More than 180 students from across the world debated global issues at the United Nations Simulation Conference — Al Mu'atmar Dubai 2005 Reema Saffarini reports

Picture this: The United Nations Security Council is in session. Issue being debated: UN resolution 1373 placing barriers on the movement, organisation and fundraising activities of terrorist groups after the September 11 attacks.

So what? UN countries discussing terrorism seems like mundane procedure that we have grown used to reading about in the media these days. Big deal!


It is a big deal, especially because these talks took place in our own backyard, here in Dubai.

For four days last month, the UN Security Council, three UN General Assemblies and the Economic and Social Council were in session at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, Dubai.

The catch: All diplomats and government officials were high school and university students.

More than 180 students from all over the world, ages 16 to 20, took part in the United Nations Simulation Conference, Al Mu'atmar Dubai 2005, to debate major global issues.

The mock UN meet was held between October 26 and 29 on the occasion of the United Nations' 60th anniversary. It was based on the UN setting — from carbon-copy UN seating arrangements to speech and debating protocols and changing the names of the halls in which discussions took place to mirror the originals in New York.

Students acted as the ambassadors and first secretaries of countries represented in the United Nations.

Shiraz Gidwani, director general of Al Mu'atmar Dubai 2005, said that it is time to recognise the students of today as the leaders of tomorrow. "These future leaders need to be supported and right values and ideals need to instilled in them to make this world a better place," he said.

Gidwani added that the aim of the conference was to overcome cultural biases and promote understanding.

Strong UAE showing

Students flew in from countries such as Singapore, Bahrain and Oman. Delegations from India and Pakistan pulled out because the funds were donated to the earthquake relief work. Some students from the United States also had to cancel.

However, student participation from the UAE was high. More than 100 students from 12 schools took part. In addition, many school and university students chose to participate independently. Such individual participants included students from the American University of Sharjah and the University of Wollongong in Dubai.

"To participate, students had to simply contact us. We tried to make it as realistic as possible. When students joined us, we assigned them countries to research and represent in the assemblies and councils," said Gidwani.

According to him, through their participation, students would be better able to carry out their responsibilities as leaders in future.

Issues debated

The issues debated varied to include disarmament and international security, the creation of a United Nations army, the use of nuclear weapons as a political tool, international debt relief, child labour, the creation of an Asian currency, the fight against terrorism and other topics.

Students attending the conference had a set of participation options. Domestic students were allowed to be on the conference staff, serve in the events' press staff and as chairs to the committees or as delegates in the forums. International students were also given the option to serve in the events press group and as chairs or delegates.

The teachers accompanying their students were the only attendees permitted to act as observers.

Students moved from one hall to another to take part in discussions due to the overlapping of topics. Debate protocols were followed while the assemblies were in session. Students were, however, allowed to debate freely and "shout" their opinions in the General Debating Committee (GDC).

According to Gidwani, "students would not be representing any country at the GDC. Any opinions given would be theirs alone".

Future plans for the 2006 conference include holding it either in Qatar or Jordan. Bahrain also showed an interest in hosting the event.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent the students his "warmest encouragements and best wishes for a successful session".

For more information about Al Mu'atmar and student participation log on to:

Participants on their experiences

"My participation gave me exposure to how things actually work in the UN. An educational experience that taught me about world problems."
– Zafar Mohammad, grade 11, Modern High School Dubai

"It has been a good experience. It will also look good on my college application. I got a realistic idea of how the UN functions."
– Mohammad Mousa, grade 13, English College

"Through this conference I am hoping to get a feel of what to expect when I go to the Global Young Leaders Conference next year. I believe I've been able to build up my confidence, hone my communication skills and learn about different cultures."
– Mohammad Amer, grade 11, Modern High School Dubai

"I am representing New Zealand. The conference has given me good exposure and knowledge about the UN. I basically was able to see diplomacy in practice."
– Zahra Al Khudairi, grade 13, British School in Abu Dhabi

"I heard about the conference from a friend. It's a great opportunity to help develop my debating and public speaking skills. I am representing South Africa."
– Rushda Morshed, grade 12, British School in Abu Dhabi

"I've been participating since grade nine. It has helped me develop my debating skills, giving me an idea of how the UN works. I'm hoping to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Egypt or join the UN."
- Reem Mustafa, international studies freshman at the American University of Sharjah

Why I took part

Name: Amal El Darat
School: Dubai British School
Grade: 12
Position: Representing Ireland on the Economic and Social Council

Why are you participating?

This is a new experience and it is so much fun. I got to know lots of people from different countries.

What are you hoping to achieve?

Effective public speaking. I also get to meet new people and know more about their cultures. Plus, don't forget that through my participation I get more experienced in the world of politics.

Name: Khalil Dahmash
School: English College
Grade: 12
Position: Representing Austria in the General Assembly 2

Why are you participating?
I wanted to know more about today's global issues.

How did you prepare for the conference?
I was assigned to represent Austria. I had to do lots of research about their foreign policies, neutrality and alliances…

How do you hope to benefit?

To have a better understanding of world issues. Also dealing with all the students taught me to look at things from different perspectives.

Name: Mohammad Emad
School: Modern High School Dubai
Grade: 11