Promoting tolerance: how can education counter decades of mistrust?

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Event summary

March 17, 2022

Promoting tolerance: how can education counter decades of distrust?

By
Salwa Balla

The Abraham Accords opened the door to myriad opportunities for peacebuilding, tolerance and development in the Middle East, but met with some public opposition after decades of mistrust and hostility. Peace and stability are fragile, and the best way to build lasting relations between Israel and the Middle East is through initiatives to build tolerance and reform education.

On March 8, Atlantic Council Middle East Programs, with support from the Jeffrey M. Talpins Foundation, hosted a virtual event and panel discussion on “Promoting Tolerance: A Conversation with the House Abraham Accords Caucus and Regional Experts”. This event marked the first public event of the House Abraham Accords Caucus co-chairs: Congressman Bradley Schneider and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and featured regional experts Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se; HE Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, President of Hedayah; and El Mehdi Boudra, Founder and President of the Mimouna Association.

Panels at the event were moderated by William Wechsler, senior director of Middle East programs at the Atlantic Council, and Melissa Weiss, editor of Jewish Insider.

The speakers underlined the historic importance of the Abraham Accords and their ability to open up new opportunities for the Middle East. Through cooperation between different sectors, such as business, technology, agriculture and tourism, they noted that the doors opened by the Abraham Accords are endless. However, the process of bringing people together after generations of division will require changing the way people in the region see each other.

Opening speech

Congressman Bradley Schneider began the discussion by recognizing the Abraham Accords as a change for the Middle East, a change in cross-cultural understanding and a change in action. Schneider believes that to create permanent peace, the Abraham Accords must go beyond political and economic cooperation and create understanding between people, beginning with interaction through education. Likewise, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers highlighted the work of the Caucus as a bipartisan endeavor and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to tolerance and peacebuilding in the Middle East, as well as the importance of preserving peace through education and generational change.

Schneider and Rodgers dove into the caucus agenda for this year. Congressman Schneider said the most important thing they can do right now is expand education opportunities; first, to involve other members of Congress and build on their experiences in the Middle East and, second, to deepen relations between normalizing countries and encourage others to join the Abraham Accords. Congresswoman Rodgers added that pursuing public-private partnerships and encouraging different sectors to join in the opportunities offered by the Abraham Accords will further strengthen the success of the accords.

In addressing how Egypt and Jordan fit into the broader normalization drive and the work of the Caucus, Congressman Schneider highlighted the historical significance of the Camp David Accords and how public opinion and the assassination of Anouar Sadat, after the signing of these agreements, showed the division of the Israeli-Arab peace process. Schneider said the Abraham Accords are a bridge rather than a bypass and that no one should be left behind, as the accords have generated significant economic dividends for countries on the path to normalization. Congresswoman Rodgers affirmed the importance of continuing to develop ties with Jordan and Egypt, as their historic efforts paved the way for the creation of the Abraham Accords.

Regarding the best ways to engage Palestinians in the Abraham Accords, McMorris Rodgers mentioned that the Palestinian Authority will see the benefits of the Abraham Accords through bottom-up economic relationships, such as public or private industry. , energy, health, tourism, and agriculture. These partnerships would create a bright future for the Palestinian people and would be a foundation for peace and security. Schneider agreed, saying there should be a balance between short-term and long-term goals, building trust, reducing conflict and improving the lives of Palestinians in the short term, and place of the Palestinian Authority in the long term. Ignoring a particular group when creating a lasting peace would be neither a successful nor a lasting strategy.

Round table

Marcus Sheff began the discussion by examining the purpose of textbook reform. Education in schools is essential to foster peace; however, it can also be used to engender hatred. The textbooks are uniquely authoritative and inform the actions of any generation, and IMPACT-se scrutinizes all textbooks given to students in the Middle East. Through comparative analysis and drawing conclusions about trends between the books, they are able to create policy recommendations for educational reforms and a basis for a new curriculum.

HE Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi explained how the promotion of tolerance through education reform in the UAE has changed since the signing of the Accords. He reminded the panel that the promotion of coexistence and tolerance in the UAE began thirty years ago, but since the signing of the agreements, the UAE has made a huge investment in education reform to promote coexistence. HE Al Nuaimi highlighted the important role that teachers play in promoting values ​​in the classroom and stressed that promoting tolerance is not a political decision, but rather creates a basis for peace through engagement with the new generation.

El Mehdi Boudra noted the unique perspective in Morocco, where diversity is seen as a resource. The Abraham Accords were not enacted for a political agenda, but to highlight the Jewish component of Moroccan identity. Since then, the Accords have had a positive impact on Moroccan society; a perception survey carried out by the Mimouna Association showed that 92% of Moroccans are optimistic about normalization. HE Al Nuaimi built on this, noting that the UAE is part of a very conservative region, but has come a long way in tackling hate stories, especially in schools.

Going forward, it is necessary to involve all stakeholders to continue influencing public perceptions. Respect and acceptance are inherent in education in the UAE. Mr. Sheff confirmed the uneven trends in regional reform efforts, pointing out, for example, that school textbooks in Houthi-backed Yemeni territory encourage a disturbing amount of violence and hatred. A new curriculum would involve critical thinking exercises and engage students in an interest in tolerance and the benefits of coexistence and peacebuilding strategies.

Main policy recommendations

Regarding the promotion of tolerance in education, full engagement should involve the media, religious leaders and public and private institutions as mechanisms for reform. Boudra argued that reform should not be limited to the institutional level and that grassroots movements and civil societies will bring new initiatives and innovative strategies to education. Sheff asserted that teaching peace will create relationships that transcend economics and that there should be no dissonance between government actions and what is taught in schools. If standardization is a national strategy, it should also be taught in schools.

HE Al Nuaimi mentioned that the people of the region have also changed and most people are in favor of peace and stability. By creating a focus between teachers, principals and parents and involving them in the education reform process, it is more likely to gain public acceptance and create substantial long-term reform. . Boudra added that students must also be included as they will continue on the path of building peace and promoting tolerance.

In conclusion, all panelists agreed that there must be institutional commitment, synergy between government and civil society, and thorough reform of school textbooks to create the blueprint for building a more peaceful and more peaceful Middle East. tolerant and to maintain the momentum launched by the Abraham Accords.

Salwa Balla is a Young Global Professional in the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs.

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