Looking to expand your knowledge of hot-button issues in the Arab and Islamic world, or even the world at large? Look to The Doha Debates, funded by The Qatar Foundation, chaired by a renowned BBC correspondent (Tim Sebastian), and presented on BBC World News.
Held eight times each year, the Doha Debates offer a rare, undistorted view of public opinion within the Arab world. The Doha Debates seek to demystify the Middle East for the 300 million people who follow the event on television, online, and via podcast.
The makeup of the debates is simple: pick a controversial Middle Eastern topic; invite two speakers from the "For" camp and two from the "Against" camp, and allow them to state their cases, be questioned by the chairman, and then be questioned by the audience of 350 ticket-holders.
The debates are free of interference by any government body or entity, and the organizers can have debates on any topic they wish, and invite any representative they wish for the "For" or "Against" side.
At the end of each debate, the audience is asked to vote anonymously for the most convincing camp. Recent subjects covered include: "This House believes resistance to the Arab Spring is futile"; "This House believes the world is better off with Wikileaks"; "This House believes France is right to ban the face veil"; "This House believes Dubai is a bad idea"; and "This House trusts Iran NOT to build a nuclear bomb." Other topics have discussed women's rights, Palestinian/Israeli conflict, conflict within Islam, the plight of Darfur, and much, much more.
Since the Qatar Foundation Funds the debates, the majority of attendees are local and Gulf college and university students, although anyone can apply for tickets, as long as they are 15 or older. Demand to see the debates is such that it has been necessary to create a waiting list for all those interested. However, the debates themselves are easily accessible since they are broadcast to 200 countries.
In addition to the regular Doha Debates, there are also 'Special Debates.' These special broadcasts feature a question and answer period with a guest of interest. Previous special guests have included Bill Clinton, Shimon Peres (President of Israel), Amre Moussa (former Secretary- General of the Arab League), and Ayad Allawi (former Interim Prime Minister of Iraq). Guests are able to express their true feelings on certain controversial topics without fear of repercussions. Topics have included humour, e.g., "Comedy special: This House believes women are superior to men" and serious issues, e.g., "Doha Debates Special Event: Extremism."
The Doha Debates serve as the voice of the voiceless. Their aim is to encourage open, fair, and non-partisan debate about topics which are rarely publicly touched upon. Their hope is to inspire a future generation of Arabs to question and analyze issues which are controversial within society and the world at large.
Want to see the next debate? It's on November 5, on BBC World News, also online.
Addendum: Do not confuse the Doha Debates with the Doha Rounds! The Doha Rounds refer to is the latest round of World Trade Organization (WTO) trade negotiations. See: http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dda_e/dda_e.htm
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