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Model Arab League opens minds of participants to culture and politics

Jan. 26, 2010

By Neely Guthrie

A two-and-a-half-day convention, weeks of preparation and hours of research give Baylor students a firsthand look at how the Arab world functions.

Each spring, Baylor sponsors a Model Arab League, which simulates the Arab League of Nations that represents one or more Arab nations at a regional competition.

Each nation has several committees, such as an environmental, social or defense committee, with two delegates per group.

"A lot of people would say, 'Oh, it's one of those things that looks good on your resume,' but things like that are important because it's a unique opportunity," San Antonio junior Christina Riley said.

Riley learned about the Model Arab League freshman year from her twin, Caterina Riley, who heard about it in her Arabic class.

Although the Model Arab League is extracurricular, it is worth one credit hour for participating.

The Rileys have participated in the Model Arab League the past two years and are getting ready for a third.

Dr. Mark Long, director of the Middle East studies program and associate professor in the honors college, and Dr. William Baker, associate director of the Middle East studies program and senior lecturer in Arabic and Middle East studies, are the faculty leaders for the league this year. Baker began advising the team when he came to Baylor in 2000.

Baker said that in the beginning, he wasn't given much guidance and was not sure of what was expected of him.

Now, however, the students handle most of the responsibility.

"You know what? Baylor students continuously amaze Dr. Long and me," Baker said.

"It seems like year in year out, regardless of what team we put together, Baylor students do an outstanding job. It has nothing to do with Dr. Long's involvement or mine. Matter of fact, last year I was least involved and they seemed to do the best they'd ever done," Baker said.

The league meets biweekly and participants usually discuss current events of their assigned country during the meetings.

Their instructor describes the correct parliamentary procedure to follow because the competition is a political debate.

"The leaders would typically emphasize that you need to take on the guise of your country," Christina said. "You need to get to know your country and speak as if you were someone from that area."

Students not only learn role-playing and public speaking skills but are also able to widen their scope of understanding.

"[Students also learn] how to see things from another perspective because you can't look at it from a Western perspective," Caterina said.

Caterina gave an example of a student who was supposed to represent Egypt but was acting very business-like. She said that is not how they conduct business in the Middle East.

"I would say that [perspective] is really important, especially now because you have so much bias in the West against the Middle East and a lot of misunderstanding," Christina said.

The competition, which will be held this year at University of North Texas, is primarily a political discussion but also features cultural aspects. Caterina said the competition usually offers Middle Eastern food and traditional Arab dancing.

Christina and Caterina, often finishing each other's sentences, said, "After the entertainment was done, we went up to the Arab peoples and we kind of started dancing a little bit and all of the foreign kids came over and started dancing, ... it was really funny."