Students earn multiple honors at Model Arab League competition

Kate Stein, Reporter

A relatively young delegation of Northwestern students won several awards in the regional level of the Model Arab League, a competition in mock international politics.

The students represented Egypt in the competition, in which 20 delegations representing Arab countries worked with one another to create resolutions on Middle Eastern social, economic and political affairs. Representatives from NU’s delegation won outstanding delegate and three honorable mentions and the delegation as a whole earned honorable mention.

Weinberg junior Andrew Abtahi won Outstanding Delegate for his work on the Council of Political Affairs, which dealt with issues including border demarcation following the Arab Spring.

“We did really good for how young everyone was,” Abtahi said. “Basically four delegates had never done the Model Arab League before.”

Six students, including two freshmen, participated in the competition, which took place at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich. from Feb. 14 to 16. Weinberg junior Keisha James, a first-year delegate, said the hardest part for her was not knowing exactly how negotiations would take place and how formal they would be.

“We’d been over the format, so I knew what to expect,” she said. “But hearing about it wasn’t the same as being in it.”

James and Weinberg freshman Maroua Sallami earned an honorable mention for their work on the Social Affairs Committee, which focused on issues relating to social media, public health, land mines and human rights in the Middle East.

James said she was pleased with the delegation’s performance and impressed by first-year delegates who worked alone on their committees.

“I thought it was easier being with a partner because we could bounce ideas off each other. It was helpful that while I was inside talking with other delegates, she could be outside negotiating.”

Historically, NU’s Model Arab League delegations have been successful at both the regional and national levels, according to Abtahi. Last year’s delegation swept the regional competition, and the 2010 delegation competed at the international level in Cairo.

Abtahi, who has been on NU delegations in two previous Model Arab League competitions, said this year’s competition seemed more difficult to him than his past experiences.

“I thought that this year’s competition was a little more competitive, which says something about how well everyone did,” he said.

Abtahi also said there is room to expand NU’s delegation. Membership has fluctuated since the group was started in 2007.

“It’s not that well known, so we’re definitely trying to get our name out and get more involvement among students,” he said.

The delegation is associated with the student-run Weinberg seminar Diplomacy in the Arab World. In the seminar, students learn about Arab countries and discuss the issues they confront, from international relations to public health to the role of the media in the Middle East.

Prof. Lynn Whitcomb, the seminar adviser, said students’ interest in Middle Eastern relations provides them with a more nuanced perspective on international affairs.

“There’s a high level of interest in and engagement with the wider world and a deep-seated interest in having factual information and having information from a variety of sources about the Middle East and global interactions surrounding the Middle East,” Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb said students who compete in the Model Arab League gain additional experience as negotiators.

“For some of them, it’s the first experience they have participating in the sort of parliamentary organizational framework of discussion and debate,” she said. “I think it was a valuable experience for them and that they represented Northwestern well.”

The delegation will represent Algeria in the national competition at Georgetown University in April.