Yale and Harvard faculty gathered Tuesday to discuss Egyptian political unrest and other recent turmoil in the Middle East at a “teach-in” panel at the Yale Law School.
Around 150 faculty, students and New Haven residents attended the event, which was organized by the Council on Middle East Studies and the MacMillan Center in collaboration with several student groups, including the Arab Students Association and the International Students Organization. Brief speeches from each of the four panelists centered on how the United States should react to the Egyptian protests.
“The U.S. is depicted as an all-powerful puppet master, but in reality its capacity is much more limited,” said Yale political science professor Adria Lawrence. “The U.S. has imperfect control but is seen as decisive.”
Lawrence opened the event with a speech arguing that the U.S. should not assume it has a strong leadership role in the current situation. Recent public conversation about the crisis has taken the form of a debate about whether the U.S. should push for a democratic Egypt or prioritize stability over government reforms, Lawrence said, adding that she believes both are the wrong choice.
“The United States doesn’t have the will or the competence to follow either path,” Lawrence said, adding that American officials should stay out of the issue.
Protests in Egypt have continued for the past 15 days. While the Obama administration has chosen its words carefully when addressing Egypt’s political situation thus far, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs criticized current President Hosni Mubarak, who has governed Egypt for almost 30 years, at a press conference Tuesday for arresting dissidents and journalists.
Lawrence’s opening comments drew rebuttals from Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor Tarek Masoud GRD ’04 and Yale political science professor Ellen Lust, both of who argued that the U.S. should take a firm stance in support of democracy. Taking no action is unrealistic, they added.
“We have so many interests [in the Middle East], from oil to Israel,” Masoud said. “You can’t just walk away from 50 years of foreign policy in the region.”
Lust argued that “there is no sitting it out” for the U.S. government, which she said sends $1.2 billion in aid to the Egyptian government under President Hosni Mubarak every year.
The discussion, which also included Yale history professor Adel Allouche, was followed by a half-hour question-and-answer session for audience members. While speakers covered a broad range of issues with regard to Egypt and the Middle East, much of the panel focused on an appropriate course of action for the U.S.
Students in attendance said the event was informative and engaging. Hala Sirha ’13 and Hind Khuda ’11 said they enjoyed learning more about what specific policy decisions the country might make. Both said they appreciated that the panelists held conflicting views.
Omar Mumallah ’13, one of the organizers of a student protest in Beinecke Plaza Monday, said the panel successfully achieved its goal of informing the student body about the current strife in Egypt.
“It prescribed real policy alternatives to the status quo and highlighted very real issues with [the] sustainability of our current policy,” he said.
The protests in Egypt follow a recent uprising in Tunisia. The “Jasmine Revolution,” as it was called, was sparked by the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi and succeeded in pressuring President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to step down from power.