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Don’t miss these upcoming IMES Events

Wednesday February 5: Middle East Studies Alumni-Student Networking Reception at the Elliott School. Join fellow Middle East Studies students and alumni for a networking reception at the Elliott School. Hors d'oeuvres, beer, wine, and soda will be provided. 

1957 E Street NW
Lindner Commons, 6th Floor
Washington, DC 20052
6:00-8:00PM

 

Institute for Middle East Studies Scholar Lecture Series

  • Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic with Narges Bajoghli
    • January 23, 5:30pm
  • Film Screening & Discussion: Naila and the Uprising
    • February 6 , 5:30pm
  • City of Black Gold: Oil, Ethnicity, and the Making of Modern Kirkuk with Arbella Bet-Shlimon
    • March 26, 5:30pm
  • Intersection of Sex, War, and Sectarianism with Maya Mikdashi
    • April 2, 5:30pm

Sign up to receive weekly emails on upcoming IMES events here: https://imes.elliott.gwu.edu/events/

 

Join us at the annual IMES conference!

This year’s annual conference theme is "Producing the Region: New Directions in Middle East Media and Politics.” It will take place Friday, April 17, 2020.

The media landscape of the Middle East is changing rapidly. Turkish entertainment series are globalizing visions of the region. Netflix started a project of commissioning Arabic original entertainments, charting a new path towards localization of media production. Displaced populations from wars in Iraq, Yemen and Syria are creating new digital diasporas, where fractured expressions of nostalgia and witnessing circulate. Media are vital to making the Middle East a lived region of shared and contested meaning. The next IMES annual conference presents cutting-edge research by media scholars who examine this closely.

The genealogy of the idea of the ‘Middle East’ is by now well-rehearsed, and is often criticized as an external imposition that geographically centers the West. However, there is a viable contemporary current of felt belonging, along with an array of actually existing policies, institutions and other infrastructures of regionality, that makes the Middle East meaningful as an analytical framework that intertwines media and events.

The conference presenters possess expertise in media studies and the Middle East. They represent a breadth of theoretical interests, methodological approaches and disciplinary backgrounds. Confirmed speakers include: Marwan Kraidy (University of Pennsylvania); Narges Bajoghli (Johns Hopkins); Omar al Ghazzi (LSE); Yasmin Moll (University of Michigan); Ziad Fahmy (Cornell University); Elliott Colla (Georgetown); and many others.

MESA logoThe Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), the leading professional organization for scholars and students of the Middle East, has established its headquarters at the Institute for Middle East Studies (IMES) in GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

Several IMES faculty members have shared their support for the institutional transition.

Will Youmans, the interim director of IMES, said about MESA that “As the professional center of the field, having it at GWU could help highlight the University’s growing expertise on Middle East affairs, but it’s an independent, international organization that has its own interests in being in D.C. now,”

Nathan Brown, a former director of IMES and a professor of political science and international affairs at GW, said the move will lead to more Middle East scholars visiting campus to share their research. He said MESA will continue its work “to connect scholars throughout the world interested in the Middle East” by holding its annual scholarly conference and publishing its academic journal on Middle East research.

He added that the association’s leaders want to be able to use the resources that the District and the University have to offer, like a well-established background in Middle East studies, to expand the group’s ability to connect individuals interested in studying the Middle East. Brown said the organization’s move to the Elliott School will give faculty members more opportunities to work with MESA and potentially give students more part-time work opportunities.

“The hope is that by placing it in a city rich in institutions focusing on the Middle East and in a university with a strong commitment to Middle Eastern studies, informal as well as formal ties will develop,” Brown said in an email.

Dina Khoury, the president-elect of MESA from December 2019 to December 2021 and a professor of history and international affairs at GW, said she does not expect the move to affect the work each MESA member does, but it will give the organization more opportunities to collaborate with students and faculty interested in Middle East research and education.

Khoury said the group’s executive director and the IMES director will work out the specific details of MESA’s move. “We are grateful for GWU for giving us the space and resources to establish our headquarters,” she said in an email.

The association named a new director, Jeffrey Reger. A Georgetown University graduate, Dr. Reger most recently served as assistant director of the National History Center of the American Historical Association and as the Middle East and North Africa area studies chair for the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State.

MESA is a non-profit association that seeks to foster the study of the Middle East, promote high standards in scholarship and teaching in the study area and encourage public understanding of the region through programs, publications and education.

Photo of Reza AkbariReza H. Akbari received his MA in Middle East Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs in 2012. While at the Elliott School, Reza interned at the US Treasury Department and The Century Foundation. He is currently a Program Manager at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that focuses on strengthening media and civil society worldwide. On September 2019, Reza began attending American University to pursue a Ph.D. in history. He plans to focus on modern Middle East and study the process of formation, evolution, and impact of political parties in semi-authoritarian states. Reza has previously served as a Research Associate for the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute and a Research Assistant at the Wilson Center. He has written for a number of publications such as Foreign Policy, CNN’s Global Public Square, Jadaliyya, and Al Monitor. Reza holds a BA in Political Science and International Studies from the State University of New York at Fredonia. His master’s thesis explored the potential for political reconciliation in Bahrain. 

 

Advice for students:

I highly recommend taking any course taught by Professors Nathan Brown, Marc Lynch, and Ambassador Edward Gnehm. They provide a tremendous amount of practical experience as well as academic rigor. Professor Lynch constantly challenges preconceived notions and theories about the region by inviting his students to consider alternative viewpoints. Ambassador Gnehm’s experience as a former diplomat enriches every lecture. Professor Brown is one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable individuals on Middle East affairs. He is able to explain the most complex issues in simple terms and inspire lively class debates.

Tsolin Nalbantian graduated from the BA program in Middle Eastern Studies in 1999. Initially thinking she would pursue a career in journalism, she returned to Cairo (she had studied abroad there in her junior year) after graduating as a Center for Arabic Studies Abroad (CASA) fellow to continue to work on her Arabic. When she returned to the US, she was awarded a graduate fellowship to attend New York University to pursue an MA in Journalism and Near Eastern Studies. Her first day of class was September 11 (yes, that September 11!) and over the course of her two-year study there, she decided to switch gears and pursue a career in academia. She found the ever-increasing pressure to simplify everything about the Middle East -- its inhabitants, history, social, political, cultural, and economic life -- in shorter and shorter articles frustrating. Feeling that long-term interest and engagement in the region suited her better, she studied at the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University where she received her PhD in 2011. She is currently Assistant Professor of Modern Middle East History at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her research and teaching interests include Armenian communities of the Middle East, Middle East diasporas, the contemporary history of Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey, and how marginal members of society use state and local power in an effort to claim political and social agency. Her book, Armenians Beyond Diaspora: Making Lebanon Their Own (published by the University of Edinburgh Press), examines specific episodes of crisis and tension to demonstrate how Armenians used the sectarian system of Lebanon and Cold War tensions for their own means. 

Photo of Tsolin Nalbantian

What advice would you give to students?

Spend extended time in the region and learn (and keep learning!) the language. My junior year abroad at GW really set the tone for my professional career and personal life. The exposure I had while in Cairo and then traveling throughout the region was unparalleled. It was super fun but also really difficult at times and learning a language as an adult is simultaneously humbling and an exciting enterprise. Plus, those experiences helped me qualify for fellowships later on in graduate school and helped me get into graduate programs in the first place. They also steered my research and teaching interests that I have today.

 

Who was your favorite professor at GW? 

Probably a three-way tie: my Arabic teachers Samia Montasser and David Mehal for encouraging me and keeping me on track with the language and Nathan Brown for helping me graduate on time!

 

This semester’s faculty book spotlight features Professor Arie Dubnov, co-editor of Partitions: A Transnational History of Twentieth-Century Territorial Separatism (Stanford University Press, 2019). Dubnov was interviewed by Alyssa Bivins, who is currently a 2nd year PhD student in the History Department at the George Washington University.Photo of the cover of Partitions

Q: What inspired you to begin this book project? 

Laura Robson and I both participated in a decolonization seminar through the Library of Congress. This seminar lasted ten years and pushed participants to think in broader comparative terms about processes of imperial disintegration during the twentieth century. Partition was one of the themes that emerged from such a study of decolonization, especially once we traced it across territories and periods. The idea for the project was planted in the seminar, as well as the tools to explore the connections among its many iterations. It inspired us to move beyond the nationalist frameworks to begin to question the conventional narratives that read partition as a natural or inevitable phenomenon.

The more we studied the history of partition, the more we became convinced that the very idea that a physical division of territory along ethno-religious lines into separate nation-states is a relatively recent phenomenon in historical terms. We also ended up this study convinced that the attempts to promote partition as a successful political "solution" to ethnic conflict were based on a rather poor reading of history. 

Q: This comprehensive transnational project brought together an impressive assembly of scholars to focus on three key instances of partition in British colonial history: Ireland, India, and Palestine. What was the process of bringing these scholars together? 

A: I am a firm believer in the importance of using more global and international approaches to history, that would complement (but not substitute) local expertise and the fine-grain knowledge that characterizes area studies. The book needed to be a collected volume rather than a traditional monograph partly because of the sheer linguistic limitations and the number of archives that had to be examined, in four corners of the globe. It is really too much for a single scholar to do properly. I was fortunate to have colleagues who were willing to think transnational and join me and my co-editor in this project! 

The initial idea was to bring the two or three top scholars on each area, put them in a room, and then see what happens. Soon enough, we realized we wanted more. We approached researchers who were not only experts with one foot firmly in their area of expertise, but also people who were willing to dirty their hands and take a risk of exploring the transnational experience. In other words, we chose scholars who were willing to move outside their comfort zone. Unlike comparative studies, which places partitioned areas side-by-side to do a compare-and-contrast exercise, the book examines the connections between these partitioned spaces, the ways in which political ideas and practices percolate into different areas. 

Q: In addition to bringing these scholars together, and editing the work with Professor Robson, you also wrote a chapter for the book about an architect of two of the partitions! As a fellow historian, I feel compelled to ask: how did your training as a historian and your work in the archives inspire this current work? Did you have any "aha" moments?

A: For me, the project was not born from a single moment, but through the historical character of Reginald Coupeland. Coupland was a prolific historian, serving as Beit Professor of Colonial History at Oxford from 1920 until 1948. Educated at Britain's most prestigious schools and holding a fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford University's most elitist hub, he was a prototypical member of the Empire’s educated elite, close to policymakers and advisors. 

Early on, I realized that the name of the same individual kept reappearing in all three cases of partition! During the 1920s, he was very close to Lionel Curtis and other people who had planned the Irish partition. Next, in 1937, he was appointed a member of Lord Peel's Royal Commission on Palestine, which ended up proposing partition. Later he reappeared in India as a member of Sir Stafford Cripps' 1942 Mission to India and an author of several length reports on the future of the Raj, which resembled in structure and contents to the Peel Commission's Report. Seeing him involved in all three cases, even as a supporting actor, constituted a kind of first "aha" moment. Here’s a fellow whose fingerprints kept popping up. I called him, in a mix of fondness and mockery, my imperial Waldo. 

I thought that my life would be simple and that partition would be explained once I followed Coupland’s itineraries. Then, the second interesting revelation came. In fact, I realized, Coupland was not simply recommending the same partition solution each time. It was not simply a "copy-paste" technique. In particular, in India, he believed that a partition like Palestine's would have been unworkable and even catastrophic. That was a second "aha" moment. I realized that, by 1947, partition was an idea that had already taken on a life of its own. Ultimately, it led me to think about partition as a "traveling theory" that existed independently of any one place or thinker. This very notion of a "traveling theory," as the book mentions, came from Edward Said. We used it as the organizational structure for the sections of our book. The fact partition has a definite date of birth does not mean it remained dependent on a specific starting point. A political theory like this is always a work in progress. In new historical and political circumstances, the abstract theory must be "transplanted" and "translated"—metaphorically and literally. 

Q: Do you think the creation of these partitioned spaces was unique to the British Empire and the cases you covered?

A: First, to be clear, partition is a very particular thing that should be defined historically and analytically. When we first think about partition, most of us imagine a line that is drawn on a map. That is one essential element, of course. But border-making and partition are not synonymous. 

The second important aspect of partition is that the border it creates divides two new entities that are called nation-states. Thus, unlike borders that were made for redistricting, or cases like the territorial divisions of Poland in the eighteenth century (culminating in the disappearance of the Polish state), the three British partitions we studied became important milestones on the road to statehood. They were predicated on the idea of self-government and sovereignty. Unlike India and Pakistan, the 1948 War in Palestine ended up with only one state, Israel, rather than two, and with the Nakba, the expulsion and denial of return of Palestinian residents from the areas of the new state. 

This leads me to the third element of a partition: namely, the idea that the new ethnonational state created will be feasible only if it maintains clear majority/minority proportions. This third element is not uniquely British, but is connected to the ways in which a democratic global order was conceptualized in interwar years. The emerging League of Nations committed itself and its resources to the principle of homogeneous ethnic nation-statehood, to be accomplished with transfer—the involuntary displacement of populations, accompanied by violence if necessary. The nation-state engineered the space to correspond with the demography, and absorbed the logic of population transfers. 

The partitions of India and Palestine in 1947-8 would therefore be best defined as "package deals" that included three things: border-making, state-making, and forced displacement. Was this a uniquely British way of thinking about politics? I tend to think so, especially if we understand partition as this three-dimensional theory. But it was of course picked up and executed by non-British historical actors.

Q: So given the particular inner-workings of the British Empire, do you think that the partition lens could be used to evaluate the historical policies of other empires, such as the French or Spanish empires?

A: That’s an excellent question. With humility, I will be the first to admit that my area of knowledge on the French and Spanish Empires is more superficial. Drawing on my familiarity with the chronicles of the British Empire leads me to answer that the three partitions we covered were certainly inherently connected to what was happening in the British Empire in particular and British techniques of direct and indirect control and domination. We must remember that the British Empire was not a static, frozen structure. Instead, it was changing, adopting new modes of governance and responding to a new climate of ideas and changing political circumstances. Calls for internal imperial reform were heard loud and clear. In particular, a group of neo-imperial thinkers, publishing their essays in journals like the Round Table, were assessing how the empire was evolving and transforming itself into a British Commonwealth of Nations, or what some called the Third British Empire. In this conception, the British Empire was reimagined as a kind of modern Athenian League, with multiple independent city-states. The entities underneath the imperial umbrella were nations, but the original intention was to come up with a technique that would allow to contain them rather than promote imperial disintegration of the type we see after 1945. 

This was very British. The crown, which we see today as an empty symbol, was seen as the glue that allowed for the idea of a unified federal empire. Paradoxically, it was in this context that partitioning emerged. So British political thinking and nascent conceptions of what internationalism means were tied to this federalist imperial mode of thought. One should avoid apologia for empire. To assume that these liberal conceptions of empire were racially neutral or designed to prevent further subjugation and domination would be historically inaccurate and morally questionable. British imperial thinkers were trying to figure out how to maintain difference within the empire first and foremost in order to keep the empire up and running. The slogan they loved using was "diversity within unity"—so how to allow multiple national groups to coexist within the Empire. It sounds beautiful, but of course what they care about is how to make sure that the Empire continued to prosper.

That said, I would love to see comparative work looking at the Spanish and French colonial worlds. My familiarity with the literature produced by scholars studying the French colonial world makes me think that despite obvious similarities they were running things differently. Also, when people have asked us why we didn't write more about Cyprus, or the two Germanys, the Korean War etc., I have to say there were just limits on what we could do. If our project were to inspire or serve as a point of departure for future research into other colonial and postcolonial spaces, I would be delighted to see it, even if these future studies would prove me wrong. If we need to refine our definition because of it, that would be amazing! It is not a completed discussion, but an ongoing one.

Q: The question of partition is particularly timely, you noted in your book, because it is still floated as a potential policy today, and the parallels between the nations covered in your book continue to exist! One political incident involving two of the "partition spaces" in your book occurred in late November of this year, when it was leaked that India's consul general in NYC suggested that India could follow an Israeli model in Kashmir. Since your book has suggested historical parallels between these many countries, do you think there are also future parallels for foreign policy solutions or cautions?

I might come out much more optimistic in this answer than I am in practice! How can one explain the similarity between contemporary India and Israel? And what is the historical perspective we need to understand the sudden rapprochement between Benjamin Netanyahu's Israel and India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi? I tried to answer some of these questions in an essay I entitled "Notes on the Zionist Passage to India," which I could not summarize here with due diligence. 

There is ample evidence to show that Narendra Modi, who promotes a much more assertive Hindu nationalism, is looking in a very positive way at Netanyahu's Israel. Both of them are hyper-nationalist, populist, and neoliberal leaders. Both present themselves as strong leaders who are at the forefront of the war against "global terrorism" as well as champions of globalization and a free-market economy. Both follow the logic of "open markets – closed cultures," a handy catchphrase I borrow from Arjun Appadurai. Many find it difficult to see that there is no contradiction between the cultivation of an uncompromising nationalist leadership style, which is accompanied by a clear anti-Muslim sentiment, and the desire to open their countries to foreign investments and promote high-tech initiatives. 

There is a long and interesting history between the two countries. It of course is not linear, as India and Israel were not always the best of friends—that part is a recent phenomenon. Bear in mind that there are important, positive things they could learn from each other instead: for example, India is the world's largest democracy, it has a progressive constitution, and it has minority protections built into its constitution. Sadly, many of these principles are challenged and even eroded today. And you are right that politicians and activists in India and Israel do continue to look to each other for parallels today. Unfortunately, all too often what each side sees as "the virtues" of the other side, is far removed from what progressive observers would consider to be a positive model worthy of imitation. India’s army, for example, imports military equipment and knowledge from Israel, and tries to learn from the Israeli security apparatus how to use drones and conduct "surgical strikes." On the other side, Messianic Jews are looking at India for precedents. Those who followed the Ayodhya dispute—a contested religious site which is regarded among Hindus to be the birthplace of Rama but is also a site of a Muslim mosque—can guess where all this goes. After long years of dispute, India's Supreme Court ruled in November 2019 that the ancient Hindu Temple will be rebuilt, and the mosque relocated elsewhere. Within less than a week, a group of Messianic Jews who covet to rebuild the Jewish Temple on the site of the Al Aqsa Compound on the Temple Mount / Haram el-Sharif began citing this Indian ruling as paving the way for their plan. Analogies and parallels, therefore, work both ways, and they outlived the British empire, which provided in the past the shared framework for Jewish and Hindu nationalists. Evidently, comparative gazes and translocal imitations could serve multiple political agendas. 

I am a historian, not a political scientist or a policy advisor, so I do not pretend to offer model to explain the present and predict the future. I only wish to offer a historical perspective. I did not anticipate that using partition as a lens would help highlight a lot of what makes the newspaper headlines in contemporary politics in post-partition spaces. Look at the way the "Irish question" turned out to be, one of the stumbling blocks of Brexit negotiations, look at Kashmir. We are living in "interesting times," as the famous curse-turned-phrase goes. It is one of the privileges and duties of historians to discuss the implications of their learning for concerns and disputes in the present—including contemporary controversies about past events. Thank you for providing me with an opportunity to reflect on my project and to share some of my historical insights and interpretations with a wider IMES community!

Charles E. Kiamie III, a Middle Eastern Studies program alumnus (B.A., 2000), is Deputy Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Office of Local Sustainability – and Professorial Lecturer in both the Elliott School of International Affairs and Department of Political Science.  His work with the Office of Local Sustainability is meant to expand and diversify USAID’s partnerships with local and U.S.-based development actors - including civil society, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, private firms, philanthropies, and cooperatives – to facilitate sustainable, locally led development.  Dr. Kiamie was previously Acting Director of this Office (2018-19); Regional Program Coordinator in USAID's Middle East Bureau (2014-18); and Lead Foreign Affairs Officer in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (2007-14). He has taught politics and Middle Eastern Studies at GW year-round for nearly 15 years. 

Photo of Charles KiamieDr. Kiamie earned his Ph.D. in Government (2008) and M.A. in Arab Studies (2004) from Georgetown University.  He was a Fulbright Fellow in Jordan and read Oriental Studies (Modern Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic) at Oxford University through GW’s Pembroke College program.  Dr. Kiamie’s academic interests include political reform, nation-building, (de)liberalization, political re-traditionalization, and Islamism in the Arab and Islamic worlds.  At USAID, he advocates for procurement innovation; co-creation, including through the Broad Agency Announcement process; and increasing resilience and self-reliance through more sustainable program design and implementation across sectors and around the world. 

Dr. Kiamie is vice-chair of Arab Americans in Foreign Affairs Agencies (AAIFAA), an official federal employee resource group; has mentored students and young professionals for many years through formal academic and professional programs; and is Den Leader for a large group of fifth-grade Cub Scouts in Arlington, Virginia, where he lives with his wife and two children.

At GW, Dr. Kiamie teaches Politics and Cultures in the Middle East in Fall and Arab Politics in the Spring, both Writing in the Discipline courses for undergraduates.  In the Summer, he teaches Comparative Politics of the Middle East for both graduate and undergraduate students. Dr. Kiamie credits his interest in these topics – as well as the broader issues he addresses at USAID – to a variety of explanations:  his Lebanese roots and Palestinian-Jordanian wife; the opportunities he has had to live and work in nearly all countries in the Middle East and North Africa; and a strong sense of public service.

Babak Bahador is an Associate Research Professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs and the Director of the Media and Peacebuilding Project. Professor Bahador is also a senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, where he teaches for part of each year. In recent years, his research has focused on media and peacebuilding and he is currently co-editing a book on this subject.

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How did you become interested in researching the intersection of political communication and conflict studies and how did that shape your future career goals?

It began with my PhD thesis at the London School of Economics in the early 2000s. I was interested in globalization and its international political impacts. At this time, a concept called the CNN effect was popular and claimed that television images and narratives from distant conflicts and crises were influencing diplomacy and foreign policy in other countries, especially in the US and its foreign policy. Also, the 1999 Kosovo intervention by NATO had recently happened, which I had followed closely. So for my PhD dissertation, I examined the role of the so-called CNN effect in the Kosovo intervention which eventually became a book. From there, I became interested in the role of media in conflict. After I finished my PhD and got my first academic job, I started teaching a course called Media and Conflict and have now taught this course for 12 years. I have also examined the role of the media/communication in other subsequent research on conflicts such as the 2003 Iraq War, the 2006 Israel/Hezbollah War and the 2008 Russia/Georgia War, amongst others.

 

At GW, you created an initiative called the Media and Peacebuilding Project. What is the mission of this organization and why do you think it's important?

About 5 years ago, I decided that I wanted to focus my research on an area that would not only be interesting in itself, but could also be useful for those trying to solve some of the world's biggest problems. In my field, this was clearly trying to end violent conflict and build positive and enduring peace. Also, with the rapid adoption of mobile phones and social media in conflict-fragile states over the past 15 years, it seemed like there was a great opportunity for new research re-examining peacebuilding in this new information environment. The Media and Peacebuilding Project focuses on research projects that, on the one hand, examine peacebuilding in this new and emerging media environment, and on the other hand, can work with practitioners/NGOs implementing peacebuilding projects, offering them new tools and research-based insights to enhance their work and make it more effective.

 

What advice would you give to aspiring journalists or scholars who want to work in your area of expertise? 

There tends to be a bias toward negativity in journalism and academia. For example, news from conflict zones is often focused on episodic violence, ethnocentric framing and the views of elites. But journalists could also include more context and stories about peacebuilders and those seeking solutions so audiences get a broader, richer picture, reflecting what is actually usually happening (where the majority of those affected want to find peace). I would encourage journalists and scholars to keep their idealism (which often drove them to their respective fields) and continue to look for innovative ways to exercise it.

Ali Hamdan is in his first year as a Post-Doctoral Researcher with GW’s Mount Vernon Society of Fellows, as well as an instructor in the Department of Geography. He received his PhD in Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and his Bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College. Much of his effort goes toward increasing the contributions of geographers to the study of the Middle East, as well as exposing scholars of the region to research and theory from Geography relevant to the study of borders, war, and geopolitics.

“My research investigates the relationship between war, forced migration, and transnational politics, focusing in particular on the ongoing conflict in Syria. During 2015-2017, he conducted ethnographic research investigating political mobilization among Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey. The work aims to both theorize exile as a spatial category of analysis, while also shedding light on some of the fraught relations between pro-opposition Syrian refugees and their American “allies.” His ongoing work further pursues this topic, but instead drawing on archival materials from the US State Department, with the goal of explicating the role of private contracting firms in implementing US foreign policy with respect to Syria’s conflict.

What brought you to GW? GW is uniquely close to Washington DC's foreign policy establishment, in particular the US State Department. It is my hope to continue my research on this "side" of the network that connects the United States to a war in Syria.

What trends do you see in scholarly research on the Middle East? One of the most fruitful trends in the last decade has been the explosion of global/transnational history in MENA studies. This has brought to light a lot of important (and oft-neglected) processes that shaped state-formation, capital accumulation, and meaning-making in the region, without necessarily being confined to nation-states - or even to the region itself. This has opened up exciting new opportunities for cross-disciplinary scholarship on topics like migration, borders, race, and infrastructure, in ways that engage both historians and social scientists.

What advice do you have for students thinking about going on to a PhD program? I think the gap between "academic" and "policy-relevant" knowledge is overstated at times. A PhD is great for pushing yourself to find the practical implications of a lot of new, challenging ideas. In very few other settings does one have such an opportunity to truly think outside the box.”


Scott Williamson is a visiting scholar at the Elliott School’s Institute for Middle East Studies, a PhD candidate in political science at Stanford University, and a Graduate Research Fellow funded by the National Science Foundation. His research addresses questions related to authoritarianism, human rights, refugees, and religious authority in the Middle East and has been published or accepted by academic journals including Comparative Political Studies, the Journal of Peace Research, the Journal of Experimental Political Science, and Middle East Law and Governance, as well as outlets like the Washington Post, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Baker Institute for Public Policy. For his dissertation, Williamson completed fieldwork in Jordan and Tunisia, as well as survey research in Egypt and Morocco. Previously, he was a junior fellow in the Middle East Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a CASA fellow at the American University in Cairo.

“I am currently working on my dissertation, which studies the politics of blame avoidance in authoritarian regimes. Titled “The King Can Do No Wrong: Delegation and Blame under Authoritarian Rule,” the project develops a theory about when and how dictators will delegate policy decisions to subordinate political institutions for the purpose of shifting blame for the public’s grievances. I show that dictators can minimize their exposure to the public’s anger by ceding some of their powers over policy design and implementation, and I demonstrate that this possibility influences when and for which issue domains dictators are willing to share power with other elites in their regimes. I also argue that autocratic monarchs are better positioned than other dictators to utilize this strategy effectively, which helps to explain the surprising robustness of royal rule in the modern period. Empirically, I draw on surveys, experiments, text analysis, archival materials, and more than 100 elite interviews to test the theory's observable implications in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I also rely on additional case studies and cross-national statistical analysis to demonstrate the theory’s applicability to authoritarian political systems generally, and to support my argument that autocratic monarchs are particularly effective at avoiding blame through delegation.

What brought you to GW? I came to GW because the Institute for Middle East Studies provides a valuable scholarly community with access to exceptional resources. The faculty’s knowledge of Middle East politics is second to none, and it hosts both the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) and the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS). The institute is constantly organizing excellent events, including book launches for important scholarly works on the Middle East. I also value its interdisciplinary focus, which includes monthly interdisciplinary workshops that have helped me to learn about exciting research outside of my own academic field.

What advice do you have for students thinking about going on to a PhD program? For students considering a PhD program in political science who are interested in studying the Middle East or another region, my advice would be to acquire language skills and research experience prior to applying. There is often little focus or time given to language abilities in political science programs, despite their importance for navigating field research, so it is helpful to develop these first. Acquiring familiarity with the research process prior to graduate school will also allow you to hit the ground running in terms of starting your own projects. It can be helpful to work as a research assistant for professors to learn about the research and publication process, and it’s also important to try your hand at independent projects as soon as possible, since research is in many ways a trial and error process that you learn by doing.”

March 26, 2020

5:30pm

Room 505

1957 E St NW

Washington, DC 20052

Kirkuk is Iraq's most multilingual city, for millennia home to a diverse population. It was also where, in 1927, a foreign company first struck oil in Iraq. Over the following decades, Kirkuk became the heart of Iraq's booming petroleum industry. City of Black Gold tells a story of oil, urbanization, and colonialism in Kirkuk—and how these factors shaped the identities of Kirkuk's citizens, forming the foundation of an ethnic conflict.

Arbella Bet-Shlimon reconstructs the twentieth-century history of Kirkuk to question the assumptions about the past underpinning today's ethnic divisions. In the early 1920s, when the Iraqi state was formed under British administration, group identities in Kirkuk were fluid. But as the oil industry fostered colonial power and Baghdad's influence over Kirkuk, intercommunal violence and competing claims to the city's history took hold. The ethnicities of Kurds, Turkmens, and Arabs in Kirkuk were formed throughout a century of urban development, interactions between communities, and political mobilization. Ultimately, this book shows how contentious politics in disputed areas are not primordial traits of those regions, but are a modern phenomenon tightly bound to the society and economics of urban life.

Arbella Bet-Shlimon a historian of the modern Middle East. She is an adjunct faculty member in the University of Washington's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization and an affiliate of the Jackson School's Middle East Center. In her research and teaching, she focuses on the politics, society and economy of twentieth-century Iraq and the broader Persian Gulf region, as well as Middle Eastern urban history.  My teaching has been recognized with several awards, including the UW's Distinguished Teaching Award.

February 6, 2020

5:30pm

Room 505

1957 E St NW

Washington, DC 20052

When a nation-wide uprising breaks out in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a young woman in Gaza must make a choice between love, family, and freedom. Undaunted, she embraces all three, joining a clandestine network of women in a movement that forces the world to recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination for the first time.

The film's Executive Producer, Suhad Babaa is a media strategist, producer, human rights advocate and the Executive Director of Just Vision, an organization that researches, documents and disseminates the stories of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the occupation and build a future of freedom, dignity and equality for all. Suhad leads Just Vision’s journalistic efforts as the Co-Director of the award-winning Hebrew-language news site, Local Call, and executive produced their acclaimed feature-length documentary, Naila and the Uprising (2017). She was also an integral member of the impact campaigns around Just Vision’s critically acclaimed film, Budrus (2009), and Peabody award-winning documentary, My Neighbourhood (2012).

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