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Representing a new Syria

Ear­lier this month, Northeastern’s Inter­na­tional Rela­tions Council (IRC) sent a del­e­ga­tion to the South­east Regional Model Arab League com­pe­ti­tion, in which the orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sented Syria. With the unrest that has affected that nation in recent months, the North­eastern del­e­ga­tion took a non­tra­di­tional approach toward rep­re­senting the country, choosing to attend as the Syrian National Council, which is leading the uprising against the gov­ern­ment of Bashar al-​​Assad. We asked IRC pres­i­dent Lara Cole to explain the club’s approach to the com­pe­ti­tion and how recent events in Syria affected the com­pe­ti­tion, in which North­eastern tied for first place.

Though Syria was suspended from the Arab League late last year, the country was still included in the Model Arab League competition Northeastern attended. What influenced the IRC’s decision to represent Syria’s government in exile, the Syrian National Council, rather than the shunned regime of President Bashar al-Assad?

We didn’t decide until the day before we left for South Car­olina that we were rep­re­senting the oppo­si­tion, which was a chal­lenge in itself because the oppo­si­tion isn’t really solid­i­fied and orga­nized. We had to use our knowl­edge of rev­o­lu­tions and changes like this so we could orga­nize our strate­gies and goals. The 20 other schools expected us to rep­re­sent the Assad gov­ern­ment, so we really had to be an orga­nized group with increased com­mu­ni­ca­tion and a really united front.

In the past, we’ve rep­re­sented more stable coun­tries — or rel­a­tively stable, in terms of the region. This year, with us rep­re­senting Syria, prepa­ra­tion has def­i­nitely been dif­fi­cult, with the mil­i­tary, polit­ical and eco­nomic cli­mate changing so rapidly. With breaking news and the gov­ern­ment sit­u­a­tion changing so quickly every day — even every hour, every minute — we decided to rep­re­sent the emerging gov­ern­ment, relying on things like blogs and the Twitter feeds of top oppo­si­tion leaders to get breaking news in real time.

We looked at the Syrian National Council every day. It’s adapted on a day-​​to-​​day basis, which is the most impor­tant thing we stressed to our del­e­gates. We had to expect the unex­pected in terms of preparation.

With so much attention in the Middle East focused on Syria, what issues were addressed during the Model Arab League competition?

We had never expe­ri­enced some­thing like this before, with so much atten­tion focused on what was hap­pening in Syria. Issues involving the oppo­si­tion and with Syria are not black and white, so we had to gauge the sit­u­a­tion all throughout the conference.

In the Joint Defense Council, the talk was about the cur­rent need for ongoing com­mu­ni­ca­tion so all par­ties could be up to date on the latest sit­u­a­tion. But mil­i­tary topics did not dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tions. In other coun­cils, we talked about enhancing edu­ca­tion to be more in line with U.N. Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment stan­dards and ways to help typ­i­cally under­served com­mu­ni­ties that lack access to education.

Those goals and values are uni­versal, even in the face of all this mil­i­tary action. The body really united around pro­moting teachers and schools and focusing on the value of K-​​12 edu­ca­tion, but of course we also got into the nitty-​​gritty of the mil­i­tary situation.

Why is the Arab League, made up of 22 members, an important group both in the real world as well as to model by student organizations?

The Arab League is seg­mented into dif­ferent com­mit­tees: There is one for joint defense that deals with really tech­nical mil­i­tary issues; another for polit­ical affairs that deals with rela­tions between coun­tries. There is the social com­mittee that deals with edu­ca­tion and com­mu­ni­ties with spe­cial issues, and there is the eco­nomic affairs com­mittee that works with all regions of the Arab League to pro­mote trade.

This orga­ni­za­tion focuses on nearly every issue that comes up between the Arab coun­tries and is an area where any ripple can be felt across the globe.

– by Matt Collette

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