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2014 Middle East Legal Studies Seminar Focused on “Transformations”

Yale Law School’s Middle East Legal Studies Seminar celebrated the 17th year since its founding with a meeting this January in New Haven. As in past years, the seminar brought together scholars, students, jurists, and practicing lawyers for high-level discussions of legal issues relevant to the Middle East.

The focus of this year’s conference was “Transformations” and included discussions on “The Second Arab Awakening: The Battle for Pluralism”; “Kuwait at the Crossroads: Reform or Stagnation”; “Woman as Victim/ Woman as Leader”; “The Politics of Ulema”; “Sovereignty, Identity, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”; “Judicial Independence and Democratic Transitions”; “The Fate of Law in Post-Revolutionary Egypt”; and “The Legitimacy of Violence.”

“Along with providing a unique setting to connect lawyers, judges, journalists, and scholars from across the Middle East, MELSS has also been a terrific opportunity for Yale Law students,” said MELSS participant Aziz Rana ’06, Associate Professor of Law at Cornell Law School. “Since its earliest days, students have played a central role in organizing and attending the conference. For many students interested in legal scholarship, the conference has also provided a great initial setting to present work and receive unvarnished but constructive feedback. For me personally, MELSS has been an eye-opening experience. I've learned tremendously about the region's history and politics and developed formative relationships with participants. There are really very few conferences like it. For nearly 20 years, MELSS has forged an intellectual community that cuts across cultural backgrounds and academic disciplines.”

Inaugurated by Yale Law School Professors Anthony Kronman ’75 and Owen Fiss in 1998, MELSS was, at the time of its first meeting, unusual in its aim to bring together a diverse group of Middle Eastern scholars for discussion of potentially volatile legal issues. Over time, the group has been brought together around shared experiences and common ideas about the importance of law in the region. From only a few members, MELSS (which maintains its intimacy and focus by invitation-only membership) has grown to number more than sixty. Participants from many Arab states (including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and the Palestinian Territories), Israel, Iran, and Turkey attend.

“Throughout the Arab Spring and the Arab fall, the basic goal of this Seminar has remained constant: The discovery of common ground,” Dean Robert Post ’77 remarked to those assembled for MELSS this year. “It is undeniable that common ground has remained elusive for the region,” he continued. “And yet, as you have in the past few days grappled with courage and candor about fundamental issues, you have created something rare and special. You have constructed your own region because you have affirmed your own community. And community, in the face of dispossession and despair and division, is a precious thing. Across borders, and now across decades, this Seminar has been a model of friendship and frankness. These twin virtues do not often co-exist, and when they do, something rare and something very valuable is afoot.”

View a photo gallery from MELSS 2014.