By the Section's Founding Chair, Dr. Alexander Dawoody
(Published at PA Times on April 2012 Vol. 35 Issue 2, p30)

In the famous Middle Eastern folkloric fairytale of the One Thousand and One Nights, Shahrazad cites the story of a young poor man from the ancient city of Baghdad, named Ali Baba. In this story, Ali Baba accidently tumbles on a cave filled with stolen treasures and learn of the command for opening the cave by hearing from the gang of the Forty Thieves. The command is “Open Sesame.” The mechanism in opening the cave was quite simple and any outcry or loud yelling can do the trick. The thieves secured the cave’s door from within with a ledge. On the right side of the ledge was a bag filled with sesame. A loud voice would’ve destabilized the bag and caused it pouring its content on the right side of the ledge, thereby causing it to lift upward from the left, and hence release locking the gate.

The story is a metaphor for other meanings. It is a reference that citizen observation and involvement can serve the public interest. Ali Baba’s observation of the Forty Thieves enabled him discover things that were stolen from the public and returning these goods to them, their rightful owners. It is also a testimony of the power of incremental step in having larger impact. Ali Baba did not surrender to apathy, hopelessness or burying his head in the sand. Instead, he did not let fear and the greater numbers of the thieves intimidate him. He trusted his principles and acted on them despite the obvious risks, including his own safety. In stepping out of his comfort zone, willing to sacrifice himself for a greater good, he indeed became a legendary hero that transcended fairytale into an archetype.

The third meaning in the metaphor is the simplicity of opening a gate to a treasure. No matter how cleaver the thieves were trying to be in hiding the secret command to open their cave, its simplicity was intended as a resolution for a complex problem (removing a large rock from a cave). This is a reminder that in life (and public administration in particular), solutions are often as simple as “voicing” your thoughts and opinion as a citizen. When we speak out, not only we remove obstacles but also open up possibilities for hidden treasures. The voice of Ali Baba shook the bag of sesame, and it opened the gate of the cave for him so that he can return public goods to the public. As public administrators, we need to discover that voice within us, remove the obstacles that often appear as heavy and unshakable as the gate of a cave, and then connect the public interest with public resources while acting as both guardians and advocates.

Building on Ali Baba’s story, a group of ASPA members did just that by tapping in and unleashing the dynamic skills, talents, and contributions of academic and practitioners in the Society, and engage them in creating a new section on public administration in the Middle East. With the Middle East increasingly is growing important in world affairs as well as to U.S. national security, and to tap on ASPA’s global mission in bridging between public administrators in the world, and to give voice to scholars on Middle Eastern issues to provide models, studies, dialogue, and perspective that can further enrich ASPA’s role as a global player, the Section on Effective and Sound Administration in the Middle East (SESAME) was born. The phrase “sound governance/administration” was coined by one of SESAME leaders, Dr. Ali Farazmand and he deserves recognition for it. It is a departure from “good governance” that is often associated with the World Bank and monetary investment that public policy and administration.

We are now 183 members, stretching from Bangladesh to Morocco, in addition to members in Europe and the United States. We are also networking with the Association for Middle Eastern Public Policy and Administration (AMEPPA), the United Nations Public Administration Network (UNPAN), and the International Conference on Public Administration (ICPA). In November 2012 we are sponsoring AMEPPA’s first global conference in Cairo, Egypt. The theme of the conference is “Sound Governance: the Key to Peace and Prosperity in the Middle East.”

The purpose of SESAME is to meet the research needs of public administration scholars and practitioners between the Middle East and the United States. It does so by organizing an effective network of those who are interested in cooperation in public administration research, especially following the needs of many Middle Eastern practitioners, professors and students pursuing degrees in public administration who are actively doing research in the United States. The section aims to advance the profession, extend its influence, create opportunities for individual practitioners and, most importantly, to serve the public. Within the broader purposes of ASPA, SESAME seeks to expand understanding of public administration between the U.S. and Middle East by facilitating relationships between U.S. and Middle East public administration academics and practitioners at both institutional and individual levels; facilitate co-research and comparative research so that the knowledge accumulated from this section can contribute to the development of the public administration field in both countries; and conduct programs, research and other activities.


1. Encouraging academic programs that combine sound theoretical foundations with practical applications in real public administration, management and policy environments.

2. Providing forums for exchange and dissemination of ideas, knowledge and information among academics, agencies and practitioners involved in general organization management, financial management, trust, performance measurement, program evaluation, citizen participation, e-government, personnel management, budgeting, planning, and national security. Thus far we have two journals that we are networking and associating with, the Digest on Middle Eastern Studies (DOMES) and The Innovation Journal.

3. Fostering development of global working networks among academics, agencies and practitioners.

4. Encouraging the development of new knowledge and in public administration, management and policy.

5. Identifying specific areas for development of new knowledge and supporting work in these areas.

6. Being a conduit for ideas, knowledge and information about public administration, management and policy to the ASPA membership, to related organizations and to the public at large.

7. Encouraging students to select the fields of public administration, management and policy, encouraging students thereof in their studies, and mentoring graduate students and young faculty in these fields.

8. Trying to learn the most up-to-date public administration management skills.

Publications and Conferences (including Workshops and Seminars):

1. Promoting the publication of the Annual journal, Section newsletter, occasional papers, or symposium of PAR or related journals on management capacity building in the context of intergovernmental policy management assistance or program administration and management from an intergovernmental perspective.

2. Sponsoring workshops and seminars in cooperation with related ASPA sections.

3. Sponsoring panels at ASPA national and regional meetings, and participation in local ASPA chapter activities.

4. Sponsoring Annual journal publication, and publication of a newsletter for section members, and any publication of formal fact finding or commentaries on legislative, implementation and evaluation issues relevant to SESAME interests.

5. Supporting forums and exchanges among Public Administration, Management and Policy academicians, advocates and practitioners relative to public policy and administration in the Middle East.

I am humbled to lead the efforts of an outstanding group of ASPA members toward creating this needed section. I hope many others will join us. This is my second leadership in creating a section within ASPA, with the other in 2006 when I led other group of dedicated scholars in creating the Section on Complexity and System Studies Network (CSN). It is nothing more rewarding and more fulfilling that service and dedication to a great cause.

Together, let us find the hidden voice within us and contribute to public interest by removing obstacles and finding solutions through common sense, dedication, and refusing to give in to apathy, hopelessness, fear, and intimidation. Together, we are all Ali Baba. Together, we can all scream with one voice for peace and prosperity: “Open Sesame.”