News & Events
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The Middle East Center at Penn sponsors and supports programs and initiatives across the disciplines and professional schools, and runs a dynamic outreach program in the Delaware Valley. Faculty and students at Penn are also active and prominent in the field of Middle East studies, making significant and highly regarded contributions to scholarly output in their areas of interest. We will continue to update news of the Center's activities and highlight the achievements of our faculty and students here.

Jan
28
Mosab Abu Toha Join us for an evening with Mosab Abu Toha, the founder of the Edward Said Library, Gaza's only English-only library. Abu Toha is a Visiting Scholar at Harvard's Department of Comparative Literature and Visiting Librarian-in-Residence at Harvard's Houghton Library. He is also a Religion, Conflict, and Peace Initiative Fellow at Harvard Divinity School, and an Affiliate at Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Abu Toha will be hosting a discussion about his experiences in Gaza and with the library, and will share some of the poetry he has written. Discussion and audience Q&A is encouraged.
5:00pm
Annenberg 111
Jan
29
Ian Lustick "Ian Lustick has written a richly informed and persuasive account of how the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians has become the seemingly dead-end tragedy it is today. This book provides an especially insightful analysis of why Israeli attitudes toward this issue evolved as they did. It is essential reading for anyone concerned about this conflict and hungry for new ways to think about it."—Paul R. Pillar, former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia "This important new book by one of the country's most thoughtful, insightful, and engaged students of Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians is at once both provocative and persuasive. The book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the path that brought Israel to the situation it faces today—and of what is likely to come next. Meticulously researched and convincingly argued, Paradigm Lost is a must-read for all who are interested in, and care about, Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."—Mark Tessler, University of Michigan "Paradigm Lost is an important addition to our understanding of the failure of the Two States Solution. It unpacks how the Iron Wall mentality came to dominate Israeli politics and hindered any serious attempt to reach peace with the Palestinians.mIt is a must read for every Israeli and American interested in going beyond the present impasse."—Leila Farsakh, University of Massachusetts Why have Israelis and Palestinians failed to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict that has cost so much and lasted so long? In Paradigm Lost, Ian S. Lustick brings fifty years as an analyst of the Arab-Israeli dispute to bear on this question and offers a provocative explanation of why continued attempts to divide the land will have no more success than would negotiations to establish a one-state solution. Basing his argument on the decisiveness of unanticipated consequences, Lustick shows how the combination of Zionism's partially successful Iron Wall strategy for dealing with Arabs, an Israeli political culture saturated with what the author calls "Holocaustia," and the Israel lobby's dominant influence on American policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict scuttled efforts to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Yet, he demonstrates, it has also unintentionally set the stage for new struggles and "better problems" for both Israel and the Palestinians. Drawing on the history of scientific ideas that once seemed certain but were ultimately discarded, Lustick encourages shifting attention from two-state blueprints that provide no map for realistic action to the democratizing competition that arises when different subgroups, forced to be part of the same polity, redefine their interests and form new alliances to pursue them. Paradigm Lost argues that negotiations for a two-state solution between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River are doomed and counterproductive. Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs can enjoy the democracy they deserve but only after decades of struggle amid the unintended but powerful consequences of today's one-state reality. Ian S. Lustick is Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania and holds the Bess W. Heyman Chair. He is author of numerous books, including Trapped in the War on Terror, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
5:30pm
People's Books and Culture (former Penn Book Center)
Feb
5
Alon Tam In this lecture, Dr. Alon Tam will explore the social history of the Jewish community in Egypt, with a special emphasis on the city of Cairo, in the late 19 th century and the first half of the 20 th century. He will examine such issues as migration, modernity, social mobility, cultural capital, community building, and relations with the larger Muslim society in which those Jews lived. Looking at those themes from the special perspective of performing social identities in various public spaces around Cairo promises to shed new light on the very meaning of Jewishness in actual, everyday life. Dr. Alon Tam is a social and cultural historian of the Middle East and North Africa. His research interests include urban history, the social history of Jewish communities in that region, historical anthropology, gender, race and ethnicity in the Middle East, and language politics, among others. Tam received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, writing about the social and political history of Cairo’s coffeehouses. A recent fellow at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, he is currently working on Jewish social identities in twentieth century Cairo.
5:30pm
Fisher-Bennett Hall 231
Feb
12
Michael Reynolds   From the second half of the twentieth century into the first decade of the twenty-first, Turkey and the United States regarded each other as strategic partners whose geopolitical interests and political values overlapped and were in alignment. Over the course of the past decade, however, relations between the two countries have grown increasingly fractious as disagreements have emerged between them on multiple issues, including Russia, the Kurds, and Israel among others. Join us to hear the perspective of Michael Reynolds, an associate professor of Near Eastern Studies and Director of the Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at Princeton University, as he explores the reasons behind the deterioration of relations and the implications of that breakdown for the future of the Middle East and for US foreign policy.
6:30pm
Camden County College Blackwood Campus
Feb
13
Hicham Safieddine, Maya Mikdashi, Marwan Kraidy, and moderator Lama Mourad Since 2019, Lebanon has been rocked by a series of protests and political upheavals, culminating with the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in October. Join our panel of specialists for a discussion and analysis of the events currently unfolding, including Maya Mikdashi, Marwan Kraidy, and Hicham Safieddine by Skype. The panel will be moderated by Lama Mourad. Participants ... Maya Mikdashi is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and a lecturer in the program in Middle East Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.  Maya is an anthropologist (PhD Columbia University, 2014) who is deeply engaged in ethnographic, legal, and archival theory and methodology. She currently is completing a book manuscript that examines the war on terror, sexual difference, secularism, and state power in the contemporary Middle East from the vantage point of Lebanon.  Maya has been a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow from 2014-2016 at Rutgers University, and a Faculty Fellow/Director of Graduate Studies, Center for Near Eastern Studies, New York University (2012-2014). She has published widely in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes, in addition to online platforms. She is a co-founding editor of the e-zine Jadaliyya.com ... Marwan M. Kraidy is Professor of Communication, the Anthony Shadid Chair in Global Media, Politics and Culture, and the Founding Director of the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication (CARGC) at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, where he is also affiliated with the Middle East Center. A scholar of global communication and an authority on Arab media, politics and culture, he studies the relationship between culture and geopolitics, theories of identity and modernity, and global media systems and industries. Kraidy is currently an Andrew Carnegie Fellow. ... Hicham Safieddine holds a PhD in Middle East Studies from the University of Toronto, an MA in Political Science from York University, Canada, and an MA in Economics from The University of Rochester, New York. Hicham’s current research project explores the formative role of Arab financial regimes, including central banks, in the making of modern Arab societies and states with a focus on the Arab Mashriq. He is also researching the history of Arab economic thought in the post-WWII period and its relationship to contemporaneous notions of modernization and development. In addition to his academic research and teaching, Hicham is the co-founder of e-zines Al-Akhbar English and The Legal Agenda’s English Edition.  ... Lama Mourad is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Perry World House. She previously worked as a Predoctoral Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, working on its Middle East Initiative. She won the Social Science and Humanities Research Council’s Postdoctoral Award. She has written papers for publications including Forced Migration Review, Journal of Refugee Studies, Middle East Law and Governance, and Newsletter of the MENA Politics Section of APSA. Mourad received her Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Toronto, and her B.Soc.Sc from the University of Ottawa. ...
5:00pm
Perry World House, Global Policy Lab
Feb
19
Moniro Ravanipour, with translator Mohammad Ghanoonparvar Join us for an evening with internationally acclaimed Iranian-American author Moniro Ravanipour. Ravanipour was born in Jofreh, a village on the coast of the Persian Gulf. Her birthplace has had a substantial impact on her writing career. In addition to children stories, Ravanipour has written many short stories, several novels, and a few screenplays. Her short stories have been translated into many languages. Ravanipour's short stories have been published in PEN America, World Literature Today, and CONSEQUENCE Magazine. She has also had presentations all around the world, in countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, England, Turkey, Canada, and in more than twenty-two state in the United States. She received fellowships from Brown University and BMI (Black Mountain Institute) at the University of Nevada.  Her tales, described as "reminiscent in their fantastic blend of realism, myth, and superstition of writers like Rulfo, Garcia Marquez, even Tutuola," frequently take as their setting the small, remote village in southern Iran where she was born. Nahid Mozaffari, editor of Strange Times, My Dear: The International PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature, wrote that Ravanipour "has been successful in the treatment of the complex subjects of tradition and modernity, juxtaposing elements of both, and exposing them in all their contradictions without idealizing either." Ravanipour was among seventeen activists to face trial in Iran for their participation in the 2000 Berlin Conference, accused of taking part in anti-Iran propaganda. Copies of her current work were recently stripped from bookstore shelves in Iran in a countrywide police action.
6:00pm
Kelly Writers House
Feb
25
Yasser El-Sheshtawy This talk examines temporality and transience as an urban condition in the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While these are presented as the main driving force behind the spectacular structures that dominate their cityscapes, there is a resistance among its citizens — locals and expatriates alike. Refusing to succumb to the label of transients they are seeking ways to establish a sense of connection to the cities they live in, setting down roots and for a brief moment of time counter the force of the ‘Temporary City.’   ... Yasser Elsheshtawy is an independent scholar, an Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Columbia University, GSAPP and Non-Resident Fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, DC. He was a Professor of Architecture at United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain, where in addition to teaching he also ran the Urban Research Lab. He was appointed as the curator for the UAE Pavilion at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016. Considered an authority on urbanism in the region, his scholarship focuses on urbanization in developing societies, informal urbanism, urban history and environment-behavior studies, with a particular focus on Middle Eastern cities. 
12:00pm
PCPE 200 (Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics)
Feb
26
Michael Reynolds   From the second half of the twentieth century into the first decade of the twenty-first, Turkey and the United States regarded each other as strategic partners whose geopolitical interests and political values overlapped and were in alignment. Over the course of the past decade, however, relations between the two countries have grown increasingly fractious as disagreements have emerged between them on multiple issues, including Russia, the Kurds, and Israel among others. Join us to hear the perspective of Michael Reynolds, an associate professor of Near Eastern Studies and Director of the Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at Princeton University, as he explores the reasons behind the deterioration of relations and the implications of that breakdown for the future of the Middle East and for US foreign policy.
5:30pm
Fisher-Bennett 231
Mar
2
Darryl Li No contemporary figure is more demonized than the Islamist foreign fighter who wages jihad around the world. Spreading violence, disregarding national borders, and rejecting secular norms, so-called jihadists seem opposed to universalism itself. In a radical departure from conventional wisdom on the topic, The Universal Enemy argues that transnational jihadists are engaged in their own form of universalism: these fighters struggle to realize an Islamist vision directed at all of humanity, transcending racial and cultural difference.  Anthropologist and attorney Darryl Li reconceptualizes jihad as armed transnational solidarity under conditions of American empire, revisiting a pivotal moment after the Cold War when ethnic cleansing in the Balkans dominated global headlines. Muslim volunteers came from distant lands to fight in Bosnia-Herzegovina alongside their co-religionists, offering themselves as an alternative to the US-led international community. Li highlights the parallels and overlaps between transnational jihads and other universalisms such as the War on Terror, United Nations peacekeeping, and socialist Non-Alignment. Developed from more than a decade of research with former fighters in a half-dozen countries, The Universal Enemy explores the relationship between jihad and American empire to shed critical light on both. About the author Darryl Li is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago.
5:30pm
Annenberg 111
Mar
5
Adam Grode Penn grad student and two-time Fulbright Scholar, Adam Grode is a Silk Road Ethnomusicologist and through stories and songs will provide a living soundtrack for the rich cultural heritage and musical traditions of Central Asia’s oases and steppe.
6:30pm
Cherry Hill Public Library
Mar
24
Djene Rhys Bajalan Historians of the Kurdish question have often presented the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the Great War as a ‘missed opportunity’ for Kurdish nationalists to establish and independent Kurdish homeland. Indeed, the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, signed in the summer of 1920, provided the Ottoman Kurdish community with a pathway to independence. However, just three years later, the Treaty of Lausanne, a treaty that provided no provision on Kurdish statehood, superseded Sèvres leaving the Kurds ‘stateless’. Consequently, the question of why the Kurds failed to acquire a nation-state, at a time when the Middle East was being remade along ‘national’ lines, has both haunted Kurdish nationalists and animated scholarly discussion. This talk will examine the existing historiographical debate pertaining to this issue and call into question some of the underlying assumptions that have framed the debate over the last century.  Dr. Djene Rhys Bajalan is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Missouri State University. He holds a DPhil in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford and has both studied and taught in Great Britain, Turkey, and Iraqi Kurdistan. His research focuses on the Ottoman Kurdish community and the emergence of Kurdish political activism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He is the author of Jön Kürtler: Birinci Dünya Savaşı'ndan Önce Kürt Hareketi 1898-1914 (2010), co-editor of Studies in Kurdish History: Empire, Ethnicity and Identity (2015) as well as the author of a number of scholarly articles. He also serves on the editorial board of the journal Kurdish Studies and has contributed to publications including Open Democracy, Jadaliyya, Ahval, and Jacobin.
5:30pm
TBD
Mar
25
Arbella Bet-Shlimon ... 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. Kirkuk soon became the heart of Iraq’s booming petroleum industry. Over the decades that followed, oil, urbanization, and colonialism shaped the identities of Kirkuk’s citizens, forming the foundation of an ethnic conflict.  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 lecture argues that 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. ... Dr. Arbella Bet-Shlimon is a historian of the modern Middle East. She is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at University of Washington and an affiliate of the Jackson School's Middle East Center. In 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. Her teaching has been recognized with several awards, including the UW's Distinguished Teaching Award. Her first book, City of Black Gold: Oil, Ethnicity, and the Making of Modern Kirkuk (Stanford University Press, 2019), explores how oil and urbanization made ethnicity into a political practice in Kirkuk, a multilingual city that was the original hub of Iraq's oil industry. Dr. Bet-Shlimon's research has been funded by, among others, the American Historical Association, the UW Royalty Research Fund, and the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. She has published articles in the Journal of Urban History and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and is on the board of the Academic Research Institute in Iraq.
5:30pm
Annenberg 111
Mar
25
Lama Mourad   As Syria’s Civil War enters its tenth year, claims that the war is "ending" are increasingly becoming commonplace. One of the more overlooked aspects of this period is the issue of returning refugees, which has implications both for the future of Syria and for international norms of refugee protection. Join political scientist Lama Mourad as she provides a broad overview of the current state of the Syrian Civil War, including the role of external powers such as the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey and others in the conflict — with a special focus on the question of refugee return.
6:30pm
Camden County College Blackwood Campus
Apr
1
Bill Figueroa   The last decade has seen a great deal of attention on the relationship between China and the Middle East. New economic and trade initiatives, a flurry of Chinese goods and construction services throughout the region, and a growing Chinese appetite for natural resources have had a significant impact on existing relationships and geopolitical calculations. Whether these changes are disruptive and exploitative, or stabilizing and mutually beneficial is a hotly debated question, but there is no denying that China is becoming a major player in the Middle East. Historian Bill Figueroa will provide a historical perspective on these debates, and on China's contemporary involvement in the Middle East. ... Bill Figueroa is a graduate student currently pursuing a PhD in the history department at University of Pennsylvania, with a focus on global Cold War history, and in particular the relationship between Iran and China. He completed his undergraduate degree at Rice University, where he studied social science methodology and modern Chinese society, and received a dual Bachelors degree in Anthropology and Asian Studies in 2010. In 2012, he broadened his focus to the modern Middle East and its interactions with China upon the beginning of his graduate career at Penn. He has studied Farsi in Dushanbe, Tajikistan as well as the UT-Austin's intensive summer language program, and Mandarin in Beijing at Peking University and Central University for Nationalities. Currently, he is working on completing his dissertation on the impact of Chinese political thought on the Iranian revolution and the rise of explicitly Maoist Iranian communist organizations in the aftermath of the Sino-Soviet split.
6:30pm
Camden County College Blackwood Campus
Apr
2
Amr Al-Azm Join us for a talk with Dr. Amr Al-Azm, Professor of Middle East History and Anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio. Whilst working in Syria, Amr Al- Azm was a first hand observer and sometime participant of the reform processes instigated by Bashar Al-Assad, thus gaining insights into how they were enacted and why more often than not they failed. Furthermore, he is a keen follower and commentator on current events in Syria and the Middle East in general and has written articles in numerous journals, and major media outlets including guest editorials for the New York Times, Time Magazine and Foreign Policy. ... Syria today is going through a traumatic and destabilizing conflict that has strained the ethnic, sectarian and social fabric of the country - almost all that makes Syria a single unified state - to beyond breaking point. Much of the country lies in ruins today, and its cultural heritage a casualty of the war from its earliest days through systematic looting and deliberate destruction. The greatest burden to protect Syria’s cultural heritage during this conflict has fallen on local stakeholders and non-state actors. The majority of these non-state actors are centred on networks of local heritage professionals, civil society activists and NGO’s. These local networks often work under desperate conditions to protect museums and heritage sites, finding creative and simple solutions to overcome daunting challenges. They are also at the forefront in promoting awareness and strengthening local communities’ sense of ownership of their cultural heritage, in order to mobilize them against looters and trafficking in antiquities. Yet, because they are non- state actors, they are often denied any financial or technical support from international organisations and donors who traditionally deal only with member states and their institutions. Given the appalling carnage and unprecedented levels of human suffering sweeping the country, there is the danger of an emerging binary that you either care about ancient stones, monuments and artefacts or you care about current humanitarian issues and the people affected. Despite that danger, heritage professionals and everyday people on both sides of the divide have rejected this binary by recognizing that culture and people are inextricably linked with a role to play in post conflict stabilization and reconciliation.
5:30pm
Annenberg 111
Apr
22
John Ghazvinian   As tensions between the United States and Iran continue to escalate, the controversy about the Iranian nuclear program is frequently cited as a central area of disagreement between the two countries. But is this, in fact, the core of the issue? Historian John Ghazvinian explores the broader story of Iran’s nuclear program, and discusses the history of US-Iran relations — situating the nuclear disagreement within the context of 40 years of US-Iran tensions.
6:30pm
Camden County College Blackwood Campus