Arabic Committee: Work of a lifetime

Arabic Committee Article

Upon initial inspection, Room 241 is no different from any other room in the THIMUN Qatar conference.  Delegates sit around the podium, pens and coffees in hand, faces turned toward the chairs at the front of the room, quietly exchanging clauses and opinions.  Not just any delegate, however, could succeed in this space.  Not a single word of English can be found here during debates.  Every paper is covered with modern standard Arabic script.  The procedures projected onto the wall are in Arabic.  The chairs moderate in Arabic.

This special committee, the first of its kind at any international MUN conference, opened Tuesday, manifesting eighteen months of work by sponsor Nabila Elassar and others.  “If we paid Nabila for all of the time that she has spent on this project, MUN would be broke,” said THIMUN Qatar director Lisa Martin. The difficulties inherent in holding this committee demanded meticulous planning and thoughtful organizing from Elassar, who decided to go on leave from her full-time job at Stanford University in order to run the project.

Primary among the obstacles Elassar had to overcome was modern Arabic’s misrepresentation.  Modern standard Arabic has differentiated over hundreds of years into various local dialects; most students no longer speak Arabic as their first, or even second language, learning it instead as a third or fourth.  In order to make the Arabic Committee a reality, Elassar had to dispel the notion of inferiority—a stigma that Arabic does not carry English’s prestige.  She has campaigned for higher membership in the Arabic Committee, posting signup sheets around the QNCC and urging the Press Team to provide frequent coverage.

“The delegates are so brave,” said Elassar, who herself learned Arabic as her fourth tongue.  “They are debating hard topics in a language that many do not know well.”  Many schools in the Middle East implement Arabic curricula that, according to Elassar, are not engaging enough to coax students from their contentment with learning only English for large-scale communication.  This disparity manifests in all Arabic academic endeavors:  Arabic language databases, for example, do not contain the same volumes of information that English ones do, forcing delegates to draw from English sources and then translate the information into Arabic, a process Elassar has tirelessly helped them with for months.

During indoor break, Elassar became immediately surrounded by delegates from the committee.  In casual conversation, they transition from Arabic to English with an ease that seems to contradict their relative unfamiliarity with the former.  Elassar talks animatedly with them about the chairing and debating processes, listening to their viewpoints on the topics and prompting them to look harder and think deeper.  She passionately believes that Model UN can have profound effects in teaching kids to think, having undergone enormous growth in the program herself.  “As I grew older, I discovered I can think, research, and come up with solutions for things that haven’t been solved yet.  You discover, as a chair: I can teach.  I can change people, I can inspire people.  I can make other people develop the skills that made me a different person when I joined MUN.

“I was sadder about MUN ending than about anything else in my entire life,” she confessed.  She moved from one rigorous college track and job to another, but could never seem to leave MUN behind.  So upon discovering the newly founded Best Delegate program, she immediately signed on, living the ideal that Model UN’s impact can and should extend far past the boundaries of conference centers.

Debates at THIMUN often feel abstract and impersonal–but the Arabic Committee solely discusses topics that “we [in the Middle East] talk about everyday at home.

    “We can debate world issues very easily, but sometimes in reality, especially with all the ongoing conflicts, people at home–speaking from a personal place–don’t debate things diplomatically.  We hear rumors and don’t know who to trust, and nothing’s certain.  What is needed more than anything is the ability to objectively analyze and propose solutions without getting angry and fighting with people who disagree with us.”

Remaining dispassionate and broad-minded about such personal topics can prove challenging for many delegates.  “But if you understand the case properly and can debate diplomatically from the viewpoint of your delegation, hopefully the resolution that comes out will be balanced and effective in proposing practical solutions,” says Elassar.  “And if the delegates can speak diplomatic way, then they can teach the people around them how to do it as well.”

Elassar views the Arabic committee as a mass social movement, one designed to render Arabic a uniform living language spoken across the Middle East and cultivate the next generation’s problem-solving abilities.  “I believe that MUN has the power to effect positive impacts when it comes to world issues that are just massive,” she said.  She hopes that the Arabic Committee and similar language and culture focused initiatives can become a staple at Model UN conferences, and that, ultimately, the delegates in these committees emerge as the leaders and diplomats the Middle East, and entire world, will need.

By: Emily Zaho and Joshua Kazdan