Skip to main content


2019 Fall

Middle East Center Newsletter


We at the Middle East Center are excited to welcome new faculty, students, and FLAS recipients to the University of Washington. This year, we continue to bring awareness and understanding of the intertwined histories, politics, and cultures of the Middle East to our communities – engaged scholars, students, and members of the public. As with previous years, the MEC has programs and events that help unpack some of the more complex issues of our time. Scroll down to see our recent activities. You will see an interview conducted by one of our PhD students, Melinda Cohoon, with the renowned journalist and Iran expert, Barbara Slavin, who gave a talk earlier this month. You can also learn about the MEC’s partnership with the Seattle Fire Department. And, you can meet our wonderful FLAS recipients and learn about their fascinating research projects.

We are also saddened to mark the passing of our former long-time Director, Professor Ellis Goldberg. Inside this newsletter, you will find a remembrance from our Associate Director, Felicia Hecker, who worked with Prof. Goldberg for sixteen years. We will have a tribute in honor of Professor Goldberg on December 5, 2019. For details, please see below.

As always, we appreciate your support and look forward to seeing and hearing from you.

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


Remembering Ellis J. Goldberg

Ellis J. Goldberg, long-time Director of the Middle East Center, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, eminent scholar of the Modern Middle East, and inspiring teaching and colleague, died on September 20, 2019 at the age of 72. A remembrance of Ellis J. Goldberg will be held on December 5, 2019 from 3:00-5:00 p.m., followed by a reception from 5:00-7:00, in Kane Hall, Walker-Ames Room, 225, University of Washington, Seattle.

Ellis J. Goldberg

Professor Goldberg received his B.A. cum laude in English from Harvard University;  a double M.A. in English and Political Science and a Ph.D. in Political Science, all from the University of California, Berkeley.  Throughout his career, his research and teaching were driven by a keen intellect and wide ranging interests that infused everything he did with creative insight rare in the academic arena.  His life was rich with experiences beyond the scholarly world. Deeply concerned about human rights and labor rights—threads that ran through his scholarship—his life experiences reinforced his scholarship, from working as a casual longshoreman on the 1970s Oakland docks, to avidly practicing hard martial arts, to being at the forefront of research on Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring movement.  He drew from the rich tapestry of his life and remarkable intellect to produce wide ranging scholarship that was always new, insightful, and never derivative.  His published work include, among many publications, articles on “The Worker’s Voice and Labor Productivity in Egypt,” “Private Goods, Public Wrongs, and Civil Society in Some Medieval Arab Theory and Practice,” “Lessons from Strange Cases: Democracy, “Development and the Resource Curse in the U.S.: 1929-2002,” as well as two books: Trade, Reputation and Child Labor in 20th Century Egypt and Tinker, Tailor and Textile Worker: Class and Politics in Egypt.  In recent years, he posted original and influential commentary on his blog “Nisralnasr:  Occasional Thoughts on the Middle East and US Politics.”  At the time of his death he was working on a book on Citizenship, Sovereignty and Community in Contemporary Arab Political Thought.

The originality of his research and quality of his leadership was recognized by the field through several awards and grants, including a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Carnegie Scholar Award, Rockefeller Foundation Award, Earhart Foundation Award, US Institute of Peace, Ford Foundation, National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, and four US Department of Education National Resource Center grants.

As the Director of the Middle East Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, for sixteen years he led the Center as a prominent National Resource Center on the Middle East organizing conferences on Democratic Movements in the Middle East, Freedom of Expression in a Global Perspective, Medieval Islamic History and Institutions, The Arabian Peninsula and the Caspian Basin in Comparative Perspective, and Arab Intellectuals on Liberal Alternatives and the Role of the Individual.  Beyond his academic role, as an administrator, he held the Middle East Center to the highest standards, advocating for staff and students and establishing policies that the Center continues to follow long after his retirement.

Felicia J. Hecker,  Associate Director, Middle East Center

An Interview with Journalist and Iran Specialist Barbara Slavin

Melinda Cohoon, Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Near and Middle East Studies Program, took the opportunity to interview the distinguished journalist and Iran specialist Barbara Slavin when she recently visited the University of Washington.

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin

How did you first become interested in Iran?

I did not visit Iran until 1996. At that time, I was a correspondent for USA Today. My editor wanted me to do a piece on the status of women in the Muslim world, because the Taliban just consolidated power in Afghanistan. They were treating women terribly. They would not allow them to go to work or to go to school. I said, look I could go back to Egypt, where I lived for four years, and I will look at the situation of women there. But then I said, you know what? What if I go to Iran? I heard it is a fascinating place, and I always wanted to go. So, I just went for a week in 1996 and it was not at all what I expected. The women were amazing. So strong, so outspoken.

Over the years, what trends have you seen developing in Iran?

Society is increasingly secular and liberal. The growth of the population has dropped drastically. Women are having fewer children. People are not getting married young anymore. Many couples are living together outside of wedlock. They call it white marriage. Of course, educational levels have increased. It is almost universal literacy now, and that includes women. Most of the university students are women. Gradually, women in Iran are gaining more legal rights

Iranians are increasingly educated, and increasingly connected virtually to the outside world via internet or social media. Those trends are going to continue. I see a lot of advances, but not as much in the economy. And that is because of the US imposed sanctions.

As a correspondent for not only Al-Monitor but as someone with reporting experience throughout your career, how have you come to develop your expertise as a writer, and interviewer, as well as your voice when speaking on Iran-US relations?

It’s a long process. I received my journalism education from a wire service called United Press International. I had to write five stories a day. The first two I would have to go out and cover, and phone in. I learned how to dictate three hundred words: lead, middle quotes, and conclusion, and how to organize my thoughts, etc. That was the best training I have ever had. I learned to write fast when I had to, but to use all available time until the deadline. I would write a version and keep refining it over and over until I absolutely had to press the send button. In terms of public speaking, just practice. Like every beginner, I would ask a question at a press conference from somebody important, and my heart would be in my throat. I was so nervous. But by now, I have been doing it for so long that it’s like waking up in the morning. Journalists were put on this planet to torment government officials. That is our job. And to be sympathetic and understanding to people who need help.

As a journalist, the safety of sources is highly important. How do you maintain and perhaps protect your sources in Iran?

I have been very careful to never use people’s names if they do not want me to. I disguise their identity. The thing about Iran, though, is that people like to express their opinions and it has been very rare for someone to say something to me off the record. By and large, they want people to know what they think, and they do not mind at least having their first name attached to it. That was a big surprise when I first went there, because it is easier to report in Iran than it is in a lot of Arab countries. People tend to be more suspicious of the press in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, and even Jordan, than say they are in Iran.

You are also currently the Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council. Can you tell me about your experience at the Council and your project goals as a Director?

This is a project that started some years ago. I was asked to moderate panels and write some short reports. Then in 2012, we set up a bipartisan task force to make policy recommendations on Iran. The nuclear issue was very hot at the time. I managed that project, and I wrote up the final report with our recommendations. After, we worked on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) through Congress. We also promote people to people engagement, dialogue between the US and Iranian governments, and a better understanding of Iran as a country, as a society, and as a culture. Our events attempt to demystify Iran for an educated American audience, and policy makers. Since Trump came to office, we have been trying to keep channels open with Iranians because the US government is not talking to them. I spend a fair amount of time in New York and Europe meeting with Iranian officials to try and understand their point of view, while also explaining where the US is coming from.

Lastly, what advice can you give to students interested in focusing their careers on Iran?

I think it is a great field, particularly for young people. I think young people will live to see a resumption of US-Iran relations. There will be opportunities in government, diplomacy, and journalism that are not available now to Americans because we have no diplomatic relations. It’s the most important country in that part of the world because of its size, location, level of sophistication, and education. I think there is a natural affinity between our societies that has been blocked because of the political situation.

Middle East Center Partners with the Seattle Fire Department to Offer Training Sessions

Tom Walsh (l), Deputy Chief of Communications and Services, Seattle Fire Department with David Fenner (r), Affiliate Professor, Middle East Center, Jackson School, and facilitator of training workshops at Seattle Fire Department Headquarters

Dedicated to serving the community, the Middle East Center works to increase understanding of Middle East cultures and traditions. As organizations are increasingly recognizing that they must serve diverse populations, the Middle East Center is extending its expertise to offer training. In an innovative initiative started in 2019, the Center is beginning to provide training workshops to the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) so these first responders can deliver culturally sensitive services to Seattle’s Muslim communities. Recent immigrants — especially those from Muslim-majority countries — face challenges when they interact with emergency services. To ease the situation and reduce misunderstandings, the Center now provides onsite sessions and webinars, facilitated by MEC Affiliate Faculty, David Fenner, that strengthen SFD’s ability to deliver culturally sensitive services to this population. The training aims to demystify Islam, dispel stereotypes, and offer cultural context while exploring specific strategies to enhance and strengthen the interaction between SFD battalion personnel and local Muslim communities. This fall, the Center offered live, interactive webinars to over 400 Seattle Fire Department personnel from battaalions city wide.  The success of this collaboration between the Center and the SFD to develop culturally competent care in times of crisis was expressed by a participant who wrote: “Please give us more, more, more …. very helpful service for the community.”


Undergraduate Awardees

Piper Coyner

Piper Coyner (Persian)
Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Piper Coyner is a sophomore majoring in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. She is building a broad foundational understanding of the Middle East while developing a strong interest in Persian literature as she works to gain a deeper understanding of the Persian literary canon. Literature is her passion and she sees it as a gateway to the essence of cultures. She is aiming to continue her studies at the graduate level learning more Middle Eastern languages and increasing her knowledge of Middle East cultures.

Aniyah Mohammed

Aniyah Mohammed (Arabic)
Psychology and Communications

Aniyah Mohammed is pursuing a double major in Psychology and Communications. She plans to pursue graduate work in child development, counseling, social and clinical psychology as she aims to bring improvements to the mental health of refugees. With a severe shortage of mental health providers in the Arab World, she plans to concentrate on the Syrian refugee crisis and improving access to mental health care.

Sophie Ossorio

Sophie Ossorio (Arabic)
Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Sophie Ossorio is majoring in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. She aims to pursue an M.A. in Middle East Studies and ultimately to work in the national security field.


Maryanna Wu

Maryanna Wu (Arabic)
Physics and Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Maryanna Wu is pursuing a double major in Biophysics and Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. As she increases her Arabic language skills and strengthened her area knowledge of the Middle East, she has begun to focus her studies on the outcomes of the Arab Spring and the Syrian refugee crisis. She intends to go on to medical school specializing in trauma surgery and hopes to join Doctors without Borders to work in conflict zones in the Middle East.

Graduate Awardees

Graham Harper

Graham Harper (Hebrew)
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Graham Harper is pursuing his M.A. student in the Middle East Studies. His research focuses on proxy terror groups in Iran. This past summer he interned with the International Institute for Counterterrorism (ICT) in Israel gaining valuable experience. He is continuing his language and area studies in Israel fall quarter, where he is particularly interested in comparing Israeli counterterror practices to those in the US. After graduation Graham will be commissioned as an Officer in the U.S. Army.

Owen Harris

Owen Harris (Arabic)
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and Evans School of Public Affairs

Owen Harris is pursuing concurrent M.A. degrees in International Studies and Public Administration.  He has worked extensively with refugee organizations in Jordan and Turkey with an interest in serving LGBT+ and marginalized communities. Combining his knowledge and training in public policy, management, and economics with his area and language studies, he aims to return to the Middle East to develop policies for international human rights organizations while advocating for marginalized communities.

Erin Kelleher

Erin Kelleher (Turkish)
Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Erin Kelleher is pursuing an M.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. She is primarily interested in modern Middle East history. Her research focuses on print media in 19th century Egypt and the broader Ottoman Empire by way of nationalism, anti-colonialism, and Pan-Islamism.

Chase Procknow

Chase Procknow (Arabic)
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Chase Procknow is pursuing an M.A. in Middle East Studies. Chase has significant experience in the MENA region, having taught high school in Jordan for five years, studied Arabic in Lebanon and Morocco, and interned for the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Algeria. Drawing on his experience as an educator, Chase will focus his research on Arabic Language pedagogy and will explore the history, challenges, and future trends of this area. Chase hopes to either return to the field of education or join the Foreign Service upon the completion of his degree.