- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

In-Person Insights Into the Middle East

| Spring 2022

Featured in the Spring 2022 Newsletter »

In March, a 13-member delegation of Harvard students traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to participate in a Harvard Kennedy School experiential field course on “Leadership and Social Transformation in the Arab World.”

Conceived and designed by Tarek Masoud, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Governance and faculty director of the Middle East Initiative (MEI), the original model was a comparative, two-week January-term course visiting several Middle Eastern countries. However, due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in late 2021, Masoud and his co-instructor, MEI Senior Fellow Sultan Al-Qassemi, reshaped the course into a condensed module—held March 11-20, 2022—focused on the UAE.

H.H. Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, hosted students for a briefing in his private salon (majlis) at Al Dhaith Palace.

H.H. Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, hosted students for a briefing in his private salon (majlis) at Al Dhaith Palace.

Over eight days, students visited four emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ras Al-Khaimah) and had 29 meetings with leaders from government, media, academia, and the private sector, including Her Excellency Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development; His Excellency Dr. Anwar Gargash, former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah; and Mina Al-Oraibi, Editor-in-Chief of The National, a daily English-language newspaper covering regional affairs. These closed conversations covered topics of critical importance to the region, such as women’s empowerment, economic diversification, social transformation in traditionally conservative societies, the Abraham Accords, and the UAE’s bilateral relationship with the United States.

“The Harvard students in the course were an exceptional group,” said Co-instructor Al-Qassemi . “These were eight demanding but intellectually fascinating days. I was impressed by the students’ dedication despite the rigorous schedule. They came well-prepared and engaged actively during high-level meetings with senior UAE government officials and civil society leaders. I have full confidence that our UAE interlocutors would agree to hold meetings with Harvard students in the future. I am grateful to Professor Tarek Masoud for allowing me the opportunity to instruct this class with him.”

Among the course’s many highlights were high-level briefings with senior officials, such as Rabih Abouchakra, Managing Director of the Office of Strategic Affairs at the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, regarding the opportunities and challenges Abu Dhabi faces regarding economic development and social welfare. In addition, students visited Expo 2020, the modern-day equivalent of the World's Fair, where they toured the national exhibits of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, and a pavilion dedicated to the UAE’s efforts in environmental sustainability. Students were granted private audiences with UAE leaders, including Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, a member of the Sharjah Executive Council and His Excellency Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, Cultural Adviser to the President of the UAE and Chancellor of UAE University.

These engagements enabled students to develop a deeper understanding of the forces shaping the UAE’s efforts to diversify its economy, manage social transformations, and improve the quality of governance. Harvard Kennedy School student Toni Gingerelli said of the experience, “This course helped me gain unique insights on the UAE and Gulf Region that I never would have received from reading the literature alone. The experiential learning was life changing and is a time during my graduate studies I will remember forever.”

As Professor Masoud explained, “The Arab world is undergoing rapid change, and part of the Middle East Initiative's mission is to help our students and faculty understand that change and even contribute to it. Sultan al-Qassemi and I therefore designed this course to expose our students to the region's brightest minds and most influential decision makers, but also to expose the region's brightest minds and most influential decision makers to our students, whose insightful and searching questions made lasting impressions. Our hope is that future iterations of this course, which will bring our students to more countries and tackle new issue areas, will further strengthen the intellectual exchange between Harvard and the region that is our program's core commitment.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

"Students Gain Up-Close Insights Into Middle East." Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. (Spring 2022)

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