Yale is more than 5,000 miles away from Cairo, but the impact of the country’s political unrest is felt at Yale, where professors are adjusting syllabi to incorporate the conflict.
Five political science professors interviewed said they are addressing the protests of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign in their courses now and in the coming weeks. Some said that if Mubarak falls, they will have to change how they teach Middle East politics in the future.
“One of the problems with the social sciences and history is that because we know the outcomes, it is difficult to remind ourselves what it is like to live through uncertainty,” said Vivek Sharma, a political science professor. “It provides a wonderful testing ground for our theories and intuitions.”
Sharma said he plans to facilitate discussion in his Tuesday seminar, “Order, Conflict and Violence,” about how movements in Egypt and Tunisia — where authoritarian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was pushed out of power in mid-January — compare to those of Eastern European countries at the end of the Cold War. If efforts to unseat Mubarak are successful without the backing of the United States, Sharma said, academics will have to rethink the theory that Eastern European countries were able to transition to democracy because they received support from the West.
Political science professor Adria Lawrence said she will devote an entire meeting of her “Middle East Exceptionalism” seminar to revolutions and protests.
“We don’t focus on social movements and protests in the Middle East enough,” said Lawrence. “This is a good opportunity to bring that back into the study of the region.”
Lawrence said she will ask students to consider which other Middle Eastern countries might follow the lead of protestors in Egypt and Tunisia.
Amit Ashkenazy FES ’12, a Hebrew instructor, said he asked the students in his L2 course to debate in Hebrew what they might recommend to leaders in Egypt and the United States in light of the protests.
“The reason you want to learn a language is to be able to use it not just in theoretical circumstances, but in real-life debates,” he said. “We want our students to be ready for those real-life situations.”
While political science professor Ellen Lust said she also discussed the protests in her “Introduction to Middle East Politics” lecture course Monday, she said the protests will change the material she covers in the coming years. She will add a segment on how new regimes determine how they govern, she said. Two of Lust’s teaching fellows interviewed said they will use this week’s sections to discuss the unrest in Egypt.
Adi Greif GRD ’13 said she will show clips of the protests and display maps of the region to illustrate where protestors have congregated in Cairo.
“Talking about what is happening today will make the past more relevant and show that it is important to learn what they are studying,” she said.
Five students interviewed said they appreciate that their courses are covering the events in Egypt. Kelly Payne ’14, who is taking Lust’s course, said since protests are changing the politics of the entire region, it is important that the course cover the developments in Egypt.
“It may be pushing us a little off of the syllabus, yet there’s a lot that can be said for the merits of digesting current news in a classroom setting,” Payne said.
Three Yale teachers will participate in a panel discussion about the unrest in the Middle East next Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the Luce Hall Auditorium.
Correction: February 3, 2010
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Adi Greif GRD ’13.