Political analyst/international journalist Rami Khouri addresses Middle Eastern affairs

Rami Khouri

Respected political analyst and internationally syndicated journalist, Rami Khouri, who is also a member of Northwestern University in Qatar’s advisory board, visited NU-Q and held several forums with students, faculty, and staff.

In a series of community meetings, Khouri, with nearly 50 years of experience reporting on Middle Eastern affairs, politics, and public policy, addressed critical themes that continue to cause turmoil in the Middle East, as well as precursors that determined the region’s current fate. The first one was titled "The Ten Different Wars in Syria and the Traumas of the Modern Middle East" and the other, “Understanding the real threat of ISIS: Dysfunctional Arab statehood and millions of desperate people seeking citizenship.”

“As one the leading voices interpreting the Middle East to the West and the West to the Middle East, Mr. Khouri’s visits to NU-Q provide students and faculty with a unique opportunity to engage in discussions concerning the region with one of the leading voices in journalism in the Middle East. His understanding and breadth of knowledge on the world’s most discussed issues, Syria and the rise of ISIS, helps our faculty and students to develop a clearer understanding of the complexity surrounding such tragedies,” said Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO.

In two lively sessions at NU-Q, students, staff, and faculty gathered to listen and discuss Khouri’s findings and evaluation of the region’s most prominent issues. The first session, which discussed Syria’s traumatic civil and international war, saw Khouri breakdown the events into differently weighted conflicts and battles.

“It is the greatest proxy war in the Middle East,” said Khouri, “Syria’s situation clarifies most of the conflicts in the region, as well as modern ways of political engagement and manifestation.” He added that the war will not be resolved unless one side wins, or the country suffers massive fatigue, that in turn leaves people with no option but to settle for a short-term solution.

In his talk, Khouri also addressed NU-Q’s biggest challenge as a journalism school, which he said is to teach students how to approach such politically and socially convoluted issues, by teaching them how to accurately analyze and understand them.

“Two important components of good journalism are research and analysis. Equipping students with the know-hows of gathering valid information will help them to make the best judgement when reporting on politics and public policy,” he said.

In an open-floor discussion, moderated by NU-Q’s Zachary Wright, associate professor in residence in the liberal arts program, students and faculty raised questions on Syria and the importance of media in reporting on such events.

A student from the audience also asked Khouri on his perspective as a practicing journalist about the danger of oversimplification in the media, and how viewers have become desensitized to violence, murder, and bad news:

“We need to go back and forth – looking in-depth at individual’s lives – then zoom out and look at macro trends. The problem today is due to the explosion of information available through numerous news outlets, as well as social media, the role of a journalist is to know how to capture the most important news and feed it to appropriate audiences. You need to understand the situation, speak to people, analyze it, research, then explain it to readers in the simplest form. You need to know how to make it interesting to them – how to explain its importance to them.”

In a second discussion, moderated by NU-Q’s Khaled AL-Hroub, professor in residence in the liberal arts program, Khouri discussed how issues in the region created chaos and instability, allowing groups like ISIS to flourish. “The continuous foreign military presence in the region since the 1980s, along with the radicalization of prisoners in Arab jails led to the formation of these movements. To understand what ISIS means and where they come from, we need to look at the trajectory of how it grew, and the role of unaddressed socio-political issues, such as failed economies and illegitimate governance in giving them reasons to exist,” he said.

Khouri also emphasized the need to resolve deeply-rooted problems in the region – including democracy, education, labor issues, national identity, and others – which, he said, have been disregarded by leaders and global powers, despite their importance in eradicating terrorist groups and bringing back peace and stability to the region.

Khouri is the former director, and now senior fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. He also currently sits as a senior fellow, Middle East Initiative, in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Previously, he was editor of The Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon, and editor-in-chief of The Jordan Times. Khouri has written for many leading international publications, including the Financial Times, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post.