Middle East Turmoil Discussed by Citizens of the Region

A large group of Harrisonburg locals as well as students from EMU, James Madison University, and Bridgewater College gathered in Strite Auditorium last Sunday at 4 p.m. for a presentation put on by the Interfaith Initiative for Peace and Justice, regarding the current situation in the Middle East.

The three-part presentation focused on Egypt, Lebanon/Syria, and Israel/Palestine. Abdelrahman Rabie, an Egyptian-American associate professor at James Madison University, gave a twenty minute update on the current situation in Egypt.

In the spring of 2011, Egyptian citizens took to the streets, demonstrating in protest against their President, Hosni Mubarak. After a tense 18 days, Mubarak resigned and, following a short leaderless scramble, a democratic election was held, in which Mohamed Morsi became the elected Egyptian President.

Along with Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood gained a significant amount of power in the form of government positions. Minority groups like Christians, liberals, and women, were among those who spoke out against the homogeny of the group that set to restructuring the government.

Late in 2012, as Morsi and the constituent assembly rushed to approve the newly drafted constitution, Egyptian citizens took to the streets again. Tensions rose, and the military was deployed on the part of the government to diffuse national clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents. In July of this year, the military turned against Morsi, taking the side of the protesting citizens, and what followed appears to have been a coup.

As a global audience watches the events of the past two years play out in Egypt, the question begs to be asked, will there ever be peace in the Middle East? In regard to the Morsi government and the recent coup, Rabi said, “It was a legitimate government and it was a good step for us to move toward democracy.”

The next portion of the presentation was given by T.J. Fitzgerald, an assistant professor of History at James Madison University. He gave the historical background for the region of Lebanon and Syria from a Western historian’s point of view.

A land whose people knew only community identity was cut into the geometric design of a European government and called a country. The people who found themselves within these arbitrary borders lacked the unity that a people grounded in a place need to become a nation, and as a result, Syria is growing into a nation a bit late by American standards.

With regard to the state of the current conflict, Fitzgerald said, “If [the Syrian government] does fall… it is not clear what will replace it. It’s not even clear who’s winning.”

A man from the audience stood up when Fitzgerald asked for questions. He said he had grown up in Syria and lived there for part of his adult life and felt he ought to contribute his perspective. He said that before the current violence broke out, European governments had made unsupportive, even benevolent, statements about the Asad government.

“We were puzzled by a very [benevolent] western attitude… saying Asad must go or the regime is on the way out,” he said. “That played into the opposition. [They] felt empowered as a result of these statements by France, Britain, the United States, Germany. It stiffened the stand of the government. How could we allow a foreign govern- ment to say we must go?”

This audience member’s remarks brought the Lebanon/Syria portion of the presentation to a close, and the final two presenters shared their thoughts on the current situation in Palestine/ Israel. Rod Ahmar, an EMU graduate, moved to the United States from the West Bank in 2006. He is an advocate of peace and interfaith dialogue here in the US and in the West Bank, providing training in nonviolence. His message was short and somber.

“The peace process [between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority] led to nowhere, if you want to look at outcomes,” he said. “I no longer call it a peace process, only a process.” His remarks are a reflection of the plummeting morale of the Palestinian people, as the Israeli occupation drags on.

On democracy, Ahmar said, “I think it’s not designed for us. We don’t pick the people America likes.” And with that, he sat down.

Hasan Hamdan was the last presenter. A faculty member and professor at James Madison University, Hamdan had recently visited the West Bank. He spoke beseechingly to his audience about the importance of American support in the Israeli/ Palestinian peace process and echoed Ahmar’s remarks about outcomes. The Israelis and the Palestinians sit in a stalemate peace process while new settlements are built over the green line.

In response to Rod Ahmar’s disheartening remarks about the peace process, Junior Erin Reinheimer said of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, “It’s legitimate to feel discouraged and

to want to see change because the conditions the Palestinians are living in are getting worse.

“To say that progress takes time, well, you have to have positive progress in order for that process to happen.”

-Rebecca Longenecker, Contributing Writer


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