As the protests in Egypt escalated, Bush School Professor and Director of Programming for the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs Jeffrey Engel saw an opportunity for students to engage in what he termed “a good old fashioned teach-in,” which was held on Tuesday, February 1, in the Bush Library Auditorium. A teach-in is similar to a general educational forum on any complicated issue, but is usually focused on a topic involving current political affairs. They are meant to be practical and participatory, with experts speaking on their area of expertise and then answering questions from the audience. In this case, the audience was Bush School students who posed questions about the rapidly unfolding events in Egypt to experts from the Bush School and other A&M departments.
Leading the discussion was Ryan Crocker, Dean of the Bush School. As former Ambassador to Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq and a noted Middle Eastern expert, Crocker had shared his insights on the crisis in weekend television interviews. He was joined by Bush School Professor Dr. Rola el-Husseini, who specializes in the Middle East and teaches a course on Authoritarianism in the Arab World. Dr. Randy Kluver from the Department of Communications addressed how new media has been used by protestors.
Dean Crocker affirmed the speculation that the Mubarek era in Egypt was over. Crocker and Dr. el-Husseini then went on to discuss topics such as the role of the Egyptian Army, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the possible ascension of Mohamed El-Baradei.
Dr. Kluver discussed the role of social media in the organizing of protests, the effects of Twitter and Facebook usage, the rates of internet connectivity in Egypt, as well as the Egyptian government’s denial of service. He reported that as a result of the internet shutdown, Google used recently acquired technology to allow phone calls from Egypt to be transcribed to Twitter accounts for the rest of the world to see. This service was announced mere hours before the teach-in.
Bush School students came prepared with questions including the reaction of Iran, the root causes of the protests, what a future relationship with Israel could look like, and the relationship between the Egyptian and American military.
Dr. Engel thanked all the speakers and the staff of the Bush Library who graciously made their auditorium available at the last minute when it became apparent there would be an overflow crowd for the teach-in.
“I encourage those interested in more on this topic to see the February 2 Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Page, which features a contribution by Dean Crocker to an on-line discussion of the last week’s events and the region’s future,” said Engel. The piece can be found at: http://goo.gl/lRN4O