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Crown Center hosts forum on Egypt, Tunisia

Published: February 18, 2011
Section: News

Conditions for the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia will not necessarily translate to other uprisings in the region, Middle East scholars said during a forum in Rapaporte Treasure Hall on Tuesday sponsored by the Crown Center for Middle East Studies.

Brandeis Professor Eva Bellin (POL) discussed the uprisings in Tunisia, University of Utah Professor Ibrahim Karawan explained Egypt’s revolution, and David Makovsky Director of the Washington Institute’s Project on the Middle East Peace Process talked about the United States response. Professor Shai Feldman (POL), Director of the Crown Center, moderated the forum.

Bellin said that the two key factors that fueled the uprising in Tunisia were outrage and impunity.

“Regular people take to the streets in large numbers when they are compelled by some emotion,” Bellin said. “Participation in mass protests is in some degree [a result] of cost-benefit analysis.”

Bellin explained that it was these factors, not the often-discussed causes of repression corruption, and poverty that led to revolts. These issues have existed for decades, and they alone cannot fuel an uprising without the anger and emotion of a nation,” she said.

“Positive emotions like hope can be as strong as negative emotions like outrage,” Bellin said.

Karawan warned that “those who argue that Egypt will always be a centralized power and strong state have some reassessment to do.”

The stability of Egypt is still very uncertain Karawan said.

“There is a possibility of an implosion from within,” Karawan said. “Economic problems in general are too complex for the army to handle them.”

Bellin said that she was confident the military would uphold its promise to ensure a transition to open elections. “The military has no interest in being the governing force in Egypt,” she said.

Makovsky explained that President Obama’s reaction has been shaped by his relatively realist view of international affairs, in sharp contrast to the idealist vision of President George W. Bush, who made spreading democracy a priority of his administration.

“This is someone [Obama] who did not seek out this crisis,” Makovsky said.

But he also said that Obama believes he has a special duty to foster peace in the region. “I think he genuinely sees himself as a bridge to the Muslim world.”

Makosvky said that the United States was forced to weigh the positives of backing Mubarak’s regime for many years, including the benefits of its relationship with Israel against the negatives associated with lack of political freedom.

In the coming weeks, he said the United States’ relations with the Egyptian military will be crucial. “We’ve seen an administration very focused on trying to keep the military clean.”

Makosvky cautioned the audience that despite the events over the last few weeks and the progress in Egypt, the future of Egyot and its neighbors remains unclear.

“If this were a baseball game, this is probably only the second inning,” he said.

While he’s sung less frequently since becoming a father, he has been called upon to perform occasionally.

While dean at George Washington University Law School, Lawrence once performed in the annual student comedy show. Specifically, he sang “Give ‘em the Old Socrazzle Dazzle,” a parody of a song from the musical “Chicago” which focused on the Socratic method.

Lawrence also listed his favorite works of art. His favorite musical, for instance, is Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music,” while he also expressed admiration for composers like Igor Stravinsky, Robert Schumann, and Johann Sebastian Bach.

As an avowed fan of classic cinema, he also singled out the films “Casablanca,” “On the Waterfront” and “The 39 Steps” as favorites.

He also fondly recollected his own liberal arts education.

“I had two semesters of art history that I’ve probably drawn on just as much as anything else,” Lawrence said, which must have been music to the ears of the department representatives who spoke earlier in the forum.

“It’s our job to keep this place alive… to reach our students, new students and students in the future,” Dibble said earlier that afternoon.