On Friday, February 22, I flew from London to Dubai to participate in a conference jointly organized by the Middle East Centre of the London School of Economics (LSE) -- where I work -- and the American University of Sharjah (AUS). The theme of the conference was "The New Middle East: Transition in the Arab World," and my paper was entitled "Bahrain's Uprising: Domestic Implications and Regional and International Perspectives." The one-day event was scheduled to take place on Sunday, February 24 at the AUS campus. However, the LSE abruptly pulled out of the conference on Thursday after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government intervened to inform AUS that no discussion of Bahrain would be permitted. By leaving their decision until the very last minute -- the weekend immediately prior to the conference -- the authorities may have hoped that AUS and the LSE would accept it as a "fait accompli" and proceed. To their credit, the LSE immediately withdrew from the event, citing "restrictions imposed on the intellectual control of the event that threatened academic freedom." With many of the U.S.-based workshop speakers already in Dubai or in the air, we took the decision to continue with our trip; for me it was the first leg of a three-country visit in the Gulf, and I also had been invited to lecture at Zayed University on February 25.
On arrival at Dubai International Airport, I was stopped by immigration officials and separated from the two LSE colleagues with whom I had been traveling. My passport clearly had triggered a red flag in the system and the official called over his supervisor. I was separated from my colleagues and taken to a backroom where security personnel examined each page of my passport in minute detail. An official then disappeared with my passport for 45 minutes before returning with a representative from Emirates Airline who informed me that I was being denied entry to the UAE and sent back to London. I had to purchase my own ticket to fly back to Gatwick -- but not before randomly being approached by an airport staffer who asked if I would complete a customer satisfaction survey.
Giggling over a
communal pot of couscous, the girls swap stories and take turns pushing each
other across the room on wheely chairs. Douha Rihi, 20, a German language
major, wants to study abroad in Berlin. Sana Brahim, 23, is pursuing a master's
degree in Microbiology. They don't look like the kind of young women you'd
expect to find at the center of a major ideological controversy, but here they
are -- all ten of them -- perched on the second level of the university
administration building, fighting for their right to wear the full Muslim face
veil, called niqab, inside classrooms and during exams.
Along with a group of scraggly-bearded young Salafi men, these girls have been occupying the University of Manouba College of Arts and Humanities administration building since November 28 of last year. Their protest has resulted in the continued closure of one of Tunisia's largest campuses since December 6 and has kept an estimated 13,000 students from attending their classes.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Emerging democracies are fragile entities that need the support of dramatic reforms beyond the political realm. With publics in Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab countries pushing for political and social change, education reform must be one such pillar of the new Middle East. More than one-third of the population in the Arab world is under the age of 15 and either currently enrolled in, or about to enter, the K-12 education system. Education will therefore play a key role in preparing the millions of young people in democratizing states to become well-informed participants in their localities, governments, and the global community.
Revamping course content and methods of teaching are among the most significant steps the Arab world can take now. In this context, the education system should underscore the importance of a citizen's role in society. Students should be educated and prepared to be active citizens -- an approach that develops critical thinking and problem-solving skills for the 21st century while promoting equality, freedom, and respect for human rights.
GAZA CITY — A predominant, if misguided, narrative holds Gaza to be a Mediterranean secret, where food is plentiful and joy is unabated. Such statements are not exactly false. As a Gazan, I can say I have laughed, dined out (not just falafel), and been able to embrace my proclivity for consumption -- recently purchasing a 37" flat-screen TV. But this has been a product of the stubbornness and creativity of capitalism under an enforced closure (where goods flow into Gaza, but what goes out is very limited). Not to mention the sheer luck that I hail from an elite class and of the simple fact that humans, in desperate circumstances, still muster the ability to "look on the bright side of life."
Two recent developments in Gaza have propped up the "there are no problems in Gaza narrative," and will undoubtedly feature in a soon-to-be-shot promotional video by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One is the pool-hall-cum-lounge called Carrino's; the other, Munib Al-Masri's six-star Movenpick hotel.
Since September 11, 2001, the word "madrassa" has become one of a few select terms of Islamic origin that have entered the mainstream American political lexicon. Prosaically referring to an institution of Islamic religious education, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell first employed it to locate the "breeding grounds" of radical Islam. It has since been applied incorrectly by right-wing critics to President Barack Obama's childhood education in Indonesia, continuing its misinformed, pejorative use. In short, the expression "madrassa" has become synonymous with terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. More acutely, it has come to characterize education and institutions of higher learning across the Middle East and the Islamic world, from North Africa to Southeast Asia.
But what can be said about secular education across this stretch of the globe? I recently spent a week touring several universities in the West Bank within the Occupied Territories under the governance of the Palestinian Authority, where each town, it seems, has its own university. These small cities, which individually have no more than 200,000 residents, include Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah, where the Palestinian government is seated. When traffic is scarce and Israeli checkpoints are manageable, each city and its university are less than an hour's drive from one another. Think of this small, dense area, then, as the Cambridge, Massachusetts of the Levant or, with its small, rolling mountains, the Pioneer Valley of Palestine, with its own version of a five-college consortium paralleling Amherst, Hampshire, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and the University of Massachusetts.
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