2018 Spring

Middle East Center Newsletter


As the academic year comes to a close, I am pleased to look back on a productive year for the Middle East Center (MEC). It was a busy year in which we organized and co-sponsored almost fifty events! We could not have had such successful year without our supportive and enlightened community. It’s that interest and engagement that permits us to explore some of the most compelling issues in the Middle East and North Africa.

This fall, MEC welcomed three new students to our Middle East Studies MA program. Their broad and interdisciplinary interests, ranging from gender and power, to security, and borders, marks the topical breadth of our faculty’s research as well. We continue to highlight our commitment to research with our Voices in the Middle East lecture series, in which faculty, advanced graduate students, and local scholars present their latest research. This year, we reached out to area Middle East scholars, such as historian Professor Nova Robinson (Seattle University) and Islamic Studies scholar Professsor Sarah Eltantawi (Evergreen State College), who spoke on post-war Lebanese women’s movements and the historical background of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, respectively. Esra Bakkalbaşioğlu, a doctoral candidate in the Interdisciplinary Near and Middle Eastern Studies Program, presented her findings on infrastructure and access in Turkey and Israel. In addition to highlighting the work of local experts, MEC also highlights cutting-edge scholarship on the region. In October 2017, we featured a talk by Professor Kevan Harris (UCLA) on Iran’s dual welfare system, which contributes, in part, to the state’s resiliency. Coming soon, on April 30th, we look forward to welcoming Professor Elif Babül (Mt. Holyoke) to discuss her work on human rights in Turkey and the role bureaucracy plays.

Our community continues to be touched by Middle East displacements and wars. To that end, we co-sponsored talks on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the war in Syria, and early next month (May 7th), we will have a discussion about the recent missile attacks in Syria with legal expert and MEC Affiliate, Frederick Lorenz. Later, on May 18th, graduate students affiliated with our three different Middle East-related degree programs will present their research at the Third Annual Graduate Student Conference. All events are free and open to the public. Please be sure to join us! Check out the MEC events page for a full listing of our events. You can also follow our activities on Facebook.

Of course MEC’s work consists of much more than lectures. We continue to have a strong working relationship with our community partners. MEC Affiliate, David Fenner, conducts cross-cultural training through our Bridging Cultures workshops in school districts across the state. Faculty members such as Professor Hussein Elkhafaifi offer language teaching seminars. There is so much more to say about the Center’s mission – I invite you to read through the newsletter for a deeper look at our work and community.

We are grateful for such an engaged community and hope to see more of you in the coming year. As always, please consider supporting the MEC in your charitable giving.

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


A New Digital Archive: Cultural and Political Texts from Iraq

Cultural and Political Texts from Iraq is a new digital project launched by Michael Degerald, a Ph.D. Candidate in Interdisciplinary Near and Middle Eastern Studies. The archive was made possible by a Digital Humanities project grant from the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington. This grant allowed Michael to process the volume of Arabic texts he gathered during his dissertation research on Iraq under Ba’thist rule and make them available in a digital archive for the public. There are currently several dozen texts online for anyone to browse or download, and Michael plans to upload more in the future as his time is currently focused on finishing his dissertation. The archive is meant to stimulate scholarship on Iraq and hopefully provide any interested parties with primary sources to read for their research or their own interest. Below, Michael discusses his project with the Middle East Center.

Page from the book A New Iraqi Man

A book from the archive literally titled The New Iraqi Man: Realizing the Great Revolution, features Saddam Hussein answering questions about Iraq’s foreign affairs in the early 1980s.

1. How did you get interested in this project?
I think a lot about how to make my work relevant for the people of Iraq. In the future, that will mean getting publications translated into Arabic. In the meantime, I want Iraqis to be aware of my work and I want to avoid being some western scholar in a bubble who writes things about Iraq that make Iraqis scratch their heads in confusion. Finding these old texts and making them available is one way to reach Iraqis, especially those in the diaspora.

2. What challenges did you encounter?
It was hard to identify the texts from the programs I aimed to study because the Iraqi government published so many different things. I had to search for certain labeling from the Ministry of Culture and Information, specific publication years, and topics. The first hurdle I encountered was not having the time to read these texts in the libraries where I found them, and thus needing to make copies of them. I didn’t plan to accumulate all these texts, but that just happened as my research progressed and I realized I had a collection I should share. My iPad worked perfectly to photograph and store the thousands of images necessary to copy every page of dozens of books and magazines. Then I needed to process those, gather them into PDFs with consistent Arabic titles, and organize them all before going through the process of setting up the digital archive.

3. How is the archive unique/valuable/important?
To my knowledge these texts are not easily available in most North American or European libraries, let alone online in an easy-to-download format. The Library of Congress seems to be the one place that has lots of the rare ones. The texts are 100% in the original Arabic and have not been edited or modified, just copied and assembled into PDFs. One cannot get almost any of them through ILL (interlibrary loan). The archive will continue to grow as my work progresses.

4. What did you learn personally from the project? [Or how did the project change you or your research?]
Going through the project has forced me to trace some of these publications in reverse as they have interesting provenance. For example, some of the copies in the UW libraries system were “gifts” and had names printed on the inside, saying this was a gift from ‘x.’ One book is labeled as a gift from an Iraqi graduate student at UW in the 1970s, for example. Others are labeled as gifts from the University of Baghdad. These labels open windows into the distribution of the texts and raise other interesting questions I have yet to find answers for.

Anyone can visit the archive here:


The Bridging the Gulf Study Tour of 2018

By David Fenner, Affiliate Lecturer, Middle East Center

Bridging the Gulf Study Tour

The Bridging the Gulf Study Tour group visits the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.

Following in the footsteps of the historical Ibn Battuta (ابن بطوطة ) and the fanciful Sindbad (السندباد البحري), a group of students from the Foster School of Business and the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies explored the Sultanate of Oman and the United Arab Emirates over Spring Break.  This one-credit study tour served as the capstone for Prof. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen’s Economic and Business Trends of the Middle East course during Winter Quarter.

Under the guidance of Kathleen Allen of the Global Business Center and David Fenner of the Jackson School’s Middle East Center, the Bridging the Gulf tour focused on issues of trade, transportation, labor relations, oil & gas, economic diversification, gender, Islam, education, finance, foreign direct investment and diplomacy.

Starting in Dubai in the UAE, the group experienced first-hand the two countries’ differing approaches to development, business-friendly promotional climate, and foreign policy.  We traveled by bus, guided by Sultan al Farsi from our partner Noor Majan Training Institute, making a kind of topically strategic circle around the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

Gulf Trip Path

2018 Bridging the Gulf Study Tour Itinerary

The next stop was the Omani Port of Sohar and its companion free zone on the Gulf of Oman.  Students learned about the prospects for this new deep-water port designed for the efficient movement of goods, but also as a direct future pipeline transshipment point for the export of oil and gas from Saudi Arabia (bypassing altogether the potentially problematic passage through the Strait of Hormuz).

We then moved down the coast to Muscat, the capital of Oman and were introduced to the many issues of oil extraction and liquefied natural gas (LNG) production.  In addition, and in keeping with Oman’s Vision 2040 plan for the diversification of the post-oil economy, we met with Omani students and government officials to discuss the potential contributions of tourism, mining & metallurgy, and alternative sources of energy.

Then through the heartland of Oman’s interior to the town of ‘Ibri where, under the welcome shade of palm trees, students were hosted to nusf kharoof (half a goat) on a mountain of rice and vegetables.  Traditional Arabian cuisine at its finest!

We continued to move West, back into the United Arab Emirates and to the capital city of Abu Dhabi.  Immediately the contrasting scale and grandeur of the UAE’s development approach struck the group: bridges and skyscrapers designed by world-famous architects and the imposing and impressive Sheikh Zayed Mosque.  With a GDP roughly five times that of Oman, the UAE seems to have spared no expense in its rapid rentier state development.

In Abu Dhabi we attended a conference on “The Future” at the governmental Emirates Center for Social Science Research. Tying visions of the future to our observations of the present, we noticed throughout our stay in the Emirates the dynamics presented by a relatively small indigenous population and vast numbers of South Asian guest workers, especially in the construction and transportation sectors.

Bridging the Gulf Study Tour

Right to Left: Dr. Mohamed Alhassan (Acting Undersecretary of Diplomatic Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sultanate of Oman) and Dr. Nasser Al Taee (Director of Education and Outreach, Royal Opera House, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman) share their experiences as UW alumni and Omani civil servants with Gameti Kalil (UW Sophomore, NELC) and Michelle Bauer (UW Senior, Accounting).

We completed our tour back in Dubai and marveled at the “anything goes” commercial atmosphere of the city.  A visit to the Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) and Dubai Corridor cemented this impression.  Noticing how much of the merchandise, produce and, in the sooq, how many of the Dubai shopkeepers themselves were from the notionally adversarial country across the Gulf, one student remarked, “How Iranic!!”

So what can be learned in ten short days 12 time zones away from the U-District?  Student blogs reflect several lasting impressions: an appreciation for the contrasting development philosophies of the UAE and Oman; a re-examination of the often negative stereotypes students had of the Middle East; and an unshakeable conviction that few UW students will have more riveting answers to the question, “What did you do over the Break?”



Undergraduate Awardees

Hafsah-MathHafsah Math (Arabic) is planning to major in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and Early Child & Family Studies. She hopes to improve her language skills to become better equipped to positively impact a new generation of students as an elementary school teacher. She also aspires to teach abroad and challenge perceptions of what a typical “American” looks like. Hafsah is currently involved with several student service groups at the University of Washington, including the Muslim Student Association, Pillars of Service, and the Somali Student Association.

Jeremy Voss (Arabic) is double-majoring in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization and Computer Science. Having lived in Israel for a year prior to attending the University of Washington, he is interested in exploring the audible and syntactic differences between Hebrew and Arabic. His ultimate goal is to find ways to help bridge the gaps between various Middle Eastern communities with technology, provide computer science consultation for Israeli and Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations, and develop tools to better teach and translate Hebrew and Arabic. He plans to study Arabic this summer at the Noor Majan Arabic Institute in Muscat, Oman.

Graduate Awardees

collin ballardCollin M. Ballard (Arabic) is pursuing an M.A. in Middle East Studies. He plans to focus his research on how Palestinian Islamism shapes the identities of its constituents as a distinctly unique form of Islam. With the FLAS award, Collin will study Arabic to make more effective use of Arabic research materials during his M.A. studies. His eventual goal is to find a teaching position at a community college, high school, or non-profit program that allows him to introduce the concepts of Islam and the Middle East to Americans in a way that contributes to more informed and productive conversations about this region of the world.

Julia Chatterjee Julia Chatterjee (Persian) is an M.A. Student in South Asian Studies. She has spent the past five years of her academic career studying the languages and cultures of the Middle East and South Asia, with an emphasis on identifying and analyzing the hybrid cultural forms that emerged in the frontier zones between modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India. As a FLAS fellow, Julia plans to cultivate her ability to communicate in the Indo-Iranian borderlands and also gain access to the medieval and ancient linguistic predecessors, whose textual material she hopes to study. In the future, Julia aspires to become a scholar and professor of Indo-Iranian linguistics, culture, and history.

Sarah LawrenceSarah Lawrence (Arabic) is pursuing an M.P.H. in Global Health and a Global Woman, Adolescent, and Child Health (WACh) certificate. She previously spent time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco working on youth development; this experience shaped her goals to continue learning Arabic and enhanced her intercultural communication skills. She plans 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 in the region. Ideally, Sarah would like to work as an in-country technical advisor at an agency working on program design or conducting research in the MENA region.


4/26/2018: Ziadeh Lecture Series: The United States through Arab Eyes, 1876-1914
Nabil Matar, Presidential Professor in the President’s Interdisciplinary Initiative on Arts and Humanities, University of Minnesota

4/30/2018:  Bureaucratic Intimacies: Translating Human Rights in Turkey
Elif Babül, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Mount Holyoke College

5/7/2018: Recent US Air Strikes in Syria: A Legal and Political Analysis
Rick Lorenz, Senior Lecturer, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

5/18/2018: Graduate Student Conference in Middle East Studies
Sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies; Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; and Middle East Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington.

5/29/2018: Passports and the Production of Post-Ottoman Syrian Nationality, 1918-21
Stacy D. Fahrenthold, Assistant Professor of History, California State University Stanislaus