After The Arab Awakening…

Panelists at the 2011 World Affairs Institute listen to a student question before responding.

As followers of this blog are probably aware, it was set up primarily to provide up-to-date resources in advance of our 2011 World Affairs Institute.  As such, we will no longer be updating this blog with information about the ongoing upheaval in the Arab World.  Instead, we recommend you check out our Council blog at worldpittsburgh.wordpress.com and our website at worldpittsburgh.org for resources on a wide range of issues.

But before we go, there are a few final items we’d like to share — resources that will provide you with ongoing coverage of the Arab Awakening.

  • Issue Guide: One Year of ‘Arab Spring’ Upheavals (Council on Foreign Relations): An extensive compilation page featuring materials (videos, articles, blogs, etc) from a range of sources.  The highlighted pieces feature expert analysis and important background information on the key issues facing the Arab World, one year after the start of the “Arab Spring.”
  • Lesson Plan: Writing About Arab Spring (Pulitzer Center): Designed for educators, the page is developed around lesson plans for students in grades 6-12. Toward the bottom of the page, however
  • Middle East Channel (ForeignPolicy.com): The latest from Foreign Policy on what’s happening in the region, including articles and blog posts.

We hope you found this to be an educational and helpful resource in learning more about the Arab Awakening, and encourage you to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, our main blog, and website!

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King of Jordan Becomes First Arab Leader to Tell Syria’s Assad to Quit

BEIRUT, Lebanon — King Abdullah of Jordan added his voice on Monday to the growing pressure on the president of Syria to relinquish power, becoming the first Arab leader on Syria’s doorstep to call for a change in government to end the increasingly bloody political uprising there.

The Jordanian monarch’s remarks,made in an interview with the BBC, came as Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, was still smarting from theArab League’s unexpectedly strong rebuke over the weekend with its decision to suspend Syria’s membership. Syria also faced additional sanctions imposed Monday by the European Union.

“I believe, if I were in his shoes, I would step down,” King Abdullah told the BBC. “If Bashar has the interest of his country, he would step down, but he would also create an ability to reach out and start a new phase of Syrian political life.”

Other countries in the region with historically close ties to Syria, notably Turkey and Iran, have warned Mr. Assad that he should take steps to satisfy the demands of protesters in the eight-month-old uprising, which has now become a focal point in the Arab revolts that have felled autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya this year. But the public comments about Mr. Assad by King Abdullah — who has faced some Arab Spring protests in his own country — went beyond what others have said.

Earlier Monday, Mr. Assad’s foreign minister said the Arab League suspension was “an extremely dangerous step.” He also apologized for a spree of attacks on foreign embassies in Syria by pro-Assad loyalists outraged over the Arab League move.

The foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, speaking at a televised news conference in Damascus, reiterated Syria’s contention that it had complied with the terms of a proposed Arab League peace plan by withdrawing its armed troops from urban areas, releasing political prisoners and offering pardons to militants.

But rights activists in Syria, as well as a majority of Arab League members, have said Syria had failed to comply with the peace plan, pointing to new violence in Syria since it agreed to the accord on Nov. 2. Activists said more than 240 people had been killed from the day the plan was announced until last week.

The majority of the deaths were in Homs, a restive city in central Syria that was subjected to a major military assault just days after the peace initiative was announced.

The United Nations said this month that at least 3,500 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising started in March. The government disputed the death toll and has blamed the unrest on armed groups which it says have killed more than 1,100 soldiers and police officers.

Mr. Moallem also played down any prospects of an international military intervention in Syria, like the NATO-led campaign against Libya that helped topple the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in August.

“The Libyan scenario will not be repeated,” he said, contending that Western and Arab countries know that the cost of confronting the Syrian military would be high.

“As for attacks on foreign embassies, as the foreign minister I apologize for these aggressions,” Mr. Moallem said. The embassies and consulates of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and France were attacked by angry demonstrators in Damascus and other cities on Saturday, shortly after the Arab League announced the suspension decision.

Mr. Moallem said his government was organizing a national dialogue with opposition figures and other members of the Syrian society, who are represented by neither the government nor the opposition.

Syria called Sunday for an emergency Arab League summit meeting to discuss the political unrest and invited officials to visit the country before the suspension goes into effect on Wednesday, to oversee the implementation of the Arab peace plan.

In Cairo, Nabil el-Araby, the secretary general of the Arab League, said he had forwarded Syria’s request for an emergency meeting to other members. He also said he was moving forward with a tentative plan to protect civilians in Syria by deploying observers around the country from at least 16 Arab human rights organizations.

The tentative plan is to deploy 400 or 500 observers, Mr. Araby said in a brief interview, adding that he hoped to complete the proposal to present to Arab League foreign ministers, who are to meet in Rabat, Morocco on Wednesday. Whether Syria would even allow these observers into the country is not clear, especially if the Rabat meeting confirms Syria’s suspension from the league, as expected.

The European Union, meanwhile, sought to intensify pressure on Syria by imposing additional sanctions against some of the country’s citizens and restricting investment.

European foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, agreed to freeze the assets of 18 Syrians and to bar them from traveling to European Union nations. The move brings the total number of Syrians affected by the restrictions to 74.

But the ministers said there were no plans to take military action against Mr. Assad’s government. “This is a different situation from Libya,” said William Hague, the British foreign secretary. “There is no United Nations Security Council resolution, and Syria is a much more complex situation.”

The ministers also stopped the European Investment Bank, a lender with a major focus on overseas development, from giving Syria additional loan payments and they halted other activities by the bank in Syria.

The European Union had already frozen the assets of 19 companies and institutions in Syria. A European embargo on Syrian oil has reduced oil production by as much as 75 percent. Revenue from Syria’s oil exports represented anywhere from 15 percent to 35 percent of the national budget, and more than 90 percent of those exports went to Europe.

“It’s very important in the European Union that we consider additional measures to add to the pressure on the Assad regime to stop the unacceptable violence against the people of Syria,” Mr. Hague said.


Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting a Resource on the Arab Awakening

Seeking information on the crises in the Middle East? Visit http://pulitzercenter.org/ for information on the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

According to the organization’s website, “The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is an innovative award-winning non-profit journalism organization dedicated to supporting the independent international journalism that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less able to undertake. The Center focuses on under-reported topics, promoting high-quality international reporting and creating platforms that reach broad and diverse audiences.

The Center’s educational programs provide students with fresh information on global issues, help them think critically about the creation and dissemination of news, and inspire them to become active consumers and producers of information.

The Pulitzer Center is a bold initiative, in keeping with its deep ties to the family whose name for more than a century has been a watchword for journalistic independence, integrity, and courage.”


Arab Spring Spawns Interest in Improving Quality of Higher Education

The New York Times reports:

DOHA, Qatar — Recent upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa can be traced largely to the region’s youth — millions of young people facing widespread unemployment and seeing a dearth of opportunities ahead of them.

Now, academics are seeking to focus on the role that higher education can play to address their concerns, and the crucial steps that officials need to take to achieve this, like engaging with institutions outside the region, standardizing curriculums and finding alternative sources of financing.

“It is likely that the Arab Spring will certainly affect the governance system of higher education, probably in the direction of more independence, participation and partnerships,” said Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice president of research and evaluation at the Institute of International Education.

The institute presented its new report on the region, “Classifying Higher Education Institutions in the Middle East and North Africa: A Pilot Study,” at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar, which completed its third annual conference last week.

The WISE conference, as it is known, is an international initiative financed by the Qatar Foundation, a government-funded nonprofit organization for education, science and community development. This year, the forum brought together 1,200 academic leaders and policy makers for three days of discussions on educational reform.

The study, which lasted two years, includes research on 300 higher education institutions in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Issued in conjunction with the Lebanese Association for Educational Studies and with support from the Carnegie Corporation, the report was released at the summit meeting, its authors say, to underscore that countries in the region are trying to raise their educational profiles. “Many higher education systems in the region are still in transition phase — leaving old systems and coming to new systems,” said Adnan El Amine, co-author of the report, and founder of Lebanese Association for Education Studies. “Over all, Arab institutions’ involvement at the international level is relatively low.”

Part of that can be traced to the varying academic models used in the region — either an American model, a French model, or some combination.

Complicating the situation is the recent expansion of private universities. The private sector made up only 10 percent of universities in 1998, but by 2008 it accounted for more than half of all institutions in the region. The report found significant variation across countries: in some, the share of private universities exceeds 80 percent; elsewhere it is less than 20 percent.

“There is no standardized framework for understanding the region’s institutions,” Ms. Bhandari said. “Having more comparable information like this will lead to a deeper understanding of the wide range of institutions in the Arab world and how they must be financed and supported.”

This is particularly tricky in Egypt, where education funding, which largely came from the government, had to rely more heavily on charitable foundations and private funding this year.

“It’s a difficult transition time and even though funds are available, the terrain in Egypt is not clear to anyone, which creates uncertainty,” said Shahinaz Ahmed, chief executive of the Egypt arm of the nonprofit Education for Employment Foundation. “It took us six months to get back on track and raise funds again, but donors realize that education is a long-term investment that ultimately has high return on investment.”

While analysts say that financing for education should come from governments in the long run, they add that more options must be examined.

“There need to be new ideas in financing, new partnerships created, new ways to look at the old means of financing education,” Carol Bellamy, chairwoman of the Global Partnership for Education. “For too long, the education sector has been allergic to engaging with the private sector, but now we’re seeing more private-sector participation.”

The report also examined the issue of accrediting an expanding number of institutions, and the challenge it poses to mobility for students from Arab countries; the number of universities active in the Arab region rose to 467 in 2009, compared with just 174 a decade ago.

“Quantitative growth of higher education in the past decade has, in many cases, taken place at the expense of quality,” said Mr. El Amine. “Nonetheless, some important steps are being taken to address these challenges and aim for international standards.”

During the WISE conference, the issue of ensuring quality of education, and its link to employing young people, was at the forefront of discussions. “We cannot afford to produce graduates who don’t fit the needs of the market anymore,” said Sheika Mozah bint Nasser, chairwoman of the Qatar Foundation. “We have to have an education system that prepares them for jobs and builds critical thinking in a dynamic environment.”


Resources for Teachers on the Middle East, Islamic communities, and the Arab Awakening

Are you planning to teach on Arab communities, Islam, or the Middle East?  Explore these resources for teachers, provided by academic institutions and organizations.


UAE Bloggers on Trial for Speaking Out Online

Al-Jazeera’s The Stream explores five pro-reform bloggers facing a prolonged trial for criticising the government of the United Arab Emirates.


Tens of thousands rally to support Assad in Damascus

Tens of thousands of Syrians demonstrated in central Damascus on Wednesday in show of support for President Bashar al-Assad, who is battling a six-month uprising against his rule in which the United Nations says 2,900 people have been killed.

“America, out, out, Syria will stay free,” chanted the crowd, many of them carrying pictures of Assad and Syrian flags. They also shouted slogans warning the European Union not to intervene in their country.

“God, Syria and Bashar,” they sang.

State television described the government-backed rally as a “million-strong march … supporting national independence and rejecting foreign intervention.”

At the start of the demonstration a man holding the flags of Russia and China — which both vetoed a European-drafted resolution against Syria at the United Nations last week — flew over the crowd, suspended from a helicopter by rope.

To read more of this story and view video footage, visit Reuters be clicking here.