Despite the dreary weather on Monday, UNA-GB launched a fantastic week of programming. Staff and interns took a field trip to Harvard Business School where the 2012 Model UN Summer Institute’s first session kicked off, with nearly 50 6th-12th grade students from around Boston and the country coming together for an intensive week-long program focused on global diplomacy and leadership.
Across the quad, in Spangler Hall, UNA-GB staff, Advisory Council members, and Board officers gathered for our annual Advisory Council luncheon. This year we were pleased and honored to welcome Ambassador Robert Pelletreau and his wife Pamela as our special guests.
Pelletreau has impressive and timely expertise in the Middle East, having served as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs as well as Ambassador to Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain throughout his 35 year career in the Foreign Service. Upon leaving government, he joined the international law firm of Afridi & Angell , and in 2002, along with his wife, became Co-Director, of Search for Common Ground in the Middle East. Mrs. Pelletreau was an active volunteer of UNA in New York, and since moving to the Cape this year, has become more involved with UNA-GB.
The luncheon opened with an energizing introduction from UNA-GB President Richard Golob, who spoke enthusiastically about the Advisory Council and their role as ambassadors to the Boston community. Council Member Peter Smith echoed Richard’s comments, describing the crucial role of the Advisory Council as not only spokespeople for UNA-GB overall, but also specifically as avid supporters of our Model UN global education programming.
Ambassador Pelletreau spoke next, giving all those gathered at the table a clear, organized and engaging update on the current status of political changes in the Middle East, while also bringing in charming personal anecdotes; he opened with a story about playing squash with former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. During his remarks, he shared 4 general observations on political uprisings in the last year or so:
- globalization of communications
- the key role of a slumped global economy
- a shift in demographics due to a huge youth population
- and the rise and influence of Islamist parties.
Pelletreau stated that a combination of these factors was the catalyst for the uprisings, pointing out that in an increasingly globalized world where news access is everywhere and stories can spread like wildfire, it is harder to cut your citizens off from the rest of the world. Ambassador Pelletreau gave his take on what the future may look like in this region, and in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria specifically, saying that while much is unclear, fighting is likely to continue. As a final wrap up to his informed commentary, Pelletreau shared another anecdote, this time about Henry Kissinger’s legendary trip to China in 1971, during which Premier Zhou was asked about the implications of the French Revolution – he replied that it was “too early to say”. All those in attendance laughed at the irony, and with understanding that issues as complicated as those currently faced in the Arab world will indeed take time.
After a brief time of Q&A, Executive Director Lena Granberg updated the Council on UNA-GB programming so far this year, particularly highlighting the successes of our Model UN program, now serving almost 3,000 6th-12th grade students in the greater Boston area. (To catch up on recent UNA-GB events or upcoming programs visit the website). Ann Kirby, who works on educational development at UNA-GB, gave a brief introduction to the Model UN Summer Institute, which teaches 6th-12th graders the values of debate, teamwork, and public speaking while engaging in simulated negotiations on real-world global challenges.
The Advisory Council members then had a chance to sit in on one of the Institute’s sessions to experience the impact of this transformative college-preparatory program firsthand. The students were finishing up an exercise through which they established a working definition of human rights for use in their simulations. This was followed up by an engaging and entertaining public speaking exercise where they had to go around the circle, state their name, the names of those before them, and an activity/like they have. It provided much fodder for discussion about the importance of active listening and ways to remember key facts when speaking.
It was great to see various aspects of UNA-GB come together in one place, and to see our mission come alive through the Summer Institute. Teens from the Greater Boston Area as well as active community members, professionals, and former ambassadors were all laughing and learning together. And no amount of torrential rain could dampen the inspiration felt around both the work of the UN and UNA-GB’s work to empower the next generation of global leaders that afternoon!
Wondering how you can join in? Check out how to get involved on our website!
Happy 4th of July to all! As we celebrate the independence of our country on this day and the freedoms we are thankful for, we would like to take a closer look at the road towards independence for other countries around the world. News headlines the past few months have been dominated by the strive for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. Here’s our second blog post from our newest blog series–Get Educated, One Topic At A Time featured every Monday, whose focus today is on this year’s “Arab Spring” from start to present! And speaking of emerging democracies, stay tuned for a blog post later on this week in honor of Southern Sudan’s official independence on July 9th!
While the term, “Arab Spring” is one of some contention, there can be no denying that there is a major change happening in the Middle East and North Africa. Said by some to be as important, if not moreso to world history than the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “Arab Spring” has significantly changed the political atmosphere both within the region and around the world. Beginning when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian college graduate who was selling vegetables from a cart because of the high rates of unemployment there, set himself on fire on the steps of parliament after corrupt police confiscated his wares, the resulting protests soon spread from Morocco to Iran. On January 14, 2011, President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, becoming the first dictator to be ousted as a result of the “Arab Spring.”
Protests soon spread to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was the next to step down after three decades in power. The demonstrations were centered in Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo, Egypt’s capital city. Thousands of people stayed in the square for eighteen days amid attempts by the government to placate the crowd with small concessions and violent attacks by forces loyal to Mubarak. The Egyptian people persevered, however, and are now, hopefully, on their way to free and fair democracy.
Today, movements have sprung up in almost every country in the Middle East and North Africa, from small scale peaceful demonstrations for social and political reforms like in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to outright bloody conflict and civil war like in Syria and Libya.
The United Nations has not become directly involved in any country yet, though it has issued several statements expressing deep concern over the human rights abuses that are taking place. The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that “resort[ing] to lethal or excessive force against peaceful demonstrators not only violates fundamental rights, including the right to life, but serves to exacerbate tensions and tends to breed a culture of violence.” The UN Security Council has also given its support to the NATO mission in Libya, and we will likely see further discussion in other UN bodies as the “Arab Spring” continues.
As the rest of the world scrambles to adjust to the rapidly changing political climate, the people of the Middle East and North Africa continue to stand up for their rights in a region that previously represented the only part of the world virtually devoid of democratic governments. There is still a lot of hard work ahead for the reformers and nation builders of the “Arab Spring,” but they have taken a revolutionary first step on the road to democracy and freedom.
To keep up with the journey as it continues, follow the Guardian’s “Path of Protest”.