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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Arab world a ‘melting pot’ of diversity

Diversity in the Arab world, which crosses ethnic, religious and gender lines, is more complicated than most Americans realize.

Mohsen Hamli from the University of Manouba in Tunis, Tunisia gave his speech titled, “Women, Media and Diversity in the Arab World” to over 70 students and faculty in the Union last evening.

While the Arab world may look homogenous — in religion, gender issues, etc. — to Westerners, Hamli argued that nothing could be further from the truth.

“The Arab world is distinct from the Muslim world,” Hamli said.

Hamli defined the Arab world as 22 countries in the Middle East, with the exception of Israel and North Africa —- places where Arabic is the primary language. To consider Arab as equal to Muslim is a stereotype that many Westerners hold.

In fact, Hamil said that the Arab world is a melting pot where, in six of 22 Arab countries, Arabs are a minority. Eight percent of Arabs are non-Muslims, including followers of Pagan beliefs, according to Hamli.

The role of women in Arab countries is becoming an increasingly controversial topic as democratic movements begin to spread in the region.

“The Arab world is divided over the status of women,” Hamli said.

Hamli pointed to his own country, Tunisia, as an example of progress. Currently, Tunisia’s parliament is made up of about 23 percent women, which ranks it at 27th in the world in terms of female representatives. The U.S. ranks 59th.

Women’s entry into the media, as into any occupation, has met resistance from the more conservative factions in the Arab world. Hamli said the debate over the role of women is potentially more dangerous than the other divisions in the region.

Tunisia again provides a model for more liberal treatment of women in the workforce. Tunisia has, among other legislation, abolished polygamy and marriage without the consent of the women.

Women in Tunisia occupy about 30 percent of the jobs in the media field, including decision-making positions.

“Tunisia has set the standard for women unparalleled in other Arab countries,” Hamli said.

Ethnic divides have been the cause of much bloodshed in the Arab world and solutions have been hard to come by.

“Ethnic wars in Lebanon and Sudan have cost many more lives than Arab-Israeli conflicts,” Hamli said.

Arab leaders have tried to unite their populations through a variety of means.

Citizenship based on religion excluded non-Muslims and failed, as did Pan-Arabism, the idea of a secular unification based on the Arabic language.

Non-Muslims were fearful of a hidden Islamic agenda and thus were hesitant to support Pan-Arabism.

Yet another solution, nationalism, was thwarted by leaders’ abuse of power as well as Arab-Israeli battles.

Professor Catherine Cassara of the journalism department was pleased with the turnout and hoped students left with a desire to research the Arab world.

“If you heard (Hamli’s speech) you have to understand that the American media is very simplistic,” Cassara said.

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