Professors hold Middle East discussion
Luke Pryor Collegio Reporter
A round-table discussion of the crises taking place in the Middle East, with faculty from Pitt State presenting material and answering questions from those in attendance, was held by the history, philosophy and social science departments, along with the international studies program and the Pitt State ROTC on Thursday, March 10.
The speakers included Steve Harmon, associate professor of history, philosophy and social sciences; Paul Zagorski, professor of history, philosophy and social sciences; Khamis Siam, professor and chair of the chemistry department; and Maj. George Johnson of the military science department.
The speakers addressed topics and issues regarding the recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as well as potential for unrest in other countries in the region. Harmon, who presented information on the revolution in Egypt, said that although Tunisia was the first country in the region to experience unrest, Egypt served as the primary catalyst to bring uprisings to the other surrounding countries experiencing turbulence.
Egypt is key
“Despite what is going on in Libya, the movement will live and die in Egypt,” Harmon said. “Egypt is always the key to the Middle East…The Middle East’s last revolution started in Egypt in 1952.”
Harmon also said that while there was a lot of news coverage for the events in Egypt, western commentators emphasized two key misconceptions about the revolution that took place. The first, he said, was the level of involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood in the uprising.
“The Brotherhood was actually slow to get involved, and then when they did they kept a low profile so as not to become a target of the regime,” Harmon said. “But they could wind up playing a significant role in how the revolution plays out.”
Siam, who discussed issues relating to Palestine and Syria, also said that the Muslim Brotherhood’s role was over-emphasized in the current revolutions.
Brotherhood no “ghoul”
“All of the commentators were saying, ‘The Muslim Brotherhood, The Muslim Brotherhood’ like it is some big ghoul,” Siam said.
The second misconception by western commentators that the round-table pointed out was the emphasis placed on the role of the young activists, who played a large role in the early stages of the uprising, but Harmon said the secular middle class played a larger role overall in the events that took place.
Zagorski, who covered the countries of Tunisia and Libya, said that although the series of revolutions did begin in Egypt, the magnitude of the violence and strife in Libya which continues to persist is what has drawn the attention of many.
The main thing to watch in the ongoing turmoil, Zagorski said, is the role of the armed forces and that of the state in the conflict. Zagorski said the situation in Libya has been more violent partly because of the organization of the regime
Libya is difficult
“Libya is hard to describe. Gadafi describes it as ‘a regime of the masses,’” Zagorski said. “Which means he doesn’t have a regime party. There isn’t much of a state at all, except for the oil industry, and the military has been kept purposefully divided, and in most cases pretty poorly armed and organized.”
Zagorski said that these issues within the state of Libya make the uprising a particularly difficult one because there is no center of resistance due to this fragmentation of the military. He said that the military units strong enough to overthrow the regime are controlled by Gadafi, which adds to this fragmentation.
Johnson talked about a number of other countries in the region, including The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Johnson said that although uprisings have not occurred in many regions in the Middle East, there is a potential for conflict to occur in these areas in the future.
“Many of the native citizens of those countries are underemployed, which causes problems,” Johnson said. “Those countries have largely been trying to buy off, through direct payments in many cases, to try to prevent unrest in their areas.”
All the panelists also said that a big issue that will begin to emerge in this region is the possibility of western intervention, particularly the United States, and the impact that might have on the situation.
Zagorski said that the issue of western intervention is that of timing; if western forces have to intervene at all, and it is dependent on a number of factors within the region.
“I think they’re walking, kind of, on egg shells trying to guess what the next step will be,” Zagorski said. “I don’t think they will intervene militarily to keep a regime in power, at least not directly… I don’t think that overt action is going to be taken by outsiders.”