A team of students from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q), a Qatar Foundation partner university, took the national championship title at the 2021 Arabic university debate tournament.
Rahaf Abutarbush, Ammar Karkour and Abdullah Shaar swept the first three rounds of the tournament to earn a place in the grand finale against a team from Doha Institute. CMU-Q won the final round in a debate on the topic of social media and free speech. All three team members placed in the top 10 list of speakers.
The team members all study in scientific fields, which is uncommon in university-level debate. Abutarbush is studying information systems, Karkour is a computer science major, and Shaar is pursuing dual degrees in biological sciences and computer science.
Michael Trick, dean of CMU-Q, congratulated the students on their accomplishments: “Rahaf, Ammar and Abdullah are exceptional ambassadors for CMU-Q on the national and international debate stage. They have shown tremendous initiative pursuing Arabic-language debate, and they are an inspiration to other students who want to explore language, culture and thought.”
While CMU-Q has been active in English-language debate for many years, Abutarbush, Karkour and Shaar are the first Arabic-language debate team from an Education City partner university. In early 2019, they competed at the fifth International Universities Debating Championship, hosted by QatarDebate, placing ninth in a field of 107 teams.
Later that year, they placed third at the Asian Arabic Language Debating Championship in Malaysia. About 50 teams from across Asia participated in the tournament.
Karkour believes that having a scientific background gives the team an advantage: “We approach problems from a scientific perspective. At CMU-Q, we learn to solve a problem, then question that solution so we can make it stronger.”
The three students attended high schools in Qatar where they studied in Arabic. “We are all Arabs, and we want to cultivate our language skills, even though we currently study in English. Our team has embraced Arabic debating, and we think other students would enjoy the opportunity to hone their Arabic skills this way.”
As all three team members enter their final year of studies, they hope to inspire younger students to take up Arabic debate. Abutarbush said, “We were the first team in Qatar to represent an English-speaking university in an Arabic debate. Now we see the other QF partner universities fielding teams, and this year CMU-Q had a second team competing. As we approach our graduation, we want to see more students get involved and continue the CMU-Q legacy of excellence in Arabic-language debate.”
CMU-Q offers undergraduate programmes in biological sciences, business administration, computer science and information systems. Although the language of instruction at CMU-Q is English, Arabic-speaking students can take courses - or pursue a minor - in Arabic Studies.