Sulaimani, Iraq – Nov. 28, 2011 – The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) concluded its first international conference, “Liberty, Democracy, and New Realities in the Middle East and North Africa,” this week with a public panel discussion held at the Amna Suraka Museum in Sulaimani, Iraq. The panel discussion was the culminating event of the two-day conference in which participants presented original scholarly work and answered student questions about the concepts of liberty and democracy and the possibility of their taking root in the region given recent events. The conference, held on AUIS’ new campus, was made possible with the support of The Achelis and Bodman Foundation.
Dr. Larry Diamond, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, began the session by presenting his paper, “The Flow and Ebb of Democracy’s Third Wave in the Middle East and North Africa.” In it, Dr. Diamond examined the development of liberal, democratic governments in the region around the world and why they have largely failed to take root in the Middle East and North Africa.
Dr. Sandy Lakoff of University of California, San Diego followed Dr. Diamond with his presentation on “Building Democracy in the Middle East: Opportunities and Obstacles.” Providing a more critical view, Dr. Lakoff addressed six potential impediments for establishing liberal democracies in the region’s post-tyrannical countries. After concluding his remarks by reading from Libya’s interim constitution, Dr. Lakoff prompted a vibrant discussion among AUIS students, particularly about the relationship between democratic governance and Islam.
Mr. Eric Brown of The Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC, presented the final paper of the first day of the conference. His work, “After the Middle Eastern Revolutions: Making Citizens in a Dangerous World,” discussed the importance of creating citizens in new democracies in the Middle East after decades of authoritarian governments.
Following presentations on the first day, conference participants visited the Sulaimani Museum, a museum currently under restoration by UNESCO, which houses artifacts dating to the Babylonian period.
The second day of the conference opened with Dr. Vincent McGuire, associate professor of political science at AUIS, delivering a speech submitted by former AUIS President John Agresto. Dr. Agresto’s paper, “Democracies, Good and Bad,” examined how the development of democratic governments “might depend less on the character of its institutions or quality of its constitution but on the quality and character of its people”. After the speech, two International Studies students, Dina Dara and Dana Jaff, presented their thoughts on Dr. Agresto’s work and took questions from members of the audience.
Former US Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill concluded the conference’s sessions with his presentation, “Iraq’s democratic struggle and what it means for the Middle East and North Africa.” While speaking to a large audience of AUIS faculty and students, Ambassador Hill discussed his efforts to build democratic institutions in Iraq and some of the obstacles preventing the country from becoming a liberal democracy, including the need for good leadership and the perils of Iranian influence.
After the final session at AUIS, the conference participants took a student-led tour of the Amna Suraka Museum, a former Ba’athist prison, before reconvening for a final panel discussion and to present concluding remarks. Over 100 people from across Iraq, including business leaders, civil society activists and government officials, attended the panel discussion and reception. Participants offered short concluding remarks before a lengthy discussion with audience questions. Topics such as religious extremism, the future of Egypt, and America’s role in promoting democratic institutions in the Middle East were examined.
This conference was the first major international scholarly conference hosted by AUIS.
For more information:
Kyle Long, AUIS Director of Communications, email@example.com, +964 0770 461 5385