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Group photo of Texas A&M University's team that participated in the 2004 Model Arab League Conference, held March 2-3 in Houston
Members of Texas A&M's award-winning delegation (from left: Luke Haner '25, Lizzy Lemke '26, Caroline McCall '26, Hannah Braden '27, Gavin McCarthy '25, Bariha Askery '25, Nicolas Brannstrom '25, Jared Williams '26 and Robert Early '26) representing their assigned country, Morocco, at the 2004 Model Arab League Conference, held March 2-3 in Houston. | Image: Courtesy photo

Understanding another person’s viewpoint is difficult but rewarding, requiring one to put personal beliefs aside in order to truly understand other perspectives and see the world through another’s eyes. One powerful way to develop this skill is by advocating for a worldview that is different than your own. 

Earlier this month, a group of Texas A&M University students got the opportunity to do just that at the Model Arab League Regional Conference, held March 2-3 in Houston.    

Ten Texas A&M students gathered with fellow students from eight other colleges and universities to hone their leadership and debate skills by stepping into the role of Arab diplomats during the conference, which was sponsored by the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce. 

Established in 1983, the Model Arab League (MAL) introduces university and high school students to the drama of real-world diplomacy. Following the structure of the Model United Nations, MAL provides American and international students with an opportunity to learn about the political, social, economic and security issues that affect the Arab world. Each university is assigned one of the 22 member states that comprise the League of Arab States. The students then act as diplomats for their member state, researching and proposing resolutions on behalf of that country. Resolutions are then debated during council sessions and may be presented at the end of the day during the Summit Session for a final vote. 

Texas A&M has participated in MAL since 2008. Each year, anywhere from 10 to 20 students are guided by Department of Global Languages and Cultures Instructional Professor Dr. Salah Ayari, who has been the faculty advisor since 2012. Ayari’s job is to ensure that the students meet regularly and to secure funding to offset costs related to the conference. He also works with faculty advisors from other universities and the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce to determine the date and location of the conference.  

Any student, regardless of his or her major, who is interested in learning about the history, culture, religion, economics or politics of the Middle East can be a member of our Texas A&M team,” Ayari said. “Diversity of participants in our team has always been a strength that has allowed us to win awards.” 

Two Texas A&M University team members (far right), acting as diplomats for Morocco and interacting with other diplomats during the 2024 Model Arab League Conference, held March 2-3 in Houston
Robert Early '26 and Jared Williams '26 (from left, in uniform near windows), acting as diplomats for Morocco while interacting with other student diplomats during the conference. | Image: Courtesy photo

Preparation for this year’s conference began in October, when the Texas A&M team started researching their assigned country of Morocco. Along with gaining a deeper insight into the issues their country cared about most, they learned more about parliamentary procedures through mock council sessions. The team was led by senior political science major Nicolas Brannstrom '25. In his role as head delegate, Brannstrom was responsible for coordinating practices and ensuring that everyone was prepared for the conference. Additionally, he served as the team's representative during award ceremonies and for other speaking engagements. 

Brannstrom says he initially became interested in MAL after observing last year’s conference with Ayari and a group of other students.  

I was encouraged by what I saw at the Houston 2023 conference in terms of atmosphere and competitiveness,” Brannstrom said. “I knew that a Texas A&M team could perform well.” 

The conference challenges students to embody the persona of their assigned member state. As they craft and debate resolutions, their actions must align with the best interest of their country, even if they disagree personally. For Brannstrom and his teammates, this was an exercise in humility.    

“We had to check our own beliefs and policy preferences, and actively advocate for policies that, for many on our team, were fundamentally against our own political opinions,” he said. 

While it would have been easier to simply cooperate with the other nations during council sessions, the Texas A&M team was committed to staying in character. This often meant they were one of the few teams willing to take a hard stance on certain issues. As representatives of Morocco, they frequently engaged in disagreements with the team representing Algeria, reflecting the history of tension between the two nations. This dedication is exactly what set them apart, earning them the Distinguished Delegation Award. Six Aggies were also recipients of individual awards. Brannstrom, alongside junior international affairs major Caroline McCall '26, sophomore international affairs major Hannah Braden '27 and senior international studies major Bariha Askery '25, earned Outstanding Delegation Awards. In addition, junior sociology major Lizzy Lemke '26 and senior political science Luke Haner '25 both secured individual Distinguished Delegation Awards.  

Representing Texas A&M well meant representing Morocco well, and I think that fact was very apparent by the end of the weekend,” Brannstrom said. 

To learn more about MAL and get involved in future conferences, contact Ayari.