Inside USD

Unrest in Egypt Prompts Discussion at IPJ

Friday, February 4, 2011

As the situation in Egypt unfolds with protests, widespread violence and a major political struggle for embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies and its Institute of Peace & Justice hosted an impromptu event Thursday to discuss the reasons behind such unrest.

Nearly 200 University of San Diego students, staff, faculty, alumni and members of the community filled two IPJ conference rooms at lunchtime to listen, learn, engage and to ask what’s going on in Egypt and in the Middle East. Two USD Professors, Necla Tschirgi (KSPS) and Avi Spiegel, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Political Science and International Relations, spoke on the current situation and answered questions.

The event, put together less than 48 hours earlier, demonstrated the importance of USD possessing a school devoted to informative discussions about conflict and prospects for peace.

“Our school already sponsors a rich menu of events, but those are better scheduled events. But we do need to have the capacity to respond to changing situations on the ground through these informal events,” said Tschirgi (pictured, far right, with Spiegel) whose expertise as a professor in the Master’s Program for Peace and Justice Studies is practice, human security and peacebuilding.

Milburn Line, executive director of the IPJ, was pleased with the turnout. “The IPJ wants to be able to respond to students’ concerns, issues, provide information and provide a place for dialogue and to learn about these things.”

The IPJ, now in its 10th year, and KSPS are two informative entities. This event, according to Line, was another chance to demonstrate it.

“What’s happening in Egypt and in the Middle East is really a peace and justice challenge for us in terms of our foreign policy and in terms of what’s going on,” Line said. “What the ruling parties have told us in the Middle East is that you have a choice between autocracy and chaos or you have a choice between democracy and stability. I’m not convinced that it’s that simple, but that is the peace and justice challenge. Do you believe Mubarak when he says it’s either me or the people running around in the streets; and then asking the question is he actually promoting that chaos in the streets to maintain himself in power? It’s looking increasingly like that is the case.”

New developments after Thursday’s talk signaled support for Mubarak’s resignation, but nothing was official.

Spiegel and Tschirgi were on the same page regarding many aspects of the Egypt conflict and expressed considerable interest in the fallout.

“What’s happening in Egypt is momentous for many reasons,” said Tschirgi, who pointed out examples such as blatant corruption, a lack of transparency, bad government and a lack of respect for people and human rights violations. “The crisis in Egypt was entirely predictable. It had to erupt one way or the other.”

Tschirgi, a native of Turkey has strong ties in Egypt. She was an adjunct professor of political science at the American University in Cairo as well as coordinator of the Middle East Research Competition program. She has been a frequent visitor and has followed political developments in the country since 1991. In examining the events of the last several days, she believes Egypt’s youth are vitally important.

“I think they’ll define what happens in Egypt in this next decade,” she said. “We have to support them to make sure that the process of transformation is progressive rather than regressive. It is possible to have a counter-revolution. I’m not that comfortable that everything is necessarily going to turn out positively, but with support, encouragement, guidance and setting forth alternatives, I think it can become a source of rejuvenation for Egypt and the region as a whole.”

Spiegel, meanwhile, studied Middle East politics at Oxford University among his academic highlights. In addition to being an assistant professor at USD he’s also finishing writing a book on the next generation of political Islam.

“There’s never been a more fascinating time, in my lifetime and definitely in my students’ lifetime, to study the Middle East and what’s happening right now,” he said.

Among the many topics Spiegel spoke on was the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a banned group that opposes violence, but maintains its relevance. In light of current events, Spiegel questioned the organization’s perceived power going forward. “The Muslim Brotherhood is not the only voice in that country. It will be a voice, but not the only one,” he said.

But the voices of many were heard at USD. International Relations major Jeremiah Young ‘11 asked a question at Thursday’s event regarding the prospects for youth. After the event, he said he felt fortunate to participate and that it added greatly to his education experience.

“It’s great to have the IPJ holding events like these that include students, professors and the community so we can ask questions, offer opinions, engage in debate and we all learn from it.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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