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Edward Gnehm

Elliott School of International Affairs professor Edward Gnehm, a former ambassador, offered his thoughts on the Arab Spring at an annual lecture Wednesday.

Elliott School of International Affairs professor Edward Gnehm, a former ambassador, offered his thoughts on the Arab Spring at an annual lecture Wednesday. Hatchet File Photo

This post was written by Hatcher reporter Victoria Sheridan.

Three years after the Arab Spring erupted throughout the Middle East, a former U.S. diplomat told students Thursday that less politically inclusive countries would continue to grapple with instability.

Edward “Skip” Gnehm, Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Kuwait and Jordan who now teaches Middle East politics at GW, said nations such as Iraq and Egypt have excluded secularists and certain religious groups from the political process, breeding resentment. Meanwhile the Tunisian government has brought minority groups into its decision making.

“Tunisia, Egypt, and Iraq are examples of countries that have taken or are taking different paths as they cope with the present in search for that better tomorrow,” Gnehm said at the Annual Kuwait Chair Lecture in the Elliott School of International Affairs. “Building an inclusive political process is absolutely essential to long-term success.”

He said nearly the same issues – repressive governments, economic instability, poor living conditions and religious animosities – underlay political unrest in each country.

Gnehm, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from GW, said he doesn’t expect to see in the near future the “democratic institutions, political transparency, end of corruption or an open, competitive economy” that citizens in the Middle East have demanded.

“But I believe those aspirations and hopes remain very, very much in their hearts and minds,” he said.

Tunisia’s trajectory has stood out because the government has been able to compromise secular and Islamic demands. Many Tunisian leaders spent time in exile during the political revolution, giving them “exposure to the world outside of Tunisia,” Gnehm said, while Iraqi and Egyptian officials have been more “insulated and isolated.”

Civil society also grew in Tunisia as leaders constructed a new government, which has reinforced stability.

After a 36-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, Gnehm joined the GW faculty in 2004. The Kuwaiti government endows his professorship. He also served on the Board of Trustees for seven years.

Gnehm said he still had hope for Iraq, where oil production is steadying, security efforts have increased and “political discourse is alive and well.” He called 2011 a “watershed moment in modern Middle East developments,” and he expects further changes.

“2011 is not the beginning, and 2014 is not the end,” he said.

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An assistant secretary of state will join the Elliott School of International Affairs faculty this summer as the college’s most prestigious visiting professor.

Esther Brimmer, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, will start July 1 as the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Visiting Professor of International Affairs, the University announced Wednesday.

Since President Barack Obama appointed Brimmer to her current position in 2009, she has sought to advance U.S. interests in international organizations in areas like human rights and food security. Before her appointment she served as the director of research at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins University.

Brimmer also represents the U.S. at the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling for action against the Assad regime in Syria and against North Korea in Feburary.

The school appoints someone distinguished in the field of international affairs annually for the Shapiro professorship. Former appointees include Abba Eban, a former Israeli foreign minister and Edward Gnehm, an alumnus and former U.S. ambassador to Kuwait whose professorship is now endowed by the Kuwaiti government.

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Lloyd Elliott’s daughter and son – Patricia Kauffman and Gene Elliott – helped remember the life of GW’s 16th president in the Marvin Center on Tuesday. Jordan Emont | Photo Editor

Correction appended

After being courted by faculty and trustees to take over GW in 1965, Lloyd Hartman Elliott said he would not accept the University presidency until one more group signed off: students.

Edward Gnehm, then the student body president, said that approval became easy after he met with Elliott at the Hotel Washington that year. Elliott pledged “in his quiet, calming voice,” Gnehm said, to build a stronger University spirit amid wartime tension between administrators and students.

“His vision became the University community’s vision. With patience and great perseverance, he brought people together,” said Gnehm, now professor in the international affairs school named after the former president.

Memories of Elliott’s 23-year University presidency wafted Tuesday through the Marvin Center as about 250 people gathered to pay tribute to “a gentle, yet determined soul who cared about people and about this University,” as Gnehm said.

Elliott, GW’s 14th president, died at age 94 from a brain hemorrhage Jan. 1 in D.C. He was chiefly remembered for steering the University through the turmoil from the Vietnam War protests during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Former deans and top administrators – who helped fulfill Elliott’s efforts to ensure GW’s academic, social and financial prosperity – described the challenges and success of the man who was the longest-serving university president in the country when he stepped down in 1988.

Edward Gnehm, an international affairs professor, described Elliott as a soft-spoken man who looked to build GW’s community spirit. Jordan Emont | Photo Editor

Rod French, former vice president for academic affairs, took note of the “mosaic of reforms” instituted in Elliott’s tenure, like creating a more welcoming University for black students and female faculty.

“[Elliott] oversaw the transformation of a residential university grounded in white, southern, protestant, male-dominated culture into a truly national university,” French said.

There also were less popular reforms, French noted. Elliott’s “stubbornness” and determination to help financially flagging academic programs led him in 1967 to shut down GW’s football team, which was losing $250,000 a year.

The frugality paid off. Under a financial plan that aggressively expanded the University’s real estate investments, buildings like the Marvin Center, Smith Center and Gelman Library sprung up early in Elliott’s presidency.

Elliott – who dressed so well “he could have been confused for a banker,” French said – pushed financial success forward with fundraising charm and international travel. He helped raise GW’s endowment from $8 million to $200 million during his presidency by building donor relationships.

The commitment to diversity came from a man whose local West Virginia newspaper described him as a “Clay County farm boy” when he took on the GW presidency.

“He spoke, quietly, forcefully and effectively. His modesty was evident,” Jerome Barron, former dean of the GW Law School, said.

The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Lloyd Elliott was GW’s 16th president. He was its 14th president. We regret this error.

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Graduates from the Elliott School of International Affairs will hear from a Middle East policy professor and leading diplomat at their May 18 commencement ceremony, the school announced this week.

Edward Gnehm, a former ambassador to Jordan, Kuwait and Australia, will speak the Elliott School of International Affairs' commencement ceremony. Photo courtesy of the Elliott School of International Affairs

Edward “Skip” Gnehm, Jr. who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from GW in the 1960s, last served as the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan in 2004.

Gnehm, 67, joined the Elliott School faculty in 2004, and was tapped as a chaired professor in 2005 after a $3.3-million gift from the Kuwait Foundation. He has also served on the University’s Board of Trustees and is the director for the Middle East Policy Forum, an event series that brings scholars, journalists and policy makers to campus.

“Ambassador Gnehm is a highly regarded member of our faculty, specifically among our students,” Elliott School spokesman Nick Massella said.

He has also served as an ambassador to Kuwait and Australia, and last worked as an administrator at the State Department in 2000.

Gnehm was not immediately available to comment.

Last year, Lori Beth Garver, a deputy administrator of NASA, spoke at the commencement ceremony.

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Update: Elliott Schools spokesman Menachem Wecker says the money will be used to support teaching, faculty and student research, conferences, and visiting scholars.

The Institute for Middle East Studies in the Elliott School received a $1 million gift from the government of Kuwait, the University announced yesterday.

It is not known if the Institute has decided how the donation will be spent.

This is not the first gift Kuwait has given GW. In 2006, the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences gave $3.4 million to establish the Kuwait professorship now held by Edward Gnehm, the former U.S. ambassador to Kuwait.

In September, Kuwait Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah was awarded the President’s Medal by University President Steven Knapp in a ceremony at the Elliott School.

Knapp thanked Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, for his support of GW and the Institute.

“His Highness’s generosity will help us continue to build one of this nation’s premier centers for the study of this important region,” Knapp said in a news release.

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