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Image courtesy of NYUAD Model Arab League

The Legacy of Model Arab League at NYUAD

The founders of the NYU Abu Dhabi Model Arab League lay out their vision for attending and creating conferences for students to learn about the Arab world.

During his freshman year, a young Youssef Azzam, Class of 2020, was skyping his friend in Cairo, Malak Abdel-Ghaffar, Class of 2021, who was preparing to join NYU Abu Dhabi in the fall. Reminiscing about their high school memories in Model Arab League (MAL), they came to the realization that NYUAD did not have its own MAL conference. So, they began to work on developing it as a Student Interest Group over the summer, in hopes of registering it in the upcoming semester. As the project became more structured, Azzam and Abdel-Ghaffar reached out to two other high school MAL alum, Omar Kamal and Adam Sherif, both Class of 2021. With Azzam as President, Kamal as Vice President, Abdel-Ghaffar as Treasurer and Sherif as Academic Coordinator, these four friends laid the foundations of the Gulf Cooperation Council's very first MAL conference.
Yet, the e-board still feared people wouldn't show up. To our surprise, by the end of the Student Activities Fair, we had 103 sign-ups — the highest number of student swipes recorded at the 2018 fair. Right then, we knew we could leave a legacy.
NYUAD MAL is a student-led simulation of the Arab League that aims to discuss and find solutions to the issues of the Middle East. We believe that in order for students to fully immerse themselves in the region they live in, whether it is the UAE or the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a whole, they must be able to understand and debate the topics specific to the region.
For Azzam, most NYUAD students interested in public speaking had previous experience in either debate or Model UN conferences; yet, only a rare few had heard of a MAL conference. Engaging in dialogue about the need for a platform on campus in regard to region-specific topics informed our decision to start the SIG.
Sophia Chavele, Class of 2022 and current Vice President of MAL, had a similar experience.
"I was a MUN kid who hoped to learn more about the region I had just moved to. NYUAD MAL was a perfect fit, combining committee simulation and problem-solving applied to the Middle East," Chavele explained.
Competing with tens of SIGs trying to get student involvement is no easy feat. Although many students showed interest in MAL during the SIG fair, getting them to commit required a bigger incentive than giving away shawarmas and hummus at meetings.
Our first obstacle was trying to spread awareness about the SIG. Students often thought that MAL would only be open to Arabic-speaking students, and so our biggest mission was to show them otherwise. Our first regular SIG meetings, “Sunday Sessions with Adam”, aimed to introduce students to the Arab League and the currently debated topics.
The second and more difficult challenge was communicating our vision and commitment to the school. We started to develop meticulous plans that reflected the SIG’s goals, and after several months of budget planning and strategy development, we were able to send off 20 students to compete in international conferences.
Our first delegation, which participated in the University of Rabat International Model Arab League in Morocco, returned with five “Best Delegate” awards. Following a similar path, our second delegation, which participated in the Cairo International Model Arab League in Egypt, received the “Best Delegate” award along with an open return invitation for future years. NYUAD MAL was specifically contacted this year by both conferences, and our 2019 delegations returned to the conferences to spread the model’s reputation further across the Arab world.
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Image courtesy of NYUAD Model Arab League
Because we have been keen to attain strong commitment rather than superficial interest, the group will not die as the founders are set to graduate. Vladimir Vasille, Class of 2022, was chosen as president, Chavele as Vice President and Luis Rodriguez, Class of 2022, as Treasurer, based on their strong commitment to the SIG, which was similar to our own.
"I think one of the most touching moments of the NYUAD MAL experience and legacy as I experienced it as a SIG leader and member was the founding members’ visit and participation in the second edition of our annual Fall MAL conference,” Chavele said. “It is unrealistic to imagine where we stood one year ago and how those before us pushed us to where we are now. The sense of community, the founding leaders’ never-ending love and support for the team, and the ambitious vision of creating the first MAL conference in the Gulf define the NYUAD MAL Legacy in my eyes.”
"I would define the NYUAD MAL Legacy as a continuous improvement of the mission to put NYUAD on the map in terms of Model Arab League. Each step taken with every semester advances and cements this legacy," added Rodriguez.
MAL does not want to merely repeat its annual events for students. Rather, our target for MAL over the next 10 years is for it to become the largest model in the entire GCC. We believe that there is so much to learn about the UAE and this region, and there is no better way to learn than through such direct exposure.
Whether it is four students or 400, we hope to have had at least some impact on each student's university experience here at NYUAD. The legacy of NYUAD MAL is being built as a story that this university and its students are proud of: from hosting a conference in Abu Dhabi to attending ones abroad.
Youssef Azzam is a staff writer and Malak Yasser is a contributing writer. Email them at
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