Sixth Annual Bridges of Understanding Conference

On December 3, 2012, Meridian and the Bridges of Understanding Foundation cohosted the Sixth Annual Bridges of Understanding Conference: What’s Ahead for the Middle East? With a focus on forging mutual respect and promoting understanding between the U.S. and the Arab world, this year’s conference offered a program of engaging speakers on timely, critical issues.

Ambassador Holliday (far left) moderates the panel on Syria with Rafifi Jouejati, Dr. Murhaf Jouejati, and Ambassador Martin Indyk.

The half-day event opened with welcome and introductory remarks by Ambassador Karim Kawar, President of the Bridges of Understanding Foundation. In the first session on "The State of Affairs in the Middle East," Dr. Marwan Muasher, Vice President for Studies with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Chairman of the Atlantic Media Company, David Bradley, set the stage with a conversation about the current landscape of the Arab region.

The discussion to follow on "Egypt: The Way Forward," included His Excellency Mohammed Tawfik, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the U.S.; The U.S. Department of State’s Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions, Ambassador William Taylor; Goldman Sachs Foundation and Head of Corporate Engagement, Hon. Dina Habib Powell, and was moderated by Ambassador Kawar.

After a networking break for guests, Bridges reconvened with a special session to honor the inaugural Youth Talk Ambassadors. Winners of the recent Youth Talk Reflections Contest, Hadeel Abu Asaad of the Galilee School and Olivia Steen of the International School of the Americas shared their short video segments with the audience. Bridges’ Co-Founder, Kathy Hubbard, moderated this panel on Youth Talk, which is a cross-cultural dialogue program connecting American and Arab high school students via monthly videoconferences, and has reached nearly 500 students in eight different countries.

The final panel of the Conference focused on Syria, with a discussion of "Views from the Ground and from Washington," with Ambassador Martin Indyk, Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy at Brookings Institution; Dr. Murhaf Jouejati, Professor, NESA Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University; and activist Rafif Jouejati, Spokesperson for the Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) in Syria. Meridian’s Ambassador Stuart Holliday moderated the conversation, and Bridges’ Board Member Marlene Malek shared opening remarks.

Luma Kawar, Co-Founder of the Bridges for Understanding Foundation, introduced the Fifth Annual Building Bridges Award, which recognizes individuals or organizations committed to building understanding between the Arab world and the West. The 2012 Building Bridges Award was presented by Ambassador Kawar to Sir James and Elaine Wolfensohn, for their work with youth and emerging leaders in the Middle East, along with their tireless efforts on education, gender equity and anti-poverty programs around the world.

The event concluded with a keynote luncheon address from His Excellency Nasser S. Judeh, Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, regarding Jordan’s unique positioning in the Middle East. The 2012 Bridges of Understanding Conference was supported by Samia and Huda Farouki.