Professor Tariq Ramadan at the UCLU Arabian Society
By news editor, on 29 May 2012
Unprecedented and unpredictable, the dynamics of transition in the Arab world have defied analysis and fuelled debate, and raised a plethora of essential questions for us to consider.
Since October, the UCLU Arabian Society has hosted a series of lectures and discussions to promote the education of the Middle East at UCL, reflecting the prominence of the ongoing events while always making sure to maintain a strict secular and apolitical stance.
In doing so, the society has seen its membership reach record levels, with a large percentage of its members coming from non-Arab backgrounds for the first time.
The successful programme, which helped the society win the award of UCLU’s Most Developed Society of the Year, has comprised student debates investigating the prospect of democracy in the Middle East, seminars examining the patriarchal culture of Arab societies and the role played by women in the uprisings, and also invited guests such as BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner to talk to the society.
The society has also strengthened its co-operation with other UCLU societies such as the UCLU European Society, with which it hosted a discussion on European foreign policy in Libya as part of UCL’s European Focus Week in November.
To conclude this programme, the society welcomed Professor Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, on 18 May to address students on the changing landscape of the Middle East.
Drawing on themes covered in his new book The Arab Awakening: Islam and the New Middle East, Professor Ramadan outlined the various opportunities and challenges facing the region and the implications of such transition for the West.
He stressed the necessity for cautious optimism, rejecting the label ‘Arab Spring’ in favour of a more neutral ‘Arab Awakening’ and advised against viewing the political discourse as a polarised struggle between secular and Islamist ideology.
In his lecture, which took place at the UCL Institute of Archaeology and lasted just under an hour, the Professor also touched on the importance of countries in the Middle East and North Africa obtaining economic independence as a means of ensuring political stability, and discussed the role of the media and civilian activists in shaping international perception.
He also emphasised the disunity among factions in opposition to existing regimes, paying particular attention to Syria and citing the recent resignation of Dr. Burhan Ghalioun as president of the Syrian National Council as an example of the challenges to political transition.
Ramadan also looked at how the political turmoil in Syria is affecting Hezbollah, and with reports of sectarian division spilling into neighbouring Lebanon just days after the Professor’s lecture, the audience were correctly reminded not to underestimate the complexity of the Syrian situation.
The Professor then moved to a question and answer session lasting 45 minutes, and then stayed to meet students and sign copies of his latest book. The event set a new record of attendance for the society with nearly 150 people filling the Archaeology Lecture Theatre.
Further information about the society can be found at http://groupspaces.com/uclarabiansociety/ as well as by following the society on Twitter @UCLUArabianSoc.
Written by Alexander Naffah, outgoing President of UCLU Arabian Society and 2nd Year European Social & Political Studies student.