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3Qs: Representing a new Syria

The Northeastern International Relations Council, which tied for first in a recent Model Arab League competition, is made up of students including (from left to right) Cameron Eide, Laura Mueller-Soppart, Zach Hrynowski, club president Lara Cole, Jonathan Cadavid and Stephanie Leahy. Courtesy photo.

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.

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