Camden Conference addresses Middle East

Feb 26, 2013
Courtesy of: Sarah Szwajkos Photography Keynote speaker and writer Robin Wright and Camden Conference moderator Nicholas Burns.

This past weekend, the 26th annual Camden Conference addressed the question “The Middle East: What Next?” Nine Middle East experts spoke to a sold-out Camden Opera House and satellite locations in Rockland, Belfast and Ellsworth.

More than 900 attendees heard presentations Friday evening, all day Saturday and Sunday morning on the historical background of the Middle East and thoughtful observations on current conditions and prospects for the future. Most of the speakers — including four former ambassadors — were guardedly optimistic the various countries involved eventually would find their way to stable governments and civil societies, but they all admitted it will take time, be messy and will not be easy.

Robin Wright, an award-winning journalist and author with extensive experience in the Middle East, kicked off the conference Friday evening and summed up her views with five concerns and 10 points of change.

Jordanian diplomat Marwan Muasher began Saturday morning by examining emerging trends in the region. He was followed by speakers with expertise on Syria (Joshua Landis), Egypt (Marc Lynch), Gulf States (Gregory Gause), Israel (Shai Feldman), and Iran (Seyed Hossein Mousavian).

Sunday morning, Barbara Ibrahim from American University in Cairo spoke on the role of women in Egypt’s revolution and how their position in the country has evolved since then. The final speaker was Laurence Pope, a career foreign service officer who recently returned from Libya after taking over when Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi. Pope highlighted the role of the United States in the region with grace and humor and expressed his hope that a new generation of foreign service officers will come to the fore and infuse new life into the U.S. diplomatic corps.

Throughout the conference, moderator Nicholas Burns, of Harvard’s Kennedy School, linked the presentations and provided his own questions and commentary.

The 2013 conference was dedicated to James Matlack of Rockport, who has led the Program Committee for the last six years, organizing Camden Conferences on topics ranging from Europe to China to the Middle East.

This year’s conference was riveting, insightful and, at moments, even controversial, according to organizers, and attendees emerged with a better understanding of the situation in the region and a keen interest in observing what the future might hold in the Middle East.

Next up on the Camden Conference schedule is "The Global Politics of Food and Water," slated for Feb. 21 to 23, 2014. For further information, visit

Comments (1)
Posted by: Carol W Bachofner | Feb 27, 2013 10:33

The conference was wonderful, although the moderator was visibly rude to the guest speaker from Iran (who never joined in the dust-up). It was embarrassing. Listening to the two of them was more confusing than helpful because of Mr Burns' style of interrupting and inserting himself as more of a presenter than a moderator. However, I did feel hopeful that there are talks with Iran on the horizon which may be helpful.

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