Tag Archives: Model Arab League

Reflections on The Model Arab League Manual

CcdaDXRW0AIYtX2.jpg-largeToday, my dear friend Phil and I celebrate the publication of The Model Arab League Manual: A Guide To Preparation and Performance, published by Manchester University Press. This book has been in the making for over two years now, with our principle writing beginning in January 2014. At that point, I had been involved in the world of Model Arab League (MAL), a diplomatic simulation program sponsored by the National Council on US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) geared at high school and college students that mimics the procedures of the Arab League, for roughly ten years. MAL fosters leadership, public speaking, and knowledge of the Arab world, with committees ranging from Social, Political, and Environmental Affairs to special topics on the Status of Women and Heads of State. If you had told me in 2004 that I would go on to be a national leader in this program, let alone coauthor the book on the program, I would have laughed. Hard.

“What’s Eritrea?” – this simple question began my involvement with the Model Arab League (MAL) program. A question that, I admit, shows my complete ignorance in the early days.

I began my studies of the Arab world in 2003 as a freshman member of Converse College’s then-called “Model League of Arab States” program. Unlike many of the illustrious women in Converse’s now almost 30-year program, my career did not begin as auspiciously as most. Having failed to secure a spot on our team during our tryouts, I was asked later to join the team by my adviser, Dr. Joe P. Dunn. I was thrown into a world of study that I now find myself defending my dissertation on, knowing as little then about the Arab world as most American freshmen. In that first academic year, I met some colleagues I still work with regularly, including Dr. Philip D’Agati, then just masters student Phil from Northeastern University, the former Secretary-General of the National Conference cum chair of the Ministers of the Interior (Political Affairs) Committee chair.

My position at that conference was glorified “gopher” for the secretariat, brought along with my team because we did not have a debating spot open. Instead, within minutes of the beginning of the conference, I found myself representing the entire delegation of Eritrea, splitting my time between Ministers of the Interior and the Arab Court of Justice. I had almost no time to prepare my country’s position and, I’ll admit, had no idea that my country even existed.

“What’s Eritrea?” has become a joke between myself and Phil, who, as the lead student for the Eritrean delegation the previous year, took it upon himself (along with a few other Northeastern University students) to brief me on everything I would need to know in the ten minutes he had to spare. Their willingness to step in to help a completely green delegate from an opposing delegation was my first experience with my MAL family. My head delegate, Josie Fingerhut (now Major Josie Shaheen, United States Army), told me to find Phil, whom I had never met before, and ask him about Eritrea. “What’s Eritrea?” was the wrong question to ask, which Phil pointed out immediately.

“It’s ‘Where’s Eritrea,’ and clearly we have a lot of work to do.”

Indeed.

That work, found in countless binders (this was before the days of laptops in committee and Wi-Fi access) that still grace my home office, has become a life’s project, and I still reference them when working on my courses and research. In fact, this program has touched parts of my life I never would have expected. When applying for my first job out of graduate school in 2010, the person doing my interview for a communications position at the First Presbyterian Church of Athens, Georgia saw Model Arab League on my resume. “If you thrived in that program, you can handle anything we’ll throw at you,” she said. The reputation of the MAL program, which as students we help to form through our involvement, exists outside of political science programs and university campuses.

I got the job.

The value of this program can be seen in the lives of both the students I matriculated with and those I have since advised. The MAL program, and NCUSAR, has afforded us all so many opportunities, including summer Arabic language study in the region and specialized two-week fellowships to individual member states. Alums of the program have gone on to work for the United States military, NGOs, the State Department, and yes, even to careers in academia studying the region. Upon attending the 2013 Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference, I was delighted to see so many nametags, mine included, proudly displaying “Alumni” ribbons.

While pursuing my Ph.D. at Virginia Tech, I began a small program with our political science undergrads, bringing two students, Rachel Kirk and Elizabeth Womack, to the 2012 Southeast Regional Model Arab League. Our fledgling partial delegation, which managed somehow to come in seventh when only present in three of the eight committees, led to the reestablishment of the Regional and International Organizations program at Virginia Tech, for which I taught the corresponding course and served as faculty adviser.

From 2003-2012, I held nearly every position possible in the world of Model Arab League: delegate, justice, vice-chair, regional chair, national Chief Justice, and faculty adviser. Only a few others from our student ranks can say the same, and in 2012, I was awarded the NCUSAR “Model Arab League Lifetime Achievement Award” – not too shabby for someone who still is not quite 30 (though one does wonder from time to time if one has peaked when achieving a Lifetime Achievement Award before even graduating from their Ph.D. program).

Virginia Tech Delegation at CARMAL

Virginia Tech’s 2013 MAL Delegation winning awards in every committee at the Capital Area Regional MAL.

If someone had told me freshman year that I would end up being the faculty adviser for a MAL team, let alone would receive an award for my service to this program, I doubt I would have believed them. It was only through participating in the Model Arab League program that I developed the skills necessary to hold this position, and for the experiences Joe Dunn, Dr. John Duke Anthony, and others have granted me, I am forever grateful. I cannot describe the pride I experienced as my students prepared for the 2013 Capital Area Regional Model Arab League conference, nor the utter joy I felt when  they earned their first “Best Delegation” award, sweeping individual awards in every single committee. This is why I sought to start a team at Virginia Tech—to help give students the same opportunities that have helped shape me into the academic I am now.

The Model Arab League Manual is the culmination of over decade’s joys and frustrations, all shared with one of the best colleagues I’ve ever had. Thank you so much to Manchester University Press, NCUSAR, and all of our former students and colleagues who helped us delve through mountains of paperwork, PDFs, and archival research to make this book a reality.

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Day 10+ (July 2-3) – Princesses, LAU, Shatilla, Le Péché, Flight

For those of you still following my trip blog, I do apologize for the delay.  there is just such a finality to writing this post, and I honestly haven’t wanted to deal with it.  While my post-fellowship plan includes extensive blogging of my trip research, this is really the last “Today we did X” kind of post, and it really does end the trip in some ways.

Originally planned for our last day in Beirut was a wrap-up session with the LRF and a farewell dinner at Le Péché.  Through some discussion of our goals and some amazing flexibility on the part of the LRF, we were able to have several extra meetings, including meeting with Druze Princess Hayat Arslan, one of the coolest women I’ve ever met.  Arslan met with us at her home in Aley, a beautiful mansion overlooking Beirut.  It looks a little something like this:

Hayat Arslan's House

No big deal… Just kind of huge.

Arslan and her two daughters spent about an hour and a half with us, discussing women’s place in politics in Lebanon.  Currently, there are only four women in Parliament, which Arslan sees as a huge problem for equality.  She proposes a quota system requiring a minimum of 30 women in Parliament at any given time.  Without the quota, she argues, women will never have the opportunity to run for office effectively.  Right now, the few women who do choose to run for office are often bullied out by a much stronger, better financed good-ol’-boy system.  I’m honestly not quite sure how I feel about that.  I can see both sides of the issue.  I’m planning to do an election-related piece later on this blog when I’ve had more time to think about it.

I was also able to cross “make an idiot out of myself in front of a Princess” off my bucket list at Arslan’s house.  Totally tripped and spilled tea all over her patio.  Saved the china though.  Go me.

ANYWHO, after that, we visited the Lebanese American University, who hosted us for a goodbye lunch of falafel, a tradition in their SINARC program.  Our study visit escort, Linda Funsch, had helped start an Arab Women’s Studies a program at LAU, and it was really cool to go back with her after 30 years and meet with people she knew then.  We also were able to interact with students in the summer Arabic program, talking about Model Arab League and our joint experiences in Beirut.

Originally we were then supposed to visit Shatilla, the Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut.  Unfortunately, we were not able to do more than drive by, but the sight was heartbreaking even from the street.  Beirut is a city where the buildings are fairly close together, but nothing prepared me for the cube-shaped concrete apartments crammed together in Shatilla.  As the camp was supposed to only be temporary, the land it is on cannot possibly accommodate its current numbers, and residents have had to build up, not out.  I plan to do an entire post on Palestinians in Lebanon at some point, so more on this to follow.

After a marathon of packing and photo-swapping back at the hotel we left for our farewell dinner at Le Péché in Junieh.  The restaurant was stunning, with a open air area overlooking the water, mountains, and city below.  Dinner consisted of different types of fish, grilled calamari, mezze, dessert, wine and arak.  We stayed far longer than I think any of us anticipated, enjoying our last night with our wonderful hosts.

We arrived back at the hotel near midnight with only an hour and a half to get back to the airport to depart.  It was both exciting and sad to be going home, and I think we were honestly all pretty tired as well.  I flew home with the same group of 6 I came over with.  It was a completely different flight this time, with all of us knowing each other so much better than on the flight from DC.

In the coming weeks, I will continue to blog about Lebanon.  I’ve only barely begun to think and process this wonderful study visit.  This blog will continue to talk about Lebanon, and really anything else that pops into my head.  Next on the agenda definitely is a post comparing the pros and cons of traveling with a laptop v. an iPad.

Experiential Learning

I’m a big fan of experiential (or performative, whatever you want to call it) learning.  I was pretty involved with the Reacting to the Past program at UGA (a curriculum created by Barnard College.  I was involved in the Athens game), which I think is one of the best ways to learn history out there.  I’ve seen it work both in “regular” and “honors” courses, bringing students out of their fear-shells and encouraging them to learn both in the classroom and on their own.

But what I really want to talk about today are the Model International Organizations programs, such as Model UN, Model NATO, and Model Arab League (MAL) (there are tons of others; these are just the ones I’ve done).  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard my former adviser at Converse College drop soundbites about the pedagogical merits of these programs.  And I would smile and nod, proud of how well he “spun” what we did, when it really just felt at the time like hanging out with other smart, politically minded people and an excuse to go on fun off-campus trips.

He was absolutely right, by the way.  It’s the best way to teach I’ve ever encountered.

It took getting out of the program as a student and working as a judge and on-site adviser to really see how valuable these programs are.  Not familiar with them?  Let’s use MAL as an example.

Students create a team of between 7-16 students (partners are allowed) who become experts on a particular League country they’ve been assigned (there are 21 of them at the moment–Syria’s been suspended).  Each student is assigned a committee with predetermined topics, which they research in preparation for writing legislation along with other countries at the conference.  Students spend the conference in committee meetings, split between formal and informal debate (governed by a modified form of Robert’s Rules) working on this legislation, which is then passed as a body of the committees at a Summit meeting.

Sounds pretty boring when I explain it, huh?  But it’s not, I swear.  Especially with a strong leader as chair, committees go from groups of shy (well, not everyone’s shy…) students who by the end of the conference are boldly demanding whatever is in their country’s interest.  Students go from hesitantly reading from sources to fully owning the knowledge, speaking extemporaneously from their own expertise.  All students can thrive in this model, from the most gregarious, outgoing speechmaker to the quiet, behind-the-scenes caucuser.  And no one type of student wins awards (yes, there are individual and team awards).

I started out in this program fairly timid.  As a freshman, I knew relatively little about the Middle East.  My first country assignment at a national conference, given to me day-of (there were some last-minute changes, and I was needed in a spot I had not prepared for), was a country I had never even heard of!  The conversation went a little something like this:

Adviser from Northeastern University:  OK, so I hear you need help with Eritrea.

Me:  What’s that?

Adviser:  I believe the proper question would be “Where’s that?”  We have a lot of work to do…

Me:  *beet red*

Because of the strength of this program, and a group of lovely students and advisers who stepped in to help me, I was able to (pretty badly) represent Eritrea in two separate committees, as well as present an Arab Court of Justice (think ICJ but regional… and made up) case representing Eritrea v. the League.  Was I stellar?  Absolutely not.  Did I learn a lot about how quickly I could research, learn, and represent material?  Absolutely.  Am I still friends with the adviser from Northeastern?  Yup!  That’s another great part about this program:  you meet people from all over the country and world that you will be friends and colleagues with for the rest of your life.

So, why am I talking about this?  In 2004, I first served as a student delegate at the Southeast Regional MAL (SERMAL) representing Jordan (Yes, Holly Jordan the delegate from Jordan.  My committee thought it was pretty funny too…  Libby Long, the delegate from Libya was also on my team.  My adviser wouldn’t let us switch.) in the Economic Affairs committee.  I was scared out of my mind.  I had only recently joined the team, and even my fellow freshmen had a few more weeks experience than I did.  In my ill-fitting suits, I stood up, knees knocking, and presented Jordanian thoughts on economic issues.  I had no idea what was going on.

These programs changed my life.  I went on to national leadership roles within this organization, sponsored by the National Council on US-Arab Relations and grew far more as a student and learner than I ever anticipated as an entering college freshman.  And the program itself has evolved so much since I started.  We’ve gone from murdering half the rain forest each year to nearly paperless conferences, with resolutions being projected on SMARTBoards and edited as a group in real time.  The 300 pages of CIA World Factbook info on each of the member nations of the League (which I did print and put in a binder I still have…) is now available as an Android app.

So now, 8 years later, I have the opportunity to lead a team from Virginia Tech.  Serving as Head Delegate, we will take a delegation, representing Mauritania, to SERMAL.  I am so very excited to help facilitate this opportunity for Tech students.  I’ve been pretty obnoxious about my excitement with them.  I hope they will get why I’m so spastic after we return home.  I promise to post pictures and reactions to how awesome it was!