2019 Spring

Middle East Center Newsletter


Greeting! At the close of this academic term, I am pleased to look back on another edifying year at the University of Washington’s Middle East Center (MEC). It was also a busy year in which we organized and co-sponsored almost fifty events with over two thousand attendees! Of course, we could not have had such a successful year without our community, whose engagement helps us to explore, question, and critique issues in the contemporary Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

This spring, the MEC bids farewell to three students graduating from our Middle East Studies M.A. program, each of whom will use their degrees in positions ranging from teaching to research and security. Our students’ interdisciplinary training and language skills have helped them land satisfying and meaningful careers. The range of their scholastic efforts also highlights our faculty’s diverse set of interests and expertise.  Of course, the Middle East Center, as a US Department of Education National Resource Center, also supports Middle East language and area studies through the award of FLAS fellowships to meritorious students campus-wide. This summer our awardees will be studying abroad in Algeria, Armenia, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey.

This year, we continued to showcase scholarly research with our “Voices in the Middle East Studies” lecture series, in which faculty, advanced graduate students, and scholars from across the US presented their latest research on the MENA. This year, we learned from Middle East scholars, such as political scientist, former diplomat, and novelist, Professor Ezzedine Fishere (Dartmouth), anthropologist and media scholar, Professor Narges Bajoghli (Johns Hopkins), and political scientist, Professor Begüm Adalet (Cornell). The UW’s very own William Bamber, a doctoral candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program Near and Middle East Studies, presented his findings on Ottoman reforms under Mahmud II. In addition, the MEC co-sponsored a number of talks with our partners across campus, including the departments of History, Political Science, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, and the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.

Our community continues to be touched by events in the Middle East. To that end, we have launched an initiative, “Afterlives of Uprising”, to explore the effects of revolutions in the MENA since the Iranian revolution of 1979 to the present. We started this series with talks by Professor Homa Hoodfar (Concordia), who spoke on the 40th Anniversary of the Iranian revolution and the politics of women’s political participation since that time. In the coming years, we will turn our attention to the aftermaths of the Arab Spring revolutions. To gain more insight into Professor Hoodfar’s thoughts and experiences, see the interview appearing in this newsletter.

In addition, I am pleased to announce that two of our MEC faculty members, Professor Cabeiri Robinson and myself, have been awarded a grant from the Mellon Foundation to hold a Sawyer Seminar at the UW. Sawyer Seminars provide support for comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary issues. Our grant, entitled, “Humanitarianisms: Migrations and Care in the Global South”, will explore forced migration through an understudied lens, one that considers the ethics of compassion in non-Western states, which is where the vast majority of forced migrants – some 85% – seek refuge. This grant grew out of a 2016 MEC Roundtable on forced migrations within the MENA. We are pleased to expand the focus to the Global South. Stay tuned for details on this series in the coming year!

Of course, the MEC’s work consists of much more than lectures. We continue to have a strong working relationship with our community partners, as well. Our dynamite MEC Affiliate, David Fenner, continues to conduct cross-cultural training through our Bridging Cultures workshops in school districts across the state. Beginning this spring, we are expanding and adapting the Bridging Cultures project to include training sessions for first responders and health care workers in local medical clinics. More about this in future newsletters.

There is so much more to say about the MEC’s work this year! I invite you to read through the newsletter for a deeper look at our work and community. All of our events are free and open to the public. Please be sure to join us for an exciting slate of events starting this fall! Check out the MEC events page for updates on our events. You can also follow our activities on Facebook. As ever, we are grateful for such an engaged community and hope to see more of you in the coming year. We also appreciate your support for the MEC in your charitable giving.

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


An Interview with Homa Hoodfar, Distinguished Scholar, Author, and Women’s Rights Advocate

The Middle East Center has launched a four-year initiative titled Afterlives of Uprising: Beyond Revolutions. The inaugural presentation and workshop of this initiative featured Homa Hoodfar, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. The first year of the initiative, which coincides with the fortieth anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, provided an arena for Professor Hoodfar to present her unique perspectives and insights on Iran. Solmaz Shakerifard, a Ph.D. student in the UW Interdisciplinary Near & Middle Eastern Studies Program, took the opportunity to interview Professor Hoodfar while she was in Seattle about the development and trajectory of her distinguished career as an anthropologist and advocate for women’s rights.

Homa Hoodfar

Can you tell me how you decided to become an anthropologist?

In a way, I accidentally became an anthropologist. I was 16 when I was asked to help with recruitment of women from a shanty town to literacy classes. The project was welcomed by the women but soon their participation dropped. My investigation showed that it was because the content of literacy classes was not relevant to their needs. However, I was told I was not to repeat this to anyone as the content was decided by the state and criticizing the content might get me and the organizer of the project in trouble.  This is how anthropology and public politics became part of my life.

What was your first research project as a graduate student?

Because of my exposure to the lives of shanty town women and several other developments in Tehran, I become interested in rural-urban migrants, cultural transformation, and the women’s movements and their forms of overt and covert cultural resistance. For my M.A., I focused on the debates on marginality of shanty towns in Mexico and Brazil, but then for my Ph.D., my research question was: If the Shah’s development plans were so progressive for women (it was commonly assumed) then how can we explain the mass mobilization of women in anti-Shah protests? It was clear that middle classes had benefited from modernization, but the story of poor and marginalized women, particularly rural migrant women was very different.  However, because of the Iran-Iraq War it become impossible to conduct fieldwork in Iran, as the state was extra-vigilant. So, I reformulated my research question for the context of rural-urban migrants, and how development had impacted their lives and their relationship to the state in Cairo, Egypt.

You are one of the founders of the group Women Living under Muslim Laws (WLUML). Can you tell me more about how that came about?

Initially we were a bunch of graduate students from Muslim majority countries, studying in Europe, and we wanted to change the world yesterday! Each of us knew about the struggles of women’s movements in our own countries and those of Europeans, but we didn’t know about women’s movement in our neighboring countries, which might culturally be more relevant to our struggles. We felt it was important for the movement to expand these vertical relations to include horizontal ones as well. Learning from strategies of Indian women’s movement, we successfully ran international campaigns for release of several women in Algeria, Abu Dhabi, and more, after which we formally established the WLUML network. The network was created to support women advocates, particularly those in the Muslim contexts, to facilitate sharing their experience, to conduct research for advocacy and support each other’s struggles, particularly when someone was arrested or harassed by states and non-state actors.  At the time no organization, including Amnesty International, considered women activists in jail as prisoner of conscious. WLUML, as partner to the transnational women’s movement, campaigned for recognition that women’s rights are human rights and established the political nature of women advocates’ work. I joined the discussion around setting up the network but doubted that we could change the status quo either nationally or internationally. After all, we were just a group of graduate students and exiled women. I remember Marieme Helie-Lucas [Algerian sociologist, activist], who was the initiator of the idea, telling me: “Well, we can try and if we do not succeed, at least we can tell our daughters we tried, it didn’t work, now you try!” Initially we were nine women from various Muslim contexts and the network was officially registered in 1986, though its work had started a couple of years earlier. It was during the decade of women and through some exchange funds from the United Nation, the network launched a program where women from various Muslim countries lived in one other Muslim society and learned about how Islam and gender is understood in that context.  The idea was for them to see how different interpretations of Islam are often used as a pretext to deprive women of their citizenry rights. Thus, they could push for the interpretation that is more women-friendly in their own societies.

You’ve always been interested in public scholarship and advocacy but you also talk about the importance of “sound research” and how it is the basis for good advocacy. Can you talk more about your concerns with research and advocacy?

There was a time when you had to be either an advocate or a scholar. But to me, especially when you’re dealing with contemporary and gender issues, you cannot write in a vacuum. Against the warnings of many experienced colleagues, I had always said I was an anthropologist in the service of civil society. At the time the concept of public anthropology was not yet born and certainly took a while for it to be considered respectable. I think if the knowledge we are producing is not at the service of building a better world, then why should a society support us either morally or financially through public funds? Fortunately, public anthropology and open access publications are now part of the mainstream.

Earlier you mentioned accessibility of writing, this is an important topic for academics and graduate students training to communicate their ideas. What is your writing process and how might you advise graduate students or anyone trying to write and publish?

I’m a product of the late 1970s and 80s, when many scholars were interested in writing in accessible language. I remember Ian Roxborough [Professor of Sociology, Stony Brook University] used to emphasize the importance of writing in a way that intelligent persons on the street who are interested, can read our work and understand it. But my own writing goes through significant editing before being published. It is not easy. I have versions of my work that say, ‘draft 27’. In order to publish an academic work that is accessible you need to edit, edit, and edit. But that is a skill that shows a certain level of sophistication of the thought and writing process and one needs a lot of commitment, patient and practice.

What research or writing project are you currently working on?

I chose early retirement because like all anthropologists and sociologists I had many unfinished projects that I really wanted to finish writing. I had several half-finished books, which I had hoped to finalize: one on the history of women in politics in Iran; another one on women’s sports as politics, and a third one on the history of family planning in Iran. But with my arrest in Iran and my research on anthropology of interrogation while I was in Evin my writing has taken a different turn.* Now I’m writing my Evin prison book, about my experiences in prison, also I am working on a small book on academic freedom because I do see this as an important road to democracy and freedom of expression.

*In 2016, when Professor Hoodfar was in Iran conducting research, she was prohibited from leaving the country and she was held at Evin Prison for 112 days.


2019 Cairo Book Fair: Head of UW Libraries Near East Section Sees Changes at This Venerable Book Fair  

Mary St. Germain, Head of the Near East Section, University of Washington Libraries, attended the 2019 Cairo Book Fair on an acquisitions trip after a four-year hiatus from the event. She reports on changes in the venerable book fair.

Mary St Germain at the 2019 Cairo Book Fair

This year the Cairo Book Fair moved from the Old Fair Grounds to the new 5th Settlement suburb of New Cairo, about a 40-minute drive from downtown Cairo. The new location was much superior, with four hanger-size buildings allowing for large cubicles with plenty of shelving for each vendor. It seems to have encouraged more overall organization, with each building having an information desk with details about where vendors were located. The single disadvantage was that new regulations prohibited porters and hand trucks inside the venue, so only a smaller number of books could be taken out at one time, instead of visitors being able to collect a day’s purchases in one sweep through the fair.

I noticed changes in material available from North Africa, Yemen, Kuwait, and Iraq. There were many more North African vendors than in previous years, which made it possible to buy extensively from Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco.  In general, current publishing emphasizes history since 1850, especially the colonial period and the mid-20th century; “al-Andalus”; and biographies and biographical dictionaries of religious figures from the region. For the first time I saw encyclopedias on regions and cities. The biggest surprise was works on Jews in certain regions, and works tracing Jewish families, in Arabic, with perhaps a page or two of Hebrew. The quantity of recent publications from Yemen has also increased. There were many books on Yemeni politics and economic development, with the latter actually including statistics. The biggest prize was a 20-volume biographical dictionary covering the whole country. From Kuwait, the less common publications were reprints of two journals that had been published for around four years each. Iraq is now publishing works on ethnic groups and minorities in the country, including the Jewish population.

The Cairo Book Fair always provides an interesting window into the state of publishing and book selling in the Middle East


Undergraduate Awardees

Sasha Jenkins

Sasha Jenkins (Arabic)
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies 
As an undergraduate, Sasha Jenkins has focused her studies on immigration and refugee issues in the Middle East with a particular interest in the impact of policy on women refugees, who suffer from disproportionate and often unrecorded violence. In addition to her academic coursework on the Middle East, Sasha has also interned at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and with the advocacy organization, Global Citizen, where she gained broad experience in policy research, negotiation, and international institutional reform.


Hannah Myrick

Hannah Myrick (Arabic)
Hannah Myrick is majoring in Journalism, with a double major in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. She is passionate about communicating the stories of people whose lives and worlds are often untold.  Her first introduction to being an international reporter was last summer in Amman as a UW Journalism intern working at the English-language Jordan Times, where she learned how important it was to be able to communicate in the language of those she was reporting on. This summer she will return to Jordan to strengthen her Arabic language skills and develop a deeper cultural understanding of the Middle East.

Noah Tashbook (Arabic)
Physics and Near Eastern Languages and Civilization
Noah Tashbook is doing a double major in Physics and Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. He has the rare talent of combining the study of the physical sciences with the humanities working in the fields of technology and scientific research at the UW and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, while at the same time studying political Islam, historical biblical interpretation, early Islamic historiography, and Islamic law. Noah aims to go on to graduate study and a career in Foreign Service, policy development, or scientific research.

Graduate Awardees

Melinda Cohoon

Melinda Cohoon (Persian)
Interdisciplinary Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies
Melinda Cohoon is pursuing her Ph.D. specializing in video gaming in the Middle East, with a concentration on the cultural production of video games and gamers from Iran. Her research will show how the Iranian gaming community in World of Warcraft (WoW) is embodied, or rather, made tangible in an online context through the use of affect theory and a gender lens. Most ethnographic studies on WoW, a game with a transnational player base, are centered on the US gamer experience. By focusing on Iran, this not only decenters the traditional Western scope but will elucidate how Iranian gamers are part of, and impact, the global flow of game culture. This summer, Melinda will be advancing her Persian language skills studying at the Aspirantum–Armenia School of Languages and Cultures, Yerevan, Armenia.

Erin Kelleher


Erin Kelleher (Turkish)
Near Eastern Languages and Civilization
Erin Kelleher is pursuing her M.A. studying both Arabic and Turkish. Her research focuses on late 19th and early 20th century Egyptian nationalism as expressed in printed periodicals of the time. She plans to continue her study at the Ph.D. level. Erin will be studying Turkish this summer at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey.




M.A., Middle East Studies, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies

Russell Guajardo
Qualifying Papers
“Turkey’s Fateful 2015 Elections: Internal and External Dynamics in Turkish State-Minority Relations”
“Syrians in Turkey: Refugee Policy and the 2016 EU-Turkey Agreement”

Pablo Jairo Tutillo Maldonado
Qualifying Papers
“Recreating Home and Identity: Stories of Displacement and Emplacement from Iraqi and Syrian Gay Refugees Living in Turkey and the West”
“Memory, Nationality and Politics in the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca”

Heather Rodriguez
The Sounds of Silence: Iraq’s Missing Voices from the Sanction Period”


Ph.D., Near and Middle Eastern Interdisciplinary Studies

Michael Degerald 
“The Legibility of Power and Culture: Ba‘thist Iraq from 1968-91”

K. Mehmet Kentel 
“Assembling ‘Cosmopolitan’ Pera: An Infrastructural History of Late Ottoman Istanbul”

Marwa Maziad 
“Middle East Militaries: In and Out of Politics and Economies. A Dynamic Regional Order Approach to Civil-Military relations Comparative Cases of Turkey, Egypt, and Israel”