Panelists debate the Arab uprisings in the Middle East

Students and faculty members gathered to talk about recent issues in the Middle East at a panel discussion titled “The Arab Uprisings: Crisis and Conflict in Egypt, Syria and Beyond” on Thursday afternoon at Doheny Memorial Library.

Middle East crisis · Professor Sherman Jackson discussed the Arab riots in Egypt, Libya and Syria on Thursday at Doheny Library.  - Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

Middle East crisis · Professor Sherman Jackson discussed the Arab riots in Egypt, Libya and Syria on Thursday at Doheny Library. – Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

The event, hosted by the Dornsife College of Arts, Letters and Sciences’ Middle East Studies Program, was composed of a panel of five professors: Sarah Gualtieri, an associate professor of history and American studies and ethnicity; Sherman Jackson, a professor of religion and American studies and ethnicity; Laurie Brand, a professor of international relations; Wayne Sandholtz, a professor of international relations and law; and Fayez Hammad, a political science lecturer.

“It is important for students on our campus to know the ways in which our government and our society is involved in these crises, and we were also trying to provide information on issues that might have needed clarification for our students,” Gualtieri said.

Many students believed the panelists successfully addressed several pressing issues in the region.

“I thought it was a good overview of how the situation has developed, the militarization of the conflict in Syria and the challenges of the transition to democracy in Egypt and Libya,” said Natasha Pesaran, a doctoral student in the history of politics.

The panel discussed the recent transition to more militarized and violent protests. According to the group, in 2011, when conflicts in the Middle East began to erupt, the movements were mainly nonviolent and not based on religion, but now that time has passed, the movements have changed drastically. The panelists also said that the media generally tends to show the public more gunfire.

“I think it’s kind of our responsibility as educated citizens to take an interest in the things that are going on in the world and [where] American influence is still pretty strong,” Pesaran said.

Many students were also glad that the professors serving as panelists gave them a context into which they could fit all the recent news they had heard from the area.

“For me, it was actually really interesting to hear professors on campus theorize how to make sense of the past three years,” said Maytha Alhassen, a doctoral student in American studies and ethnicity.

The professors each gave a 10 minute talk about what has been happening in the Middle East, with each professor focusing on a different part of the uprisings before opening up the panel for a question and answer session.

“What was most interesting for me was looking at the different intersections of different fields and trying to understand everything that’s happening in the region, but I really liked that there were some precise focuses on countries and regions,” Alhassen said.

Though the talk was centered on the Middle East in general, the professors tried to focus on the issues in Egypt, Syria and Libya since those tend to be the countries that students hear about the most.

“I liked that Professor Gualtieri was also highlighting creative resistance and the grassroots organizing in the region,” Alhassen said. “That for me is where my passion stands — with the people on the ground, what they’re talking about and how they’re voicing their resistance.”

The media often fails to mention the role of Syrian women in the upheavals, and in the past, these women have marched through the market as “brides of peace” according to Gualtieri.

“I have family everywhere, and I’m very interested in the topic in general. I wanted to see how the university is engaging in this discussion about something that was happening thousands and thousands of miles away,” Alhassen said.

The panelists also emphasized the importance of these issues for Americans.

“The Arab uprisings are very important topics not only for the Arabs themselves but for a wider global audience. It is a very large, significant region in the world that is going through monumental revolutions,” Hammad said.

Through participating in discussions such as these, the professors hope to raise awareness at USC about the problems in the Middle East.

“The fact that students took a note about this presentation and were able to come and listen to this is reassuring that people are actually eager to know about this information,” Hammad said.

Follow Alexandria on Twitter @alimar18