He also said exposure to different news sources will give students multiple perspectives on one issue.

"There are all sorts of sources of information for these sorts of things." Curry said. "Al Jazeera is sort of considered a dirty word in parts of America, but they have useful information on their Web site about some of the things that are going on in the region."

Goble said she came to the meeting because she’s interested in current events.

"I stay really on top of what’s going on over there," Goble said. "I think it’s important to be informed on what’s going on in other parts of the world because it really does impact our everyday life."

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