Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fes Festival Forums - Does the Middle East need a Mandela?

After criticism not enough women were on the panels of the Fes festival over previous days, today three women and the female moderator outnumbered their male counterparts

Moderator Katherine Marshall presented two different questions for speakers to address at the 4th forum discussion. In French the question translated to “Is a man like Mandela possible in the Middle East?” while in English speakers were asked “What would Mandela tell us today?”

Leila Shahid is a Palestinian diplomat and she strongly rejected the assumption that there are no leaders like Mandela in the Middle East. She pointed out that Yasser Arafat had achieved much during his leadership of the Palestinian movement and said that Arafat moved his people from an armed struggle to a political one as Mandela did.

Amira Hass, Leila Shahid and Simone Bitton

Amira Hass an Israeli writer and journalist insisted that the Palestinian Israeli conflict is different to the South African experience. She said they must distance themselves from any cult of personality, a point Mandela made about himself during his lifetime. She told the forum much can be learned from Mandela pointing out that Mandela demonstrated one could change one’s opinions. In his early days he was pan-African. “He wanted to keep away from non-Africans, but he recognised those that despise oppression were part of the struggle. Indians, Whites, Jews, Christians were all part of the struggle against apartheid.” Hass talked about her own experiences as a Jew who stands against what she described as Israeli apartheid. Her support for the Palestinian cause is rejected by activists because she is Jewish. “If we want to build a common future we have to struggle together.”

The question of boycotting Israel was also raised. Filmmaker Simone Bitton was born in Morocco, the daughter of a Jewish jeweller. She describes herself as an Arab Jew. She urged her colleagues in the film industry to boycott travelling to Israel. She believes to widen the message, films produced by anti-Israelis should be shown in Israel but those behind the lens should boycott the country.

Katherine Marshall and Nabil Ayouch
Franco-Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch did not share that opinion. He asserted that there needs to be an exchange of views, discussion and debate and urged those from both sides to listen to the other side. Ayouch also questioned whether the Middle East needs another Nelson Mandela. “The Middle East is full of great men.” And he described Mandela as a symbol and argued, “we don’t need symbolism, let’s be pragmatic.”

Zair Kedadouche

Zair Kedadouche, a writer and diplomat. put it succinctly when he simply said “Is Mandela possible in the Middle East? For us, it goes beyond one man.”

Tomorrow morning: Round table: Canticle of the Birds, presentation of the work of Farid Ud-Din Attār

Text and photographs: Stephanie Kennedy

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