It’s Time for a New Kind of Debate

Amjad Atallah
December 3, 2018
Amjad Atallah, Managing Director

Doha Debates was never just a talk show. The show hosted by the remarkable Tim Sebastian from 2005 to 2012 was a showcase for all the passions and drama of the Middle East, hosted not on a set in London, but in Doha, in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. In hindsight, those debates predicted the energy that would lead not only to the Arab Spring, but to youth-driven efforts across the United States, Europe and the Middle East, demanding a better future in response to failed economies and politics. 

When I was provided an opportunity by the Qatar Foundation to relaunch Doha Debates, I jumped at the chance. But a lot has changed since 2012, from media consumption habits to the perceived trajectory of freedoms in the world. So, we tried something relatively novel for this type of effort. We approached young people around the world and asked how they engage with information and what they want from it.

Out of those conversations, we reimagined a new Doha Debates. At its heart, our focus is on debating and reaching solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges. Our format, as our audience demands, will be distributed on many platforms. Long-form discussions will take place on our podcast. Short-to-medium videos on our website and social media will flesh out the issues. And a live show, hosted in Doha and other world capitals, will be tentpoles for our season. These events will take place in a stunning set designed to honor the noble aspirations of our effort and the avant-garde architecture and vision of the Qatar Foundation’s Education City.  

At its heart, our focus is on debating and reaching solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges.”

At the heart of our set and methodology is the “Majlis.” An Arabic word meaning “assembly” or “parliament,” the Majlis will be our safe place to debate solutions for the purpose of moving ahead as a species. In the Majlis, divergent views can be held, presented and defended, all with the goal of engaging our audiences in how they want to be involved in the issues that affect them personally.

And our guests will reflect the people impacted by the issues, who have “skin in the game,” as well as by a global community of thought leaders. English-language shows, not unlike Hollywood, have always struggled with diversity. The same “experts,” no matter their track records, always seem to find their ways back in front of the screen. But that has begun to change, and we will speed up that change. Some of the most innovative responses to our challenges come from people in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia. Even in the United States, we see the Parkland students and other young people becoming leaders through their own efforts. They are already part of the global conversation, even if ignored in some venues. You will find them in Doha Debates.   

There is a lot to do for all of us. Refugees and migrants will continue to challenge old structures as long as climate change and political change are ignored. Automation and AI will usher in a new industrial revolution in a matter of decades, not over the course of a century, causing dramatic changes. The resulting panic and tensions will continue to highlight the fault lines between walled-off parochial societies and new concepts of a shared future for all of humanity in a global citizenship. Changing our behavior, politics and deeply held views to address these challenges can be either a reactionary response to gladiator-style winner-takes-all punditry — or the result of an open, honest conversation on the options available to us. 

Join us in the Majlis and let us know what you think about our format and our debates, what you want to gain from them, and what you like and dislike. Most of all, join us in the conversation. This was created for you.  

Amjad Atallah is managing director of Doha Debates. He is the chief executive responsible for creative, editorial and management oversight for all the program streams.

Read Amjad’s full bio here.