Ambassadors discuss Canada’s role in the Middle East

By: Nikki Gladstone

Slick black cars with vibrant red license plates idling outside of Carleton University’s River Building signalled a large diplomatic presence on the university campus this Tuesday evening.

By: NIKKI GLADSTONE

800px-War_in_Gaza_021_-_Flickr_-_Al_Jazeera_English

Scenes from Gaza in the Middle East. Photo provided by Al Jazeera English.

Slick black cars with vibrant red license plates idling outside of Carleton University’s River Building signalled a large diplomatic presence on the university campus this Tuesday evening.

Arab ambassadors and key stakeholders alike filled a conference room overlooking the Ottawa River for a panel conversation about Canada’s role in the Middle East. Organizers anticipated the participation of multiple active politicians including official opposition critic for Foreign Affairs Paul Dewar and Member of Parliament Deepak Obhrai, however a vote in the House of Commons diminished this political presence.

The event, even more topical in respect to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s recent tour of the area and the ongoing crisis in Syria, is part of Carleton University’s Initiative for Parliamentary and Diplomatic Engagement.

Moderated by esteemed Dr. Farhang Rajaee, professor of Political Science and Humanities and director of the College of the Humanities at Carleton University, the panel had three specialists who touched briefly on a wide range of interests and issues facing the Middle East.

First to speak was Saïd Hamad, a career diplomat and Chief Representative of the Palestinian Delegation. Hamad talked openly about Canada’s relationship with the Palestinians, questioning what had happened to Canada’s past middle of the road approach in foreign policy, especially regarding Palestine.

Rejaee, jokingly noting his ability to interpose at his discretion as the moderator, emphasized the importance of Hamad’s statement.

“We should engage with Palestinians not because of our own interests, but because of our principles.”

And those principles he referenced – of moral and political responsibility, human rights and bettering Canadian foreign policy – especially in line with Palestine and Syria, were core themes throughout the discussion.

Dr. Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at The Centre for International Governance Innovation and Brookings Institution, as well as an associate professor of Political Science at Waterloo University, spoke next primarily focusing on the growing economic potential between Canada and countries in the Middle East.

Last was Ferry de Kerckhove, research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and former Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, who emphasized the need to identify and support existing social structures within the region, prior to implementing economic strategy.

The debate culminated to an engaged discussion, which underlined the overarching conundrum of how exactly to engage the Middle East, which Momani said, without a doubt, is money.

“The moral high ground is legitimate and honourable, but it is a long-term endeavour. If you want to take a short-term effective route in convincing this government,” she said, “focus on the money, focus on economic interests.”

Rejaee interjected, saying “the money will not get us there” and that the real issues to address are tolerance and confidence.

De Kerckhove maintained that the region as a whole needs to be built from the ground up and that economics cannot be the sole driving factor for engagement between Canada and the Middle East.

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