No.0020

2014/12/09

In search for true mutual understanding with the Middle East in turmoil ~Initiatives by the Sasakawa Middle East Islam Fund

From 'Arab Spring' to regional conflicts

The Middle East has cultures, traditions and history built on an intricate tapestry of diverse tribes, ethnicities and religions. It is one of the fascinating regions where human civilization originated. At the same time, its modern history painted an unstable and complex picture, riddled with a number of ethnic and regional conflicts including the conflict with Israel. Yet, the tide of democratization called the Arab Spring, which swept across the Arab world since 2010, drew international attention to this region and transformed the world's perception of the Middle East. Amidst the renewed international attention, however, the region has now sunk once again into the intensified Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other conflicts stemming from religious confrontations.

The first seminar with active debates on the Egyptian Revolution

The Sasakawa Middle East Islam Fund (SMEIF) organizes lecture sessions and seminars on the latest situations in the Middle East in order to promote public understanding of the political, economic and diplomatic issues concerning the Middle East, which remains to be a 'distant' region for many Japanese people. The SMEIF organized two seminars on the Middle East in September.
The first seminar, titled "Egypt's Political Prospects in an Unstable Middle East", was held on September 5 (Fri), inviting His Excellency Mr. Hisham El-Zimaity, the Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to Japan. Ambassador El-Zimaity structured his speech with three main pillars, i.e. (1) Egypt's domestic politics since the Arab Spring, (2) regional and international factors surrounding Egypt and (3) his message to Japan. He stressed that the two 'revolutions' in 2011 and 2013 represented a battle to protect Egypt's moderate, tolerant and diverse identity, and expressed concerns that the western and Japanese media overlooked this aspect in their coverage. In response, the moderator Tsutomu Ishiai, the Foreign News Editor of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, drew on his own journalistic experiences in Egypt to present a different understanding of the 2013 revolution, which led to active exchange of opinions on the interpretation of the revolution.

The second seminar on "Russian Perspective on Syria, Iraq and
the Middle East" with focus on Caliphate

The second seminar, held on September 12 (Fri), invited Dr. Alexander Shumilin, the Director of the Center for the Great Middle East Conflicts at the Institute for the USA & Canada Studies, Russia Academy of Sciences, to examine "Russian Perspective on Syria, Iraq and the Middle East". Commenting on the situations in Syria and Iraq, Dr. Shumilin pointed out that the national borders established in 1916 to determine the mapping of Middle East forces, are being challenged by a non-state organization that calls itself the Islamic State in this year that marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, stressing its role as a symbolic 'Caliph' state. He went on to highlight the facts that the use of chemical weapons has expanded Russia's roles in the Syrian conflict, in particular, and that the Islamic State cites Russia as one of its biggest enemies rather than the United States. The moderator Shuji Hosaka, the Senior Research Fellow & Assistant Director of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, said, in response to a question from the audience, that the Islamic State's revival of Caliphate has no continuity with the Ottoman Caliphate (abolished in 1924), and that the revival of Caliphate would not lead to the reinstatement of rule by Islam laws (See the seminar's video for details).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzWIvOFz-d4
These two seminars attracted over 100 people in each session, resulting in active Q&A sessions on the turbulent Middle East. The SMEIF will continue to promote a variety of projects with the aim of deepening mutual understanding with the Middle East.

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