Intra-Arab Dialogue Series: Challenging Sectarian Divides

Co-presented with the UofMosaic@Ryerson

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Jan. 27, 2014: Movie Screening: Where Do We Go Now?

Women in black, a procession, and breast­beating. Nadine Labaki’s felliniesque opening scene of Where Do We Go Now launched the Intra­Arab Dialogue Series for Young Canadians: Challenging Sectarian Divides.

A tragicomedy replica of the civil war in Lebanon, Labaki’s film touches upon sectarian strife, connecting to both past and present conflicts in the Arab World. Interspersing the absurd with the sombre, the cartoonish with the dramatic, Labaki plays the unsuspecting viewer like a violin, all the while reflecting on the absurdity of sectarianism. She critiques it with music, colours, and imagined scents.

Following the screening, a number of participants commented on the unfortunate relevance of the film to today’s tribalism in the Arab world. Education, economic bridging, and open dialogue were some of the concepts thrown for counteracting the wave. The media’s role in sustaining conflicts and womens’ inclination to encompass those were also discussed in relation to the film.

Naturally, the question of whether the diaspora sustains, counteracts, or neutralizes sectarian prejudices came up next. Some suggested that the diaspora provides an alternative platform for tackling prejudices, while others claimed the opposite; living far away from conflict reinforces those notions. What do you think? What are the pros and cons of geographic distance from the birthplace of conflict? How do you think Canadian Arabs participate in that dialogue, or lack thereof? 

Jan. 29, 2014: Revisiting the 'Arab Spring' and the Canadian Arab Diaspora

The first session provided an introduction to the series and took a broad look at the key issues and challenges for democracy movements  in the Arab World since the 'Arab Spring' in 2011.  With panelist Raja Khouri, President of the Canadian Arab Institute, Dr. Bessma Momani, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Waterloo, and Prof. Arne Kislenko from the department of History at Ryerson University as moderator, the session addressed how these challenges have affected Canadian Arabs with personal ties to the Middle East and explored the long-term impacts of the dramatic changes that have taken place in such countries as Egypt, Syria and Tunisia since that time.  The session also considered how the Arab Spring has affected the perspectives, attitudes and experiences of Arabs in Canada.  

Feb. 12, 2014: Is Egypt on the path to democracy? 

After exploring the social, political and economic conditions of Egypt that influenced the popular uprising in Jan 2011, former Canadian ambassador to Egypt Ferry de Kerckhove led a dynamic discussion with the participants. What were the questions explored? Is Egypt on the path to democracy? Is Arab nationalism a myth? How did the recent developments in Egypt affect the Egyptian Diaspora in Canada? How will current events continue to impact Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East?

Feb. 25, 2014: Syria & Sectarianism. 

This session concentrated on the rise of sectarian tensions in Syria and the implications of it for regional cooperation, security and peace. Speakers Dr. Paul Kingston and Afra Jalabi drew references to historical trends in the region and explored the origins of sectarian divides and how they become imported into the social and political affairs in Syria, how is it produced and reproduced and the dynamics surrounding the circumstances over time.  The session also evaluated the current Geneva Talk progress towards peace and the role of the international community. 

Don’t miss the upcoming session, on March 12th, exploring the role of Women & Peacebuilding in the Middle East and the roles women take on to address the challenges of the changing socio-political dynamics within their countries.