CNU students traveled to D.C. to hear how some envision an end to Middle Eastern strife in an age of revolutions.
The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations hosted the 26th Annual Arab-U.S. Policy makers Conference: Arab-U.S. Relations: How Best to Navigate an Uncertain Present and Future?
On the eighteenth of October, 15 students traveled with CNU’s North African and Middle Eastern Studies Department to attend the first day’s proceedings.
Students arrived near the end of the first session titled The Palestinian Future. Leading experts spoke and answered questions in a panel format on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, focusing especially on how it affects U.S. policy. The U.S. has endorsed the two-state solution, but Palestinians are opposed to this outcome.
From the non-Israeli side, it’s perceived that the U.S. is neglecting the sovereignty of Palestine by allowing Israel to control negotiations. No permanent solution is probable in the near future.
In the past, Palestinians agreed to the terms Israel laid out, but their compromise is never enough for Israel according to Noura Erakat, Assistant Professor at George Mason University.
The Israeli point of view was not as present in the panel due to its nature.
The second session, Egyptian-U.S. Relations: A View from Cairo, consisted of a speech from Mona Makram-Ebeid, lecturer at the American University in Cairo, former member of the Egyptian Shura Council or more simply put, the Egyptian Senate, former Head of the Committee of Social Rights, National Council on Human Rights, and a former member of the People’s Assembly, what Westerners would call the Egyptian Parliament.
Mona began by highlighting two conflicting concepts prevalent in Egyptian politics: (1) the supremacy of Islam and (2) how modernization requires a secular government. Egypt has a history of rocky leadership, with total military control of government and a President from the Muslim Brotherhood who was removed from office by a publicly-supported military coup.
To modernize and join the developed world as a peer, Egypt must turn towards a secular government. Currently, Islam is the dominant religion with many strict conservatives in high seats of government.
She went on to explain the vacillating relationship between Trump’s administration. After agreeing to partner with Egypt, the State Department withheld promised funds without warning. Soon after, Trump called the President of Egypt to reaffirm the bond between the nations. To the Egyptian government, it seems the U.S. government is using its power to manipulate relations. Ebeid urged the U.S. to refrain from viewing Egypt’s political system through the lense of U.S. democracy.
Instead, policymakers should view the system as “a work in progress.”
The third session, a panel entitled Energy Dynamics of U.S.-Arab Relations, focused heavily on the oil industry. Overall, the panelists agreed that the U.S. cannot become truly self-sufficient, especially in regards to energy.
An economic relationship, unaffected by political conflict, is necessary for the benefit of the U.S. and the Arab world. Over the years, Saudi Arabia established itself as a constant presence in the oil industry, taking leadership and assisting in balancing the market when needed.
For current U.S. policy, one panelist stressed preparing for future incidents by increasing reusable energy sources and maintaining a strong dialogue with energy producers.
Renewable energy was also suggested as a necessary implementation to help rebuild war-torn areas, such as Syria, Yemen, and Libya.
Implementing renewables provides many benefits, such as increased communication and education. Renewables could keep the rebuilt areas from falling back into disrepair.
In between events, students attended the council’s luncheon.
Along with delicious food, keynote speaker General Joseph Votel informed the audience about U.S. military relations in the Middle East. Votel is the Commander of the United States Central Command, a Unified Combatant Command whose responsibilities include the Middle East region.
In his 19 months as Commander, he learned three points: (1) the Middle East remains an area of extreme importance, holding key interests of the U.S., (2) partners across the region want strong, progressive relations with the U.S. and (3) there are more opportunities in the Middle East than obstacles. Votel focused his speech on the command’s relationship strategies.
To approach an issue, the command uses the “Prepare, “Persue, and Prevail” technique. To prepare, they ensure they develop strong partnerships and understand the culture they’re working within. The second step is to pursue opportunities by actively searching for ways to support the U.S. and the country’s partners.
Finally, the command prevails by watching its partners succeed and view the U.S. as a valuable asset. Votel also explained the “by, with and through” technique.
In the region, the command allows their partners, the ones actively fighting in combat, to take control of the situation.
The U.S. is there to work with, enable, and support their partners through a political, legal, and diplomatic framework. The “by, with and through” approach fosters “local ownership” of problems and their solutions. Votel portrayed the command as helpful and empowering to its partners in the Middle East.
The final session CNU students attended was Challenging Stereotypes: How Understanding Saudi Arabia’s Women Can Help Bridge Cultural Divides. Princess Lamia Bint Majid Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, the Secretary General and Member of the Board of Trustees at Alwaleed Philanthropies, presented a moving speech on gender equality.
Princess Al-Saud asked the audience to picture young girls dressing up as someone they admire. Many would immediately picture the girls dressed as princesses, but what if they dressed as doctors or in business suits?
“If we truly want to change the future, we must listen to the dreams of those young girls. If we truly want to change the future, we need to believe in their powers.” Whether a young girl wants to be a princess, doctor, wife, surgeon, doctor, or mother, her dreams must be supported and encouraged.
“We should not impose our own narrow ideas on [our children’s] imaginations.” The Princess concluded by asking the audience for a favor: the next time they see a young girl, they should try to see the world from her point of view; what does she want to achieve? Who does she look up to and why?
After her speech, Princess Al-Saud was awarded the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ first ever Philanthropic Leadership Award.
CNU students were provided with the opportunity to hear the Princess speak and speak with her one-on-one. Some students even provided her with their information.
Through the conference, students gained knowledge and insight into different cultures and their country’s relationships with those cultures. Students spoke with important leaders in public and foreign policy, marking the event as an effective networking opportunity. The conference seemed to leave the audience with a sense of optimism