Students Bring Arab Forum To Campus To Discuss Middle East Issues

Elise Foley

By Elise FoleyThe Daily Northwestern

Weinberg junior Mike Schoengold and McCormick junior Joe Shields were studying abroad in Cairo last fall when they discovered a passion for the Middle East.

Friends there encouraged them to start a chapter of the Model Arab League at Northwestern to channel their interest, but Schoengold had reservations.

Organizing a group was daunting at first, “but it seemed like a really good thing to do,” Schoengold said.

The model group is based on the real Arab League, a United Nations-like organization of Arab states that meets to discuss policy.

NU’s group was founded for students with an interest in the Middle East, an area Schoengold said is underrepresented in NU’s curriculum.

“We feel there’s a void. There aren’t even any Middle Eastern classes Spring Quarter,” Schoengold said. “Our group fills that void.”

To gauge interest in the group, Schoengold and Shields spoke to professors, put up signs and sent e-mails to students who they thought might be interested in the Model Arab League.

Twenty-two students attended the first meeting. The group has about 12 regular members who come to their Sunday afternoon meetings.

“Our goal wasn’t to have a sprawling membership of 100 people, just to have 10 to 20 people to discuss events and issues in the Middle East,” Schoengold said.

The group also is preparing for a regional Model Arab League conference that will take place Feb. 28 to March 3.

The conference at Miami University of Ohio will bring together teams from about 15 schools to model the real Arab League, Schoengold said. NU’s chapter will represent Palestine.

Ten group members chosen in an application process will attend the conference, Shields said.

At the conference, the teams break into different councils to try to resolve real Middle Eastern issues. Awards are given to the delegates and teams whose resolutions are passed, Shields said.

“Delegates select awards for who they think does the best,” Shields said. “If the team does well, you can become eligible for nationals.”

But this year the team is more worried about speaking well than winning awards, Schoengold said.

Schoengold said he feels it is important to understand the issues from the viewpoint of a country other than the United States.

“We look at problems from the perspective of states within the Arab world – it’s a very different perspective,” Schoengold said. “When you’re put in Egypt’s shoes, you think about these problems differently.”

Sara Larson, a SESP sophomore and group member, said she joined the group after developing an interest in the Middle East while working in Jordan last summer. The group has been a good place to discuss the Middle East with other students, she said.

“I found it really exciting to be around other people for a change that were interested in the Middle East,” Larson said. “I think it’s important that there’s a forum where students can think about and discuss the other side that Americans usually don’t think of, and the Middle Eastern perspective.”

Addressing this issue is the most important aspect of the Model Arab League on campus, Schoengold said.

“The Middle East is the big question of our time,” Schoengold said. “Terrorism is our communism, and if we’re not even going to look at that question as a university, a group like ours needs to.”

Reach Elise Foley at [email protected]