2018 Fall


Middle East Center Newsletter


Greetings from the Middle East Center! We started this academic year with the exciting news that we were awarded a U.S. Department of Education Title VI grant to support our activities here at the UW and the community beyond. As a federally-funded National Resource Center (NRC), one of the Middle East Center’s most important activities is to disburse Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships to undergraduate and graduate students studying modern Middle East foreign languages and related area or international studies. The grant also permits us to strengthen language and area studies instruction at the UW, provide training and outreach to instructors at the K-12 and community college levels, as well as fund public events focusing on current issues in the Middle East and North Africa.

Through the strong leadership of my predecessors, starting with the MEC’s founding director, Farhat Ziadeh (1974-83), Jere Bacharach (1983-95), and Ellis Goldberg (1996-2015), the MEC has been awarded NRC/FLAS awards for over a half-century, making it the oldest continuously-funded area studies center at the UW! Of course, one crucial element of continuity in the MEC’s success has been the outstanding work of Felicia Hecker, the MEC’s Associate Director. Since she started at the MEC in 1996, she has been the engine behind six successful NRC/FLAS grant proposals, securing some $12 million for Middle East studies at the University of Washington.

This year, our activities include a series of talks by scholars in our Voices in the Middle East speaker series (see dates below), and the start of a multi-year initiative examining the effects of recent uprisings and revolutions in the MENA. This initiative launches in February 2019 with an exploration of the Iranian revolution on its fortieth anniversary, through the eyes of scholar and activist, Professor Homa Hoodfar. With this academic year, MEC is also supporting new UW courses on cybersecurity and the Middle East and emerging multi-sector entrepreneurship in the Middle East.

As before, the MEC continues to have a strong relationship with our community partners. Our MEC Faculty Affiliate, David Fenner, will continue to conduct cross-cultural training through our Bridging Cultures workshops in school districts across the state and will be expanding and adapting this initiative to meet the needs of local and regional government agencies. To increase the opportunities for UW students to study abroad, we have recently formalized language training agreements with two Arabic Language Programs in the Middle East. You can read about this, as well as profiles of our wonderful students, FLAS awardees, and upcoming events in this newsletter.

We are grateful for such an engaged community and hope to see more of you in the coming year. We wish everyone a warm and peaceful holiday season. Please consider supporting the MEC in your charitable giving.

Arzoo Osanloo
Director, Middle East Center
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies


Ibtihal Mahmood: Syrian Intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s First English Translator

Ibtihal Mahmood, a spring 2018 graduate of the Middle East Studies MA program, recently translated into English The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy by Yassin al-Haj Saleh (Hurst, 2017). This is the first book by Saleh to appear in English, who is widely regarded as Syria’s foremost thinker and the intellectual guru of the Syrian uprising. This important work has been reviewed by the New York Journal of Books and The Times Literary Supplement. In the interview below, Ibtihal Mahmood discusses the process of translating Saleh’s writing from Arabic to English and its impact on her.

How did you first come to know about Yassin al-Haj Saleh?

As someone who has watched closely the progression of events in Syria since March 2011, it was only natural for me to become familiar with the lucid works of Yassin al-Haj Saleh, who, as you know, is one of the pivotal figures in the Syrian Revolution.

Why did he choose you to translate his work?

Ibtihal Mahmood

Ibtihal Mahmood

I mostly attribute it to good luck! But I was also virtually connected with Danny Postel, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, who contacted me regarding the project and I accepted it with gratitude and honor. At the time, I had already been involved in literary translation for quite a while, and my first translated collection of short stories Snow in Amman: An Anthology of Short Stories from Jordan (FARAXA, 2015) had just been released.

Have you met Yassin al-Haj Saleh?  Was he involved in the translation?

I haven’t been fortunate enough to meet Yassin in person yet, but he was involved in the translation from the very beginning until the final release of the book in 2017. Our communications as author and translator had to be done via emails, and I am happy that our collaboration has led to a lovely friendship – though still virtual.

What particular difficulties did you encounter in the translation process?

I cannot really speak of difficulties, as I was able to contact Yassin via email with any questions I had. However, one of the things that I had to work around was the translation of terms that were unique to the Syrian Revolution, words that weren’t widely used in the Arab World or even in Syria before the beginning of the uprising. I had to keep in mind that the target audience might not be interested in a thorough etymology of such words, since most might not even be familiar with the Arabic language, but I still sought to maintain a degree of comparability that respected the peculiarity of Levantine Arabic.

How did this project change you or give you new insights about yourself?

On the professional level, I consider this project as one of the milestones in my career as an Arabic translator. However, this is only a small aspect of the impact it has left on me. As the daughter of two Palestinian refugees who were among the hundreds of thousands displaced twice in a lifetime, I was very familiar with the Syrian regime’s exploitation of the Palestinian cause, marketing itself as a member of the so-called “axis of resistance.” Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011, the Syrian regime’s exploitative discourse grew more flagrant. My close reading of Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s essays, as dictated by my role as a translator, allowed me to substantiate my perception of the internal political dynamics of the Syrian regime; it gained me access to first-hand accounts of living under al-Assad’s reign of terror.

What plans do you have for the future now that you have graduated from the Middle East Studies M.A. program?

I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. in a literary field. Meanwhile, I will get back to working on my own writing and translation projects, which I had to put on the backburner during my enrollment in the M.A. program.


The University of Washington Formalizes New Agreements with Two Arabic Language Programs in the Middle East


Arabic Language Institute in Fez

Arabic Language Institute in Fez

The Middle East Center, in partnership with the University of Washington Study Abroad Office, executed formal study abroad agreements with the Arabic Language Institute in Fez (ALIF), Morocco and the Noor Majan Arabic Institute, Sultanate of Oman. Both institutions offer first-rate Arabic language training at a variety of levels and on a schedule compatible with the University of Washington’s quarter system, which is especially important for students who want to study abroad in the summer. The agreements further provide that students can easily transfer credits from these institutes in accordance with UW policies and procedures.

ALIF is located in the heart of the historic city of Fez and is part of the American Cultural Association, a bi-national, not-for-profit organization that fosters understanding and intellectual exchange between the Kingdom of Morocco and the United States. ALIF offers three- and six-week courses in both Modern Standard Arabic and Colloquial Moroccan Arabic.

Ibri, Oman

Ibri, Oman (J. R. Schmid, 2013)

Noor Majan Arabic Institute is located in Ibri and Musqat, Oman. These two locations offer students the options of studying in the busy, urban capital city of Musqat or the UNESCO World Heritage site of castles and fortresses that is Ibri. The institute provides intensive Arabic language courses of both one- and two-month length throughout the year tailored to meet the needs of university students. The continuous nature of Noor Majan’s programs allows students to enter at any point during the year.

Students interested in these new study abroad opportunities or other programs in the Middle East that have formal agreements with the University of Washington should visit the UW Study Abroad website.



Undergraduate Awardees

 Matt MannerMatthew Manner (Arabic)
Political Science and Near Eastern Languages & Civilization
Matthew is an Air Force ROTC cadet who is developing his linguistic and regional expertise with a focus on a career in intelligence and national security. Responding to the advice of military leadership, he has taken a wide range of courses on the Middle East including courses on business and economics, water security, and Middle East literature to deepen his understanding of the people, cultures, and society that comprise the Arab world. 

 Sophie OssorioSophie Ossorio (Arabic)
Political Science and Near Eastern Languages & Civilization
An incoming freshman, Sophie has extensive experience working in the Seattle Arab-American community. She was the president of the Bellevue College Arabic Culture Student Association, which was dedicated to making Arabic and Arab culture more accessible to all. One of her main academic interests is Syrian-Russian relations, a topic she will be exploring in more depth with the aid of her fellowship. Sophie aims to pursue an MA and hopes to pursue a career in the intelligence field.


 Ryan RobinsonRyan Robinson (Arabic)
Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages & Civilization
During the summer of 2017 Ryan worked under the supervision of UW Professor Stephanie Selover at the Turkish archaeological site of Çadir Höyük. The experience cemented his desire to learn more about the Middle East and to pursue a career in archaeology where he aims to work on the preservation of sites in the Arab-speaking world, particularly in Jordan, Syria, and Iraq and to advocate for and shape policy around preserving the archaeological history of the Middle East.


 Sydney WardSydney Ward (Arabic)
Jackson School of International Studies and Near Eastern Languages & Civilization
Sydney’s research interests focus on the topic of migration out of the Middle East and North Africa into surrounding European countries. After high school, she spent nine months in Morocco on the US Department of State’s Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program where she saw first-hand the migration crisis as Morocco serves as a major refugee transit point to Europe. Sydney plans to attend law school focusing on immigration law with the aim of a career in international relations and public administration.


Graduate Awardees

 Oya OktasOya Aktas (Persian)
Oya is pursuing her M.A. in History. As an undergraduate, Oya focused her scholarly research on the status of women, and minorities in Turkey and how their representations could be used in shaping cultural identity. She expects to deepen her understanding of this topic by studying the status of women and minorities in Iran as she learns Persian. Oya hopes to play a role in building structures that expand human rights, strengthen the rule of law, and protect women and minorities, particularly in Turkey.


 Collin BallardCollin Ballard (Arabic)
Middle East Studies, Jackson School of International Studies
Collin is pursuing his M.A. in Middle East Studies, Jackson School, where his research interests center on how Palestinian Islamism, as a distinctly unique form of Islamism, shapes the identities of its constituents. Collin aims for a career teaching at the high school or community college level or working with a non-profit or government agency that will allow him to introduce the concepts of Islam and the Middle East to Americans in a way that stimulates empathetic understanding of the region.

 Russell GuajardoRussell Guajardo (Turkish)
Middle East Studies, Jackson School of International Studies
Russell, who is pursuing his M.A., already has substantial experience studying in Turkey having received both a Critical Language and a Fulbright scholarship to the country. He also worked as a researcher on US-Turkey relations at the Turkish Industry and Business Association in Washington, D.C. With the aid of his FLAS fellowship, Russell is undertaking an original research project on the impact of Kurdish nationalism on Turkey’s 2015 parliamentary elections as well as conducting an analysis of Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East under the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

 Sarah LawrenceSarah Lawrence (Arabic)
Public Health/Global Health
Before entering the Global Health Program to pursue a Master of Public Health, Sarah served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, where she came to appreciate the importance of understanding cultural norms and the nuances of language to the success of health initiatives and interventions. This formative experience shaped her desire to continue working in the Middle East and North Africa to ensure that underserved communities attain health equity through developing, implementing, and evaluating sexual and reproductive health programs among women and adolescents. Ideally, Sarah would like to work as in-country technical advisor at an agency working on program design or conducting research in the MENA region.

 Naomi Tachikawa ShapiroNaomi Tachikawa Shapiro (Hebrew)
Naomi is pursuing a Ph.D. in computational linguistics. Her research area is natural language processing (NLP), which is a subfield of artificial intelligence that strives to teach computers to understand and communicate in the world’s many languages. Morphologically complex languages, such as Hebrew, are under represented in NLP research. Her goal is to employ Hebrew to help the NLP community improve machine learning models that process morphologically rich languages such as Arabic, Turkish, German, and Finnish. She is particularly interested in advancing machine learning in the context of “social NLP”: using NLP to investigate and address social

and political issues, such as online bullying and fake news.


1/28/2019: Anxieties of Power: The Revolutionary Guard, Generational Change, and Media in Iran
2019 Winter Voices in Middle East Studies
Narges Bajoghli, Assistant Professor, Middle East Studies, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

2/28/2019: The Theatre of Election in Iran and the Contested State Ideology
Homa Hoodfar, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

3/7/2019: Iranian Jews in the Twentieth Century: Between Iranian Nationalism, Communism and Zionism
The Afrassiabi Distinguished Lectures in Persian and Iranian Studies
Lior Sternfeld, Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies, Pennsylvania State University

3/11/2019: Founding Myths of Arab Political Thought: Occidentalism and Its Corollaries
 2019 Winter Voices in Middle East Studies
Ezzedine C. Fishere, Visiting Professor, Political Science, Dartmouth College, acclaimed Egyptian author and diplomat

4/8/2019: Looking for the Qur’ān in American
The Farhat J. Ziadeh Distinguished Lecture in Arab and Islamic Studies
Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Director of National and International Outreach, Library of Congress;  former president of Bryn Mawr College; and editor of the six-volume Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān

4/15/2019: A New Order in All but Name: Sartorial Reform and the Transformation of Ottoman Social Order under Mahmud II, 1826-38
2019 Spring Voices in Middle East Studies
William Bamber, Ph.D. candidate, Near & Middle Eastern Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Washington

4/19/2018: Subaltern Mothering and the Political Elsewhere: Militant Mothers of Kurdish Resistance towards a Stateless Freedom
Mediha Sorma, Ph.D. candidate, Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, University of Washington

5/13/2019: Hotels and Highways: Construction of Modernization Theory in Cold War Turkey
2019 Spring Voices in Middle East Studies
Begüm Adalet, Assistant Visiting Professor, Department of Government, Cornell University