Two debates in the 16th century Old Court Room at Lincoln’s Inn on Friday morning brought debaters from the Middle East and UK together on topics of interest to both the UK and the Middle East. The debates, organised by IDEA UK, were part of the Young Arab Voices (YAV) project run by the British Council and Anna Lindh foundation which teaches debate to young people across the Middle East and North Africa.
Increasing the intercultural exchange of the day the debates were performed with mixed teams of UK and YAV debaters on both sides. The first debate, ‘This House believes that democracy is not crucial to stability in the Middle East North Africa region’ saw El Houssain Belabbas from Morocco, Lina Tissaoui from Tunisia, and Jordan Anderson pitted against Daniel Berman and Bailey Reid from the UK and Amira Mousa from Egypt. The main point of contention was the causality of whether stability has to precede democracy or vic versa. Proposition maintained that an autocrat in order to stay in power has to self interestedly benefit all sections of society. Opposition maintained that only in a democracy with a concept of a loyal opposition is there the possibility of peaceful transitions of power and true stability.
The second debate was closer to home looking at whether the UK should take in more refugees from the crises in Syria and Libya through the motion ‘This House believes the UK should take part in EU refugee sharing quotas’. This debate too had participants of YAV and British debaters in mixed teams with British debaters Karolina Partyga and Saskia Neibig opposing each other with the remainder of the proposition Djazil Zehani and Anas Talalqa from Algeria and Jordan respectively, and the opposition’s Nasrine Brahim and Hamzeh Almomani of Tunisia and Jordan. In this debate while both sides agreed to the need to do something in response to the refugee crisis there was disagreement about what the right thing to do is; should the UK take in more refugees? Opposition maintained that the combination of high cost of housing and services and the law in the UK preventing asylum seekers from working while their applications are processed makes the UK one of the worst places in Europe for refugees. And if refugees are to be brought to the UK should they come direct from camps as the UK is currently doing rather than from those refugees who have already made their way to Europe?
Everyone taking part enjoyed the debate and gained from debating with others from different backgrounds. For the YAV debaters it was a chance to debate with some of London universities best debaters and for the British debaters, and IDEA UK to help spread debate out of its heartlands. The arguments from the first debate in particular reminded us of why debating is so vital, its role in enabling constructive opposition in states that are seeking to build a democracy.