Photograph courtesy of Joseph Kalarickal

Debate Union Hosts Third Regional Tournament

A glimpse of the fourth NYUAD Regional Debate Tournament held on campus this April.

Apr 16, 2017

On a quiet Friday morning at NYU Abu Dhabi, 70 sleepy debaters from nine universities across the UAE and Qatar slowly made their way to A6 for the opening ceremony of NYUAD’s Third Regional Debate Tournament.
Held over the weekend of April 8 and 9, the tournament was hosted by the NYUAD Debate Union, and organized by student leaders Dominique Lear, Diego Arias Garcia and Sarah Daher. Debates were held in the British Parliamentary style in which each two-person team is assigned a position, and then given 15 minutes to prepare their argument before the debate begins.
The teams quickly moved into the first round of debate on the motion that discussed whether developed countries should pay developing countries to preserve rainforests. This was followed by further rounds on topics ranging from the ethics of scientific experimentation to whether progressive income tax should be introduced in the GCC.
The motions were written by Dominique Lear, Rene Kukk and Jacob Hartwig — all from the class of 2017. “We wanted to cover a wide range of motions,” Kukk said. “That's why we had topics including feminism, environmentalism and economics. Also, since Jacob and I are both Economics majors, we probably included slightly more [Economics and policy] motions this year. Last, we wanted the motions to be relevant to current issues in GCC, such as introducing progressive income tax.”
Lobna Aboulleil, an adjudicator from the American University of Sharjah, was struck by the versatility of the students’ ability to debate. “It’s so interesting to see that people can argue both sides of the topic,” she said.
Mentioning one particular motion — “This House would allow the use of scientific data from non-ethical experiments” — Aboulleil said, “You would assume that the side arguing opposed to it would not have sound arguments but they actually did. They won the debate. It’s inspirational when you see people having good arguments for such challenging topics.”
Coming up with strong arguments was especially challenging due to the 15-minute time constraint, and the fact that debaters were not allowed to do research during those 15 minutes forced them to use logic rather than statistics and facts.
After four rounds of intense debate, eight teams from both the UAE and Qatar qualified for the semi-finals, where teams debated the question of whether Saudi Aramco — Saudi Arabia’s national oil company and the largest oil producer in the world — should be privatized.
Two teams from Weill Cornell University in Qatar, one team from Carnegie Mellon University Qatar and one team from Masdar Institute qualified for the final round.
The tournament was won by Fizza Amir and Moussa Zekak from Carnegie Mellon University after a heated debate on the motion “This House regrets the liberals’ attempt to mock President Trump and his supporters.” The two winners tied for the title of Best Speaker at the tournament.
“I think the tournament was especially competitive this year.” Kukk said. “This definitely reflects on how the tournament has been expanding to attract teams from all over the region. The adjudicators were all very impressed by the final round, and it was a very close call between the teams.”
Dominique Lear, the current president of the NYUAD Debate Union, reflected on the tournament and its journey so far.
"Hosting the NYUAD Regional Tournament has been an honor,” said Lear. “It was particularly exciting to see the tournament grow so much, and be able to reach a larger group of students."
However, the tournament’s growth came with its own challenges. The Debate Union struggled to find enough NYUAD students to volunteer as runners and photographers for the event, with Lear posting several times on the Facebook page NYUAD’s Room of Requirement and the Debate Union Facebook pages in the lead up to the tournament asking for volunteers. In the end, the tournament was staffed by 12 members of the Debate Union.
Some international teams who registered were unable to attend.
“We had a lot of foreign universities interested in coming when we reached out to them in February,” said Lear. “But they weren’t able to participate because of scheduling conflicts and visa issues.”
Two teams from Qatar pulled out the night before due to visa problems, which led to a last-minute search for swing teams of NYUAD students to replace them in the draw.
Lear, who also organized last year’s tournament, has seen the competition grow from being a small tournament attended only by Abu Dhabi universities in Sama Tower, the university’s former residence building, to its current size and international reach.
“I think we are making headway to set up a debating community in the UAE,” she said.
Christine Shao is a staff writer. Email her at
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