Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani Hosted Its First International Conference 

By Salman Ahmed Rasul 

 Dlawer Abdul-Aziz Ala'Aldeen, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the Kurdistan Regional Government discusses with AUIS students in the library after the first session of the conference on November 25, 2011. Photo: Salman Ahmed/

Since, the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) was opened in 2007; there have been a lot of seminars, workshops, debates, panel discussions, and conferences that were taking place at the university.

The most recent one was the first AUIS’ International Conference on November 24-25, 2011 on "Democracy, Liberty, and the New Realities of the Middle East and North Africa.” Some American experts participated to discuss this topic, including former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, the      

Republic of Korea, Poland, and the Republic of Macedonia Christopher R. Hill, from the University of Denver, Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He discussed on “Iraq’s democratic struggle and what it means for the Middle East and North Africa.”

Athanasios Moulakis, President and Provost of AUIS said that the main purpose of the conference is “Promoting responsible democratic citizenship is an essential part of the University’s mission. It is furthermore important to advance the understanding of current affairs in the context of rigorous, well informed scholarly analysis.”

Dlawer Abdul-Aziz Ala'Aldeen, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) attended in the second day of the conference. He asked some questions and gave some comments. After the conference, he stated that the scholars have a lot of experience and knowledge that they shared during the conference for the attendees. “They are international experts who have experience as well as knowledge. Many of them have lived in Iraq. From point of authority, they have contributed to shaping the current and the future of Iraq; therefore, listening to their take home message, listening to their advice, and listening to the long stories that they carry with them through their experience in Iraq was fascinating,” Ala’Aldeen said, “I found that what they were presenting was a global view of events that may apply to many countries which go through transition from autocratic governments to democracies. So, there was plenty of interesting debates and stimulating discussions.”

Larry Diamond from the Stanford University was another speaker of the conference. He is currently a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he leads the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. The title of his discussion was “The Flow and Ebb of Democracy’s Third Wave in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Diamond believes that democracy is still under an uncertain journey in the Arab World, but he is optimistic only about Tunisia to be a democratic country in the future after Zein El Abidine Ben Ali because of three reasons: no oil, a moderate Islamic Party, and a significant and educated middle class. “Tunisia does not have oil--that is a huge plus, ironically. Oil is a curse. There is no oil-dependent developing country that is a democracy. Second, Tunisia is relatively developed and well educated compared to the other non-oil-rich Arab countries, and it has a significant middle class. Third, its Islamist party, Ennahda, is relatively moderate, and is sending encouraging signals of tolerance and compromise. It is acting much more like the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey than hard-core fundamentalist Islamists,” Diamond said.

Moreover, Diamond is pessimistic about other countries in the Arab World, especially Egypt because of two obstacles;the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. “I am worried that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is much less tolerant and has a more militant and hegemonic agenda for Egypt. Libya has to rebuild its entire state; Yemen has been on the brink of civil war with incredibly deep divisions. Also, in Egypt the military remains dominant and hostile to democracy, while in Tunisia the military is standing back and letting a democratic transition unfold,” he added.

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