Panel comments on 'new beginnings' in the Middle East
Muqtedar Khan sees current events in Egypt as "an awakening of the Arab nation."
Rudi Matthee said "we are witnessing an extraordinary movement."
Ikram Masmoudi noted that events in Tunisia set the stage for protests in Egypt.
Yasser Arafat Payne said he and UD study abroad students were witness to the protests in Egypt.
Audrey Helfman told those attending the panel discussion that "leaders need to listen" and people need an opportunity to be heard.


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2:44 p.m., Feb. 16, 2011----Muqtedar Khan believes that Hosni Mubarak's stepping down as Egypt's president will be remembered as a “where were you when” event in history.

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When Khan learned the news while being interviewed on the radio on Feb. 11, he said he wrote on Facebook: “The pharaoh has drowned, let democracy sail.” Khan referred to the protests in Egypt and Mubarak's ensuing resignation as “an awakening of the Arab nation -- a rebirth.” If Egypt becomes a democracy, he said, democracy will occur throughout the Arab world.

Khan, associate professor of political science and international relations, was on a panel of University of Delaware faculty and students who shared their views of the historic events in Tunisia and Egypt with some 150 attendees, mostly UD students and faculty, Feb. 15, in Pearson Hall auditorium.

While Khan is “filled with excitement” about the ending of Egypt's totalitarian regime, Rudi Matthee, Unidel Professor of History, is looking ahead more cautiously.

“We are witnessing an extraordinary movement in the history of the Middle East,” Matthee said. “Egyptians have never been treated as more than mules by their rulers. Now Egyptians are reclaiming their humanity.”

However, “there is no quick or easy road to democracy,” Matthee said. “The economy will have the last word,” he noted, pointing out that Egypt's sources of income are mostly “externally determined,” including tourism, the Suez Canal, and foreign aid.

Ikram Masmoudi, assistant professor of Arabic language and culture, spoke of the Tunisia uprising, which went “almost unnoticed by the American media,” but set off protests in Egypt through the power of social media.

“The Tunisia uprising was the triumph of the individual over the ideological,” she said.

When a frustrated 26-year-old Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi, who had a university degree but could find no work, was stopped for selling produce on the street without a license, he set himself on fire.

“We witnessed a difference in pattern from the suicide bomber who kills himself and others, and he who kills himself in protest against ethnic abuse, tyranny and humiliation,” Masmoudi noted.

Yasser Arafat Payne, assistant professor of Black American Studies (BAMS), who directed the recent BAMS Study Abroad Program, spoke of his group's experiences in Cairo as the protests began.

It was his first study abroad trip, his first time in Egypt, and only his second time out of the country.

He and his 10 students witnessed the chaos under a communications black-out.

“We hugged each other a lot to keep our spirits up,” he said. “In many respects, we were, in fact, a family.”

Thus, Payne said, his group came to learn the focus of the study-abroad -- the ancient Egyptian concept of “Ma'at,” which stands for balance, order, peace and righteousness.

Audrey Helfman, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration who directed the LEAD study-abroad trip to Egypt and Morocco, reminded the audience that “leaders need to listen to their people. People need an opportunity to present their voices.”

Then she read some of the emails she's received from Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) students. Since the first MEPI program at UD in 2004, the campus has welcomed more than 120 students from the Middle East and North Africa for six weeks of academic and community service activities.

“People are starting to feel this is their own country,” Sarah, an Egyptian student, wrote in the aftermath of the tumult.

Julio Carrión, associate professor of political science and international relations and director of area studies, moderated the panel. The event was sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Institute for Global Studies, and the Area Studies and Islamic Studies programs.

Article by Tracey Bryant
Photos by Evan Krape