Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Experts discuss uprisings in Middle East at round-table program

U-M scholars addressed tensions in the Middle East that have led to widespread unrest and political instability, and offered criticism of the U.S. media's coverage of those events in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries, during a program Monday at the International Institute.

During the round-table discussion "Struggle Against Authoritarian Rule in the Middle East," Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, said he was outraged because U.S. news coverage depends on the advertising revenue it will generate. He said that while there was coverage of subsequent protests in Cairo, "The corporate media blew off Tunisia," he said, referring to earlier protests there.

Mark Tessler, vice provost for international affairs and Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science, said, "The U.S. administration is struggling with, and hasn't decided, what is in our interest."

He said the government seeks to support the people, but also wants to head off unrest that could lead to the closing of the Suez Canal, through which petroleum is shipped to fuel the U.S. economy.

The United States should seek opportunities to work with moderate Muslims such as those in Tunisia, and "to view Islam in forms other than jihadists and al-Qaida," said Susan Waltz, professor of public policy.

Throughout the Middle East, she said, "The hope is for a fair shake, for equal access to employment opportunities."

Joshua Cole, associate professor of history, said, "If we want to see a viable democratic movement all actors must be present," including trade unions and a range of segments of society.

Nadine Naber, assistant professor, Program in American Culture and Department of Women's Studies, discussed the role of women in the uprisings, and showed a YouTube video posted by Asmaa Mahfouz, which observers have said was key in helping to draw Egyptians to the protests in Cairo.

"There's general agreement that the media in the U.S. has totally failed us," said alumna Karen Deslierres of Ann Arbor, following the program. The media focuses too much on superficial entertainment at the cost of useful information about the world, she said.

The discussion, conducted by the International Institute, was sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, and the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies.