Manhattan Community Receives NGO Perspective on Recent Developments in the Middle East and North Africa

Manhattan College offered insight on the Arab Spring by leading a discussion titled An NGO Perspective on Recent Developments in the Middle East and North Africa.

For anyone who turned on the news, searched the Internet or read the newspaper this year, it was inevitable to learn of what is called the Arab spring, a chain of revolutionary demonstrations that have been taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The uprisings began in Tunisia on Dec. 18, 2010, and major protests have surged through Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen this past year.

Manhattan College offered insight on the Arab spring by inviting Mark Schnellbaecher, regional director of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, to lead a discussion titled An NGO Perspective on Recent Developments in the Middle East and North Africa. The event was sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the campus ministry and social action department (CMSA).

Schnellbaecher reflected on how the Arab spring surprised everyone, including CRS in the Middle East, which has been working there since the Suez War in 1956. He explained that the political unrest that exists in these countries stems from the interpretation of citizenship, where people have been treated as subjects rather than citizens by their political regimes. He discussed the work that CRS is doing in response to the protests, which includes providing securities for Christians in the Middle East and continually dealing with the Israeli-Palestine Conflict.
“This is only the very beginning of the Arab spring,” remarked Schnellbaecher. “This is a cleansing process and what is being cleansed out of these societies has been building up for many, many years.”

Following Schnellbaecher’s discussion, three Manhattan College professors spoke briefly in response based on their disciplinary areas of study. Thom Gencarelli, Ph.D., chair of the communication department, spoke regarding the role that social media played in coordinating the protests and in gaining the attention of international media outlets, which had not issued any coverage on these events until the revolution hit Egypt.

Natalia Boliari, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics, discussed the challenges of economic transformation in the Middle East resulting from incomplete reforms that led to corruption and sociopolitical weakening, where no system of checks and balances are currently in place.

“Right now, what is needed are adventurous businessmen who are looking to go into sectors aside from oil and invest in new business practices,” said Boliari. “It’s going to take time because these non-governmental organizations are the only means of direction for these entrepreneurs in becoming risk-takers.”

Pamela Chasek, Ph.D., associate professor of government, discussed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, which she described as nearly nonexistent until there was an increase in U.S. national interest abroad. She emphasized our reliance on NGOs to assist the Middle East while being one step away from the government.

Following the discussion was an interactive Q&A session and a reception. The event offered insight to the Manhattan College community on the extent of the global perspective on the Arab Spring as it continues to unfold today.