The Doha Debates: Discussing the Arab world’s issues
Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Doha Debates; a well-known series that is produced in Doha, Qatar by the Qatar Foundation and aired monthly via BBC World news. The aim of the debates: to enable the outside world to catch a glimpse of the issues affecting the Arab world, and provide a free forum for discussion.
Launched over seven years ago, the programme – which is filmed in front of a select audience of students and high-end university scholars – identifies tough local issues and pulls in senior level politicians and academics from across the world to discuss, debate and take questions from the audience. All of this is moderated by ex-BBC producer Tim Sebastian, who steals the show with his dry and direct delivery (and he certainly took no prisoners as passionate audience members were cornered when questions strayed off topic).
One aspect that has really helped the Doha Debates to stand out from the rest is the top-level level guest speakers it has pulled in over the years, including Bill Clinton, and controversially, Israeli PM, Shimon Peres – both of which attracted huge attention and discussion across the region.
The most recent debate: The Arab world, not Nato, should be dealing with Libya, attracted a full house, and included four debaters: Mohammed Ali Abdallah** , **National Front for the Salvation of Libya; and** Paul Salem ****,** Carnegie Middle East Center, Beirut FOR the motion, as well as **Fadel Lamen** , President, American-Libyan Council; along with **Omar Ashour** , Middle East Studies, University of Exeter AGAINST the motion.
The motion poses two questions really. Should and/or could the Arab world manage this, given current unrest in the Middle East? Although many agreed that the Arab world should be dealing with Libya, the majority of the debaters, as well as the audience also pointed out that many countries in the region had their own issues of unrest to deal with, such as with the situations in Yemen, Egypt and Syria, for instance. Is there the desire and would it be possible? And who would lead this and what would be the ultimate driver? My guess is the result would sadly be far more disastrous for the whole Arab world at this moment in time.
At the end of the session, the audience voted via a computerised system. Despite the high ratio of Arabs in the audience from across the region, the motion was rejected 45% to 55%.
What was apparent from attending the debate was that regardless of background or religion, people really do want the Arab world to come together and build a solid foundation for peace going forward. This forum may just be a small cross-section of students and academics, but it was great to hear from so many people from different places in the region, and understand their viewpoints. Some in attendance are still in the midst of dealing with their own turmoil – there were a number of audience members from Yemen, for instance. However, despite their worries, they were willing to contribute to this debate and offer their views on how the Arab could or couldn’t manage the current disaster in Libya.
Although many feel the Arab world should be dealing with Libya, we have to accept that the fact that it is just not possible at this point in time.
The latest debate: This House believes resistance to the Arab Spring is futile took place on Monday, May 30, and will be aired on BBC World News between June 4 and 6. For more information, visit: www.thedohadebates.com
Tune in, it’s well worth it.