Elon delegation shines in first Model Arab League conference
The 16-member team from Elon placed second overall and received 12 individual awards.
By Shanna Van Beek '12, assistant director of study abroad
Elon University’s first ever Model Arab League (MAL) delegation placed second place overall and won 12 individual awards at the Southeast Regional MAL conference held at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Elon’s 16-person delegation represented the country of Jordan in eight councils in a 22-country simulation to discuss and resolve issues throughout the Arab world. Students from a dozen regional colleges and universities, and even a few high schools, grappled with the international challenges of representing the needs, concerns, interests, and foreign policy objectives of Arab countries.
The team, led by seniors Ben Lutz and Mike Rossi, presidents of the Arabic Language Organization, and advised by Shereen Elgamal, lecturer in Arabic, and Shanna Van Beek, assistant director of study abroad, had the opportunity to try their hand at high-stakes diplomacy.
“Any time you spend this much time in a multilateral body you learn how difficult it is to enforce the measures that you’re ultimately collaborating upon. At the same time, things like these are important for establishing norms and establishing certain standards for the region,” Rossi said.
For the students, this type of collaboration is not always easy. “It was interesting to see how people had to look at all the conflicts happening concurrently,” first-year student Kinsley Cuen said.
For some, like those participating in Elon junior Grace Landsberg's council, conflict took shape around particulars. “A lot of our conversation really revolved around defining your terms and being more specific in order to get things passed," Landsberg said. "If no one know the term you’re talking about, it doesn’t work.”
For others, conflict took a more interpersonal shape. “There were times when certain delegates became a little combative with each other,” said first-year student Derek Dzinich.
And all delegates faced the unique challenge of conflict between their personal perception and the views of those they aim to represent. “It’s interesting to see our own personal identities as well as the identities of those we’re representing and how that interacts in terms of diplomacy negotiation,” Lutz said.
Sophomore Kannon Hall added that part of this perspective is informed by larger global biases. “We’re often Western-centric, and we just think of the U.N. It reminded me there are other governing bodies, and when I look at the news to not just look at what the U.N. is doing but also consider things like the Arab League.”
Ultimately, though, students observed that conflict and coexistence are a natural part of diplomacy.
“I learned a lot about how hard it is to pass legislation … and how complex issues are,” said first-year student Rohith Murali. “We compromised on things we knew we could both agree on and made strong alliances with different countries to ensure that we both got what we wanted.”
Elon’s delegation modeled regional diplomacy in authoring many of the resolutions passed. “Overall, debate moved forward, we wrote long and effective resolutions, and we made it through all four topics before the end of the time,” said Dzinich.
While the conference is an opportunity for collegial cooperation among students, for Elon it was truly a collaborative undertaking. The 16 students are members Arabic Language Organization and Model Arab League – both organizations served as resources for training and research. Further, Elon’s participation was jointly sponsored by the Global Education Center, Student Government Association, Arabic Language Organization, the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, the Middle East Studies Minor and the Department of World Languages and Cultures.
The full delegation, specific councils, and awards are as follows:
- Joint Defense Council: Mike Rossi ’17 and Matt Semple ’19, Distinguished Delegates award
- Council on Palestinian Affairs: Kinsley Cuen '20 and Natalie Omodt '20
- Council on Political Affairs: Derek Dzinich '20 and Rebecca Scott '20, Superior Delegates award
- Council of Arab Social Affairs Ministers: Eliza Quigley '20 and Ashley Jutras '20
- Council of Arab Economic Affairs Ministers: Khalil Osman '20 and Rohith Murali '20, Distinguished Delegates award
- Council on Environmental Affairs: Anton Delgado '20 and Steven Klausner '20, Superior Delegates award
- Council of Heads of State: Grace Landsberg ’18 and Kannon Hall ’19, Distinguished Delegates award
- Council on Refugee Affairs: Ben Lutz ’17 and Noor Irshaidat '20, Outstanding Delegates award
“I’m very happy with Elon’s integration with the Model Arab League circuit," said Lutz. “It gave me more insight on the frustrations with diplomacy, but as well as the successes and joys when something you work on really hard gets passed.”
Elon’s delegation hard work paid off, and its members hope to continue that good work by competing in the National Conference for Model Arab League in Washington D.C. next year to engage in Middle East geopolitics, diplomacy and negotiation.