EDMOND — University of Central Oklahoma President Don Betz and New York Times Deputy Foreign Editor Michael Slackman on Wednesday spoke about uprisings in the Middle East and what Americans can learn from the events.
The uprisings and demonstrations that began in 2010 have become known as the Arab Spring. Rulers have been forced from power in many countries, including Egypt and Libya, and civil protests in many Middle Eastern countries have resulted in violent clashes between protesters and government officials.
Slackman described a personal account while he was reporting in the region. In a morgue he saw a man, firmly clutching his dead brother's hand.
“We tend to focus on big moments,” Slackman said. “But in the sweep of history, individual decisions can be just as important. ... That's what the Arab Spring is — Individual people making history.”
Slackman spoke about reporting in Bahrain and Egypt and how his view of democracy has been influenced during his time there. He summarized democracy in three words: values, diversity and tolerance.
“I think one of the key variables for Americans is to understand the people of this region, not as stereo
Using the example of the fall of the Iron Curtain and other regional revolutions, Betz explained that what's happening in the Middle East isn't as simple as one religion or one group against another.
“We are observing literally an awakening of a region,” he said.
U.S. foreign policy and the sentiments of citizens here do affect how the government reacts to these uprisings.
Betz and Slackman said while many in the Middle East are fond of Americans, they are critical of U.S. foreign policy.
Betz said this is particularly true when it comes to the issue of Israel and Palestine.
“Those critical voices are muted here,” Betz said.
Slackman's presentation is a part of a series of events leading up to Betz's inauguration as UCO president Friday. He's been in the position since August, and formerly worked for the United Nations on Middle East issues.
Betz also serves as a member of the founding implementation committee for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities American Democracy Project.