Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Georgetown CCAS 25th Anniversary Symposium

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Georgetown CCAS 25th Anniversary Symposium

Article excerpt


Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) held its 25th Anniversary Symposium, entitled "Arab World 2000: Transformations and Challenges," on March 30-31 in Washington, DC. This landmark event, one of the largest gatherings of Arab intellectuals ever held in Washington, DC, covered such topics as the future of democracy in the Arab world, the ongoing economic transformation of the region, the role of the United States and its relationship with the Arab world, and the future of Arab nationalism.

After brief welcoming remarks by Michael C. Hudson, professor of Arab studies and acting director of CCAS, and Dorothy M. Brown, provost of Georgetown University, Dr. Hisham Sharabi, chairman of the Jerusalem Fund and Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine (CPAP), delivered the keynote address. He spoke on the prospects for peace and democracy in the Arab world in the 21 st century, while highlighting the "Arab awakening" that began in the 20th century with Egypt's establishment of the first Arab parliamentary government, later followed by Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Shirabi noted that by the mid-century most Arab countries had gained their independence, with the exception of Algeria. In addressing the future possibilities for the Arab world, Shirabi stressed this analysis must be of a "prescriptive" nature, as Arab intellectuals and analysts must be the critics of the Arab world. However, he said, while they must be engaged in political discourse and practice, "at some point epistemology must give way to political economy."

At present, he said, the political indolence in the Arab world is an internal matter and not simply an historical result of external domination by the Ottoman Empire, European colonialism or American-backed Zionist colonialism. Rather, Sharabi pointed out, the first and most imperative action required is to "dismantle the patriarchal system [so that] role of man will no longer be rule of land," but instead will be replaced by the rule of law. The focus should be on gradualism, based on collective security and cultural solidarity, as seen in the case of Iran, which in recent elections demonstrated that the system can be altered by nonviolent and decisive means.

Violence and extremism, Shirabi said, are self-destructive and reactionary, whereas "democracy is indispensable to launching any new political system." He added that the "woman issue" is essential both in strategic and tactical terms. Predominantly male reformists need to let women's voices be heard, he said, because "effective change will not take place without the participation of women on a large scale." In addition to the participation of women, Shirabi cited the new "historic task" of Arab Americans as being imperative in the coming years. "A new generation of Arab Americans will bring about a new, balanced U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab world," he predicted. Finally, quoting Nietzsche, Shirabi said we need to "forget about history," and rather concentrate on forging new realities for the future ahead.

Beginning the first panel on "Arabism: Old and New," chair Halim Barakat, research professor of Arab studies at CCAS, spoke briefly on the various forms of Arabism, emphasizing that it has never been a constant or rigid ideology, but rather a historical task to be achieved in the future. He said there are three essential ingredients to this ideology: basic human rights, a process of democratization, and new trends of political development.

The four panelists included Saad Eddin Ibrahim, professor of political sociology and chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development at the American University in Cairo; As'ad Abu Khalil, associate professor of political science at California State University in Stanislaus; Yvonne Haddad, professor of history at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University; and Hani Fads, research fellow at the Institute of Asian Resarch at the University of British Columbia. …

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