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Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 7:18 p.m.

University of South Carolina Upstate’s Model United Nations team was settling into their Atlanta hotel rooms Nov. 14 as rockets and bombs rained over Israel and Gaza.

When and how the conflict was initiated is disputed, but the world media honed in on the violence that night. After months of diligent preparation for the Southern Regional Model United Nations, the team of 10 students was thrown into a tailspin the night before the competition was to begin.

They were assigned to represent Egypt, a crucial player in the unfolding drama, and they didn’t know how current events would affect the mock U.N. discussions and negotiations the next day.

The team immediately went to the Internet to read articles on the conflict and review traditional stances of their country in relation to Palestinian/Israeli confrontations. There was a lot of lively discussion on the topic, members said.

“I was hoping they wouldn’t have the crisis simulation because then the General Assembly would meet at 3 a.m.,” said the team’s chief delegate Joel Gregory. “I was awake anyway, though.”

Organizers opted to “freeze time” and continue with the predetermined agenda. The only time the ongoing conflict was discussed during the competition was at a mock Security Council meeting, which Egypt was not a part of, according to team adviser Trevor Rubenzer. But the possibility of a last-minute change in light of the fighting was always possible.

“When we had a break in the conference, I was going up to my room to watch what was happening,” Nicolaj Gericke said.

While they didn’t get to talk about it at the conference, the team’s research into Egypt’s political landscape and their interaction with other players at the model U.N. conference gave them a unique perspective on the world drama.

Despite open sympathies for Palestinians and their advocacy for a Palestinian state with pre-1967 war borders, Egypt was an apt broker of the peace in the most recent clash, Gregory, Gericke and team member Amy Yancey said.

“They currently have a peace with Israel, and they are the only country to share a border with Israel and Gaza, so they have a dog in the fight,” Gregory said.

The peace with Israel has increased Egyptian prosperity, but newly elected President Mohamed Morsi has intense pressure from his constituents to support Palestinians, so he is walking a delicate line, Yancey said. Egypt also receives a large amount of aid from the United Nations, which needs to be protected, she said.

“Morsi use the situation to legitimize himself, his government and the Arab Spring,” Gregory said.

Domestic pressures will likely refocus Morsi’s attention, student delegates said, and the cease-fire agreement between Hamas and Israel is unlikely to have lasting implications for the region.

This was the first time in many years USC Upstate has had a model U.N. team, and they left the conference with one of eight Outstanding Position Paper awards. About 80 teams competed.

Almost all of the team members are senior political science majors, and they participated in the team for no academic credit, Rubenzer said. The team includes Yancey, Gregory, Gericke, Catherine Estupinan, Ashton Gottschall, Samuel Hines, Elizabeth Mitchell, Jonathan Eames, Morgan Jones and Brandon Lybrand.

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