Speakers | Hamad Bin Khalifa University

Knowledge and Power in Middle East Studies: Regional and International Perspectives

February 6-7, 2022

Abstract and Bios:

Feb. 6, 2022

Welcome: Hassan Hakimian 

Conference Chair and Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Department, College of Humanities and Social Sciences (HBKU)  

Biography:  https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/chss/staff/hassan-hakimian

Dean’s Welcoming Message: Amal Al-Malki

Founding Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences (HBKU) 

Biography: https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/chss/staff/amal-mohammed-al-malki

Keynote Speaker: Marwan Kraidy

Dean and CEO, Northwestern University in Qatar, and Professor of communication and the Anthony Shadid Chair in Global Media, Politics and Culture at Northwestern’s School of Communication 

“A Nexus, Not a Locus: Middle Eastern Studies and South-to-South Relations”

Biography: www.qatar.northwestern.edu/directory/profiles/kraidy-marwan.html


What would a decidedly transnational and comparative Middle Eastern Studies look like? In this keynote, Kraidy elaborates a vision of Middle Eastern Studies that envisions the Middle East as a nexus, rather than a locus, of a variety of historical and contemporary forces that continue to shape relationships within the region and beyond. Whereas “locus” suggests a container approach to Middle East Studies, “nexus” entrenches a relational epistemology that considers circulation and contestation across and without the borders of the Middle East, connecting it with other world region and with global forces, while at the same time enabling a focus on sub-national issues. Drawing from recent research, Kraidy proposes a conceptual grid to underpin such an approach to Middle Eastern Studies.

Panel 1:

4:00 pm - 5:30 pm (Doha time)

“Transnational Dynamics and International Politics: How are Evolving Big Power Politics Impacting the Middle East” 

Chair:  Marc Owen Jones

Assistant Professor, Middle Eastern Studies Department (HBKU)

Biography: https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/chss/staff/marc-owen-jones

Moderator: Dr. Steven Wright

Associate Dean for Student Affairs, College of Humanities and Social Sciences (HBKU)

Biography: https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/chss/staff/steven-wright

Lina Khatib

Director, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House

Biography: https://www.chathamhouse.org/about-us/our-people/lina-khatib

“International Foreign Policies Towards the Middle East: Between Disengagement and Pragmatism”


When it comes to the Middle East, US foreign policy under President Biden continues on the path of disengagement that the US has been pursuing for some time. However, just like engagement, disengagement is not neutral: It also has consequences for the region. One of those consequences has been the pursuit of pragmatism by diverse regional stakeholders, who are seeing in the American position both increased vulnerability (in terms of security in particular) but also, in some cases, an opportunity to raise political profiles. This presentation will address the details of US disengagement and regional pragmatism and assess what those trends can mean for regional stability and international relations.  

Courtney Freer

Provost's Postdoctoral Fellow at Emory College, Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, Emory University

Biography: http://mesas.emory.edu/home/people/faculty/Courtney%20Freer.html

“Transnational Movements in a Globalised World: Regional Rivalries and Ideological Competition?” 


The Muslim Brotherhood, because it began as a transnational organization, has elicited fear among many governments in the Middle East, which was exacerbated by the rise to power of Brotherhood-linked parties in Egypt and Tunisia following the Arab Spring. The wealthy rentier states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are no exception, and in fact we have seen their foreign policies shaped increasingly by their domestic concerns about the political viability of local Muslim Brotherhood groups. In this talk, I trace the ways in which Muslim Brotherhood branches in Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have evolved into important domestic political actors and explain the domestic and foreign policy responses that these evolutions have provoked.

Abdulla Al-Etaibi

Lecturer, International Affairs Programme, Qatar University

Biography: https://cais.cass.anu.edu.au/people/abdulla-al-etaibi 

“Changing Regional Alliances and Patterns of Behaviour”


Regional relations in the Middle East have always been fluctuating throughout history between cooperation and enmity, which requires to be explained and understood within its international and regional context. The arrival of the Democrat Joe Biden in the White House has caused several changes in the regional relations and alliances. Therefore, there have been reengagements between nations in the region that were once unwilling to share a roundtable during the former US administration. When the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia meet Turkey and Qatar with the intention of converting their animosity towards more cooperation, the US is here bringing a level of stability to the region, albeit unintentionally. Hence, several regional countries have begun to talk and attempt to agree on certain issues from regimes’ point of view.

Panel 2:

6:00-7:30pm (Doha time)

“Analyzing the MENA Social Dynamics Using NLP and Big Data Methods”

Chair: George Mikros

Professor in Digital Humanities, Middle Eastern Studies Department (HBKU)

Biography: https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/chss/staff/george-mikros

Moderator: Wajdi Zaghouani

Assistant Professor in Digital Humanities, Middle Eastern Studies Department (HBKU)

Biography: https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/chss/staff/wajdi-zaghouani

Kareem Darwish

Principal Scientist, aiXplain Inc.

Biography: http://kareemdarwish.com/files/

“News Consumption in Time of Conflict: 2021 Palestinian-Israel War as an Example” 


This paper examines news consumption in response to a major polarizing event, and we use the May 2021 Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an example. We conduct a detailed analysis of the news consumption of more than 8,000 Twitter users who are either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli and authored more than 29 million tweets between January 1 and August 17, 2021. We identified the stance of users using unsupervised stance detection. We observe that users may consume more topically-related content from foreign and less popular sources, because, unlike popular sources, they may reaffirm their views, offer more extreme, hyper-partisan, or sensational content, or provide more in depth coverage of the event. The sudden popularity of such sources may not translate to longer-term or general popularity on other topics.

Muhammad Imran

Senior Scientist, Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI)  

Biography: https://mimran.me/

“Two Billion Multilingual COVID-19 Tweets with Sentiment, Entity, Geo, and Gender Labels”


As the world struggles with several compounded challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the health, economic, and social domains, timely access to disaggregated national and sub-national data are important to understand the emergent situation but it is difficult to obtain. The widespread usage of social networking sites, especially during mass convergence events, such as health emergencies, provides instant access to citizen-generated data offering rich information about public opinions, sentiments, and situational updates useful for authorities to gain insights. In this talk, I will present a large-scale social sensing dataset comprising two billion multilingual tweets posted from 218 countries by 87 million users in 67 languages. Furthermore, the dataset is enriched using several state-of-the-art machine-learning models to learn several latent attributes, including tweets sentiment, named-entities, user gender, and tweets location. We believe this multilingual data with broader geographical and longer temporal coverage will be a cornerstone for researchers to study the impacts of the ongoing global health catastrophe and to manage adverse consequences related to people’s health, livelihood, and social well-being.

Walid Magdy

Reader, School of Informatics, The University of Edinburgh 

Biography: https://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/wmagdy/

“Understanding the Arabic Region from Social Media. What can we learn?


For many users, social media is the main source of information and method of communication. The vast amount of data generated online has enriched the field of data science to predict more about human behaviour from their activities online. In this talk, we discuss the field of Computational Social Science (CSS) that focuses on studying social phenomena with big data to learn about societies and individuals. Examples of CSS studies from the Arab region are presented including social, religious and political topics. 

Eric Atwell

Professor of Artificial Intelligence for Language, School of Computing, University of Leeds:

Biography: https://eps.leeds.ac.uk/staff/33/dr_eric_atwell

“Understanding the Quran: A Challenge for Artificial Intelligence”


We can apply AI to analyse different perspectives on teaching about the Qur’an, Middle East Studies, and University education in general. Our “Decolonizing Reading Lists” project at Leeds University questions the Western or colonial bias in university teaching, and specifically in sources of recommended reading. We are developing an AI tool to assess the diversity of author affiliations and origins for reading list items, as a first step towards a tool to assess the diversity of conceptual viewpoints in university teaching. We are building on exploratory work at Leeds University and Imperial College, London. As an example, we examined taught modules at Leeds University on understanding the Qur’an and Hadith: “ARAB2320 The Qur’an History, Text and Interpretation”; and “ARAB5070M The Hadith History, Criticism and Canonisation”. We aimed to analyse the module Reading Lists on the library website. However, for both modules, the library website returned “list not available”, a common data acquisition problem. Many lecturers choose to recommend reading to students directly rather than using the library IT system. Some other modules related to Islamic and Middle East Studies do have Reading Lists available: “THEO1015: Introduction to the Study of Islam” has 47 recommended books and other literature in its Reading List. Classification of the Reading List item author names showed 12 Arab authors and 33 Western authors (plus two encyclopaedias); indicating a Western bias in the taught content of “THEO1015: Introduction to the Study of Islam”. The classifier can make mistakes; for example, a woman can take her husband’s surname on marriage, so surname is not a perfect indicator of ethnicity or cultural perspective. More importantly, the diversity of author names or origins is not a perfect predictor of diversity of conceptual viewpoints in university teaching. We need to find more intelligent and accurate ways to identify and measure bias in reading lists and university teaching, including teaching about understanding the Qur’an and Islam; this is a hard challenge for Artificial Intelligence.

Feb. 07, 2022

Panel 3:

4:00-5:30pm (Doha time)

“Society, Cities, and Space in the MENA Region”

Chair: Dr. Sophie Richter-Devroe

Associate Professor, Middle Eastern Studies Department (HBKU)

Biography: https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/chss/staff/sophie-richter-devroe

Moderator: Carol Fadda

Associate Professor, Middle Eastern Studies Department (HBKU)

Biography: https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/chss/staff/carol-fadda


Amy Kallander

Associate Professor in History, The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University

Biography: https://www.maxwell.syr.edu/hist/Kallander,_Amy_Aisen/

Karem Said

Lecturer, Religious Studies, Stanford University

Biography: https://www.uh.edu/class/ccs/people/karem-said

“Embodied Masculinities: Navigating Manhood and Identity in Tunis and its Periphery” 


Since independence, Tunisian state efforts to craft gendered images of belonging in the urban public of Tunis have drawn from conceptions of middle-class modernity widely embraced by the country’s Francophone strata, frequently juxtaposing the capital’s urbanity against its peripheries and the rural interior. The social and regulative life of public norms operate in multiple ways, from punitive campaigns against men’s hair and the demolition of impromptu neighborhoods, to subsidized clothing and housing. While successful in tying gendered representations of identity to urban public space, these discourses have fractured along generational, class, and other axes that differently map onto the lived geographies of the nation’s capital. Neighborhoods and the borders between them serve as foundational terrain for shifting performances and embodiments of gender.

Focusing on men, we offer examples of ways masculinity was imagined and embodied in Tunis and its suburbs/periphery at different postcolonial and post-revolutionary moments. We consider how men’s access to space intersects with socio-economic status and marginalization; how constructions of identity and belonging invoke civilizational discourses and racial terms; and how experiences of masculinity are informed by hegemonic constructions of state secularism and women’s rights as aspects of national belonging.

Nazanin Shahrokni

Assistant Professor of Gender and Globalisation, Department for Gender Studies, LSE

Biography: https://www.lse.ac.uk/gender/people/people-profiles/faculty/Dr-Nazanin-Shahrokni

“Social Inclusion through/despite Physical Segregation? Gender and Politics of Space in the Islamic Republic of Iran”


Through a retelling of the past four decades of the Iranian state's gender segregation policies, in this talk I highlight the ways in which the state strives to constantly regulate and contain women’s bodies and movements within the boundaries of the “proper” but simultaneously invests in and claims credit for their expanded access to public spaces. 

Hiba Bou Akar

Assistant Professor in the Urban Planning program at Columbia GSAPP

Biography: https://www.arch.columbia.edu/faculty/518-hiba-bou-akar

“The Doubleness of Beirut’s Ruins: Between a Past War and Wars Yet to Come”


The sight of war ruins is a common feature in Beirut’s landscape. The civil war (1975-1990) left behind an expansive geography of war-scarred ruins in Beirut and its peripheries. Amid a massive construction boom, skyrocketing land and housing prices, and high demand for building sites in Beirut’s immediate southern peripheries, the continued presence of ruins 25 years after the end of the war is puzzling. Based on an ethnographic study in the Hayy Madi, Mar Mikhail, neighborhood, a peripheral area within the southern suburbs of Beirut, this talk examines the transformation of the geography of civil war’s ruins over time and its re-inscription within the unfolding sectarian conflict. It speaks to the doubleness of the ruins — as products of a past civil war and a present territorial war that is not-so-different from the civil war but using different tools — in the transformation of the area into a deadly sectarian frontier in “times of peace.”

Panel 4:  

6:00-7:30pm (Doha time)

“Knowledge and Power in Palestine: The Quest for Statehood and the Marginalization of Rights”

Chair: Dana Olwan

Associate Professor, Middle Eastern Studies Department (HBKU)

Biography: https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/chss/staff/dana-m-olwan

Moderator: Samia Al-Botmeh

Dean of Faculty of Business and Economics, Birzeit University

Biography: https://www.birzeit.edu/en/faculty-staff/samia-al-botmeh

Leila Farsakh

Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science, College of Liberal Arts, UMass Boston

Biography: https://www.umb.edu/academics/cla/faculty/leila_farsakh

“Knowledge, Power and the Palestinian Quest for Statehood: Self-Determination Re-examined”


The quest for an independent sovereign state has been the center of the Palestinian national struggle for a very long time. The intensification of the Israeli colonial structure of domination in the West Bank and Gaza, however, has shown that a Palestinian state within the confines of the occupied territories will not materialize, despite being admitted into the United Nations in 2012 and being recognized by 137 states. The continuous siege on Gaza, the fragmentation of the Palestinian people, and the intensification of Israeli settlements despite over nearly three decades of peace process make it clear that Palestinians need to rethink the process of decolonization outside the framework of the two-states option.

This paper re-examines the Palestinian quest for self-determination by engaging with an emerging trend in Palestine studies that advocates for breaking out of the statehood frame to fulfill Palestinian rights. It exposes the opportunities and costs of moving away from the pursuit of territorial sovereignty as a means to achieve political liberation. It argues that the quest for a Palestinian state was not in vain, but that its historical role has come to an end. The paper thus reexamines this role and explores how the failure of national independence enables us to rearticulate the relationship between self-determination and decolonization away from the telos of the nation-state and the two-states solution. Such a rearticulation requires transcending the partition paradigm that has dominated all international attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It entails defining the elements of a political alternative that is democratic, viable, and economically feasible.

Adam Hanieh

Professor of Political Economy and Global Development, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS), University of Exeter

Biography: https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/iais/staff/hanieh

“The Political Economy of State Formation in Palestine: A Regional Perspective”


Palestine has long formed a central part of the wider Middle East region, holding a key place in the imagination of Arab political movements. In addition to this political dimension, diaspora Palestinian business groups play an important role across the region, especially in the Gulf states. In the period following the Oslo Accords, these business groups have become central to local Palestinian development and the policy priorities of the Palestinian Authority. Focusing on these political and economic aspects of Palestine's relationship with the Middle East, this presentation surveys the implications that the wider regional scale holds for our understanding of contemporary trajectories of state formation in Palestine.

Susan Akram

Clinical Professor of Law, Boston University

Biography: https://www.bu.edu/law/profile/susan-m-akram/

“Palestinian Nationality and “Jewish” Nationality: From the Lausanne Treaty to Today”


The central premise in applying international nationality law to the conflict over territorial claims is that Palestinians possess a defined nationality that remains valid and legally cognizable today. Moreover, as a legal matter, Palestinian nationality is not negated by the claim of a Jewish state in Israel, or by an extraterritorial claim to Israel by Jews elsewhere in the world. In order to understand the difference between Israeli, Jewish and Palestinian national status, it is critical to appreciate that the international law of nationality operates to protect a fundamental connection between peoples and their lands of origin—it is the territorial and direct ‘bloodline’ connection, not a religious connection that determines national rights. This presentation analyzes the key norms of international nationality law, and applies them to the relevant legal instruments affecting the conflict over rights to territory in Palestine. It examines not only the application of the norms to this conflict, but also how (and whether) instruments such as the British Mandate, the Balfour Declaration and the main relevant United Nations Resolutions affected the claims of Jews and those of Palestinians to national status in the territory. In essence, this short excursus into the legal and historical background to the conflicting claims of self-determination to and in Palestine illustrates how ‘getting the law right’ paves the way for a different and more equitable shared future in the same land for Jews and Palestinians living there, and those who have the right to return there.