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Distinguished panel discusses Arab Spring

Photo by Jeremy Leong, staff photographer

Drake University hosted a panel discussion Saturday afternoon on the future of the Arab Spring movement.

Moderated by Drake politics and international relations professor Mahmoud Hamad, the event featured three different Arab Spring experts who shared their views on the current political climate in the Middle East and Northern Africa after the uprisings of the past year and a half.

“The Arab Spring is what I consider to be the most important event in the 21st century and to be able to listen to different opinions from three nationally renowned scholars is a great opportunity,” Hamad said.

One of those scholars, Michael Wahid Hanna of the Century Foundation, conceded that the political developments in the Arab world are dubious.

“I think it’s not a point and time when we can draw definitive conclusions about what is and is not happening in the region,” Hanna said.

That uncertainty also applies to America’s involvement in the Arab Spring, said panelist Marc Lynch, a politics professor at George Washington University.

“Americans always talk about democracy in the region, but don’t always want it,” Lynch said.

The panel was co-sponsored by the National Security Network and the Iowa United Nations Association, whose members joined Drake students and Des Moines residents in an estimated crowd of 80 in Aliber Hall for the discussion.

Panelist Mark Goldberg of the UN Dispatch took the floor to explain the international response to the Arab spring and the “effective stalemate” of relations with Syria.

On a state level, Executive Director of the Iowa United Nations Association, Yashar Vasef, praised involvement in world politics.

“Iowa has a great connection to international and global issues. I love seeing turnouts like this because it shows people really do care,“ Vasef said.

Leaders also see a trend whereby Drake students are seeking understanding of the Arab world.

“There is a growing interest in the student body in the Arab Spring and in taking Arabic,” Hamad said. “More students than ever before went on the Egypt trip. Last May, there were 39.”

The Hamad-led Egypt trip in particular has involved students overseas.

“(Participants) had the opportunity to see the country firsthand and talk to journalists, politicians and activists,” said David Skidmore, whose Principal Financial Group Center for Global Citizenship at Drake was another sponsor of Saturday’s talk.

For students who experienced Egypt, their involvement in the region has carried far beyond returning to America.

“It’s had an impact being there last May and seeing what people hope for,” said Caitlin Podemski, 21, a senior music and business major from Rockford, Ill. “I read the paper to see what’s happening in Egypt and keep up.

Yet as the conflict continues to develop in Egypt and around the Arab world, uncertainty lingers.

“The success of what is underway is indeterminate,” Hanna said. “We could see a variety of outcomes, but the jury is still out,”

Meanwhile, there is still hope for a positive future.

“I really hope they can start stable democracies,” Podemski said. “I really wish Syria would just let go and we could see an end to the violence. But I think they’re moving in the right path and hopefully other countries will respond.”


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