Middle East experts to share insights on the future of Arab reform movements


By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

Bob Dylan famously said that you didn’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind was blowing.

In organizing an upcoming discussion on the Middle East, Wayne State Law Professor Gregory Fox sought out a barometer to help attendees figure out the weather trends in the so-called “Arab Spring.”

“I became aware of the work of one of the speakers, Mark Tessler, who’s a professor at the University of Michigan,” Fox says. “He runs something called the Arab Barometer project. He’s one of the few Westerners who does reliable public opinion polling in the Arab world. His work is absolutely fascinating. I thought he would be a great person to have and we sort of built the panel around him.”
Three well-known Middle East experts will share their insights Friday, Sept. 6, as Wayne State University Law School presents the panel discussion “The Future of Reform Movements in the Arab World.”

Professor Tarek Masoud of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Professor Haider Hamoudi of the University of Pittsburgh Law School,  and Professor Mark Tessler of the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan will be on the panel. Fox, director of the Program for International Legal Studies, will act as host. The analysts will discuss the current state of Arab political reform movements, often popularly referred to as the “Arab Spring.”

The free, public event will take place from 6 - 7:30 p.m. in the Law School’s Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium, 471 W. Palmer, and a reception will follow. Parking will be available in the structure across from the Law School for $6.50.

Professor Masoud is an expert on the Middle East and author of a forthcoming book on Islamic political parties. His work focuses on political development in poor, undemocratic countries. He graduated from Brown University and earned his doctorate in political science from Yale University.

Professor Hamoudi has served as a legal advisor to the Finance Committee of the Iraq Governing Council and to the Constitutional Review Committee of the Iraqi legislature. His scholarship focuses on Middle Eastern and Islamic law, particularly commercial law. He is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia Law School.

Professor Tessler’s areas of expertise include comparative politics and Middle East studies. He has lived for extended periods in both the Arab world and Israel and has studied and conducted field research in Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, Egypt and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza). He also co-directs the Arab Barometer Survey project. Tessler graduated from Case Western Reserve University and earned his doctorate in political science from Northwestern University.

Observers of the Middle East often find themselves wondering whether the changes occurring there — the so-called “Arab Spring — are providing the region’s citizens with more or less freedom.

“That’s the paradox,” Fox says. “Let’s talk about Egypt, which is getting the most attention right now. In one sense they absolutely incorporate Western ideas. They held elections. What’s more fundamental to a democracy than elections? The problem in Egypt, from the American perspective, was that they elected the wrong people.” 

Part of the confusion is that even the word “democracy” means different things to different people.

“It taps into a fundamental question that I’ve written about in the past about the nature of democracy,” Fox says. “Is democracy a set of procedures by which people choose their leaders? Whatever leader they choose, democratic principles have fulfilled their purpose. Or is democracy about policies, equality, individual liberty, protecting privacy, freedom of speech? In the United States, we’re used to those things existing alongside each other. We elect leaders, but we also give courts the power to strike down the decisions of Congress or the president.”

For more information about the event, email international.law@wayne.edu.