Is it a Happy? #InternationalWomensDay2021

“Every working woman needs a wife,” joked Sofia Azizan to the Wilson Center conversation with Blanca Trevio, Lynn Mounzer, REbecca Tavares, Anya Prusa, Andrew Rudman, and Olivia Soledad. Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and today the Wilson Center is taking stock by covering all regions.

As pointed in in #IWDATWilson Twitter chat, “We need to really examine evidence from COVID-19 on the (social) media response to women leaders during a global crisis, to address bias and make public service a safe space for the next generation of women leaders,” shares Director of the Serious Games Initiative. And we need to overlay the pandemic impact conversation on the ongoing conversation of addressing the gender gap.

Closing the Gender Gap: Empowering Women’s Economic Participation


Of course, we are monitoring the Middle East & North Africa region. So we are live-tweeting observations shared by one of the sponsors, Wilson Center Middle East Program, on the region and the impact of the pandemic on women as it intersects in the following ways:

  • What defines the gender gap and deficit?
  • How economic and social policies intersect women pursuing entrepreneurship?
  • How does corruption impact women doing business?
  • How various forms of violence affect women directly and indirectly?
  • How are countries addressing the fact that women perform the majority of the world’s unpaid caregiving hours?
    • Mostly women have been laid-off: Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses. 
    • According to this global report, “women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs.”

Metrics: Which Goal Posts Needed?

  • Holding private company leadership to include women.
  • Need to look at equitable division of labor?
  • How to bring more men in leadership into these discussions?
  • How to measure lowering barriers to entry?
  • What incentives are in place for countries to update and collect relevant data?

Female Entrepreneurship in Middle East

Lynn Mounzer shares her observations as a specialist in gender.

  • 1 in 3 startups are founded by women in Middle East (unsure if this covers North Africa)
  • 7 out of 10 countries are in the lowest scores for Gender Gap, including Yemen.
  • Female entrepreneurs face challenges in obtaining loans based on “discriminatory inheritance laws”,
  • 700,000 women have lost their jobs during the #COVID19 pandemic.
    • Women, faced with job loss, or underemployment, convert homes into service provider industries, like salons to earn income during pandemic crisis.
  • Interviewed 200 women entrepreneurs in Middle East & North Africa.
    • Many felt pressured to take on male business partners.
    • Respondents shared that biggest challenge was ‘Corruption’.
      • Felt compelled to give into bribery.
      • Or did not register their businesses formally.
  • Access to technology is more limited as pandemic forces more women at home. Who controls the laptop?
  • Applauds the region for trying to diversify sectors to supplement oil & gas industry.

Female Political Participation

  • PITAPOLICY tracks the Gender Inequality Index to partially assess female political participation.
  • We are digging deeper into the “Share of Parliament Seats” index by running additional t-test across regions that fit within the same HDI category to address regional or cultural biases. For example, we will focus in on Arab and MENA regions since they do not rank in the “Very High” HDI category but vary more in their HDI scores than their GII scores.
  • To address the UN data limitation of not referencing local and civic engagement, we would have to concatenate the data set to include data sources tracking number of women running for local office, holding municipal seats, and registered number of women’s organizations from a more robust data source tracking women’s empowerment, such as regional organizing councils or international nongovernmental organizations, like Vital Voices


  • PITAPOLICY asked: What’s the Relationship of Number of Women’s Organizations in Country relative to their Female Labor Force Participation? (Data analysis and Python code here.)
  • We see from our scatterplot entitled: “Number of Women’s Organizations Related to Labor Participation” that it’s not a linear relationship.
    • Just because a country has a high number of women’s organizations, as indicated by the x-axis, does not mean that the labor participation rate among women, as indicated by the y-axis is higher than mean of “female labour force participation rate”, 51.56 percent.
    • Countries with over 35 women’s organizations have similar participation rates as countries with less than 10 women’s organizations.
  • What’s the biggest data collection challenge on #COVID19 in Eastern Mediterranean region covered by @WHOEMRO @WHOJordan @WHOEgypt?
Down pointing backhand index

“One challenge that WHO faced during the pandemic was insufficient resources and technical capacity for collecting, processing and modelling epidemiological data in the region.” ~Dr. Rana Hajjeh at University of Beirut: #WiDSAUB21 #WiDS2021

 WC ME showcases Middle Eastern Women Leading in Business
In celebration of International Women’s Day…

Wilson Center asked Middle East business leaders and government officials to share a “shout out” about a woman entrepreneur or business leader who inspires them:

READ FULL ARTICLECheck out Wilson Center’s new podcast, empowerME conversations , featuring discussions with business and government leaders shaping the Middle East!

Season 1 included top regional entrepreneurs Nour Al Hassan and Mona Ataya. They focused on their path to success with the struggles they faced.

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#StatsDay2020: Data-telling in MENA

There’s story-telling. There’s tattle-telling. Then there’s data-telling. How much does a country’s data collection efforts reflect its social, economic, political, institutional, civic, human and health development? Given the global pandemic of COVID-19, PITAPOLICY argues that the data transparency correlates with the pace of development. Reporting on population’s health statistics indicate the level and role governmental support and infrastructure. Data informs decision-making and resource allocation–in public, private, and third sectors.

October 20th marked World #StatsDay2020. Given PITAPOLICY’s focus on data in the Middle East & North Africa region, we captured statistics and metrics on human development, gender, as well as economic and social indicators to highlight various slices of this socio-economically and politically diverse region.

UN Data Forum

MENA Regional Statistics

Video by UN DESA Sustainable Development

MENA Social-Political Statistics

MENA Gender Statistics

Source: Global Data Lab
Subnational Gender Development Index for MENA countries

Country Case: Syria

Country Case Study: Morocco

Economic Indicators

Country Case: Lebanon

For example, the Tahrir Institute highlighted Lebanon since its Beirut Explosion from September. Over 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut’s port, leaving 190 dead and over 6,500 injured. Watch the panelists responses to Lebanon’s ground relief in the larger socio-economic context here: 10/21 Virtual Event: Food Security, Economy, and Accountability in the Wake of the Beirut Blast.

@chehayebk, Dima Krayem, and @malakyz spoke to Moderator, @GebeilyM, to unpack the issue of Lebanon’s food security amid the economic & governance context.

Multi-Dimensional Poverty Case Study: Palestine


Regardless of individual country income or political structures, MENA region needs to improve data collection and data transparency efforts as a whole.

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Twitter Sentiment Analysis of Iranian Foreign Minister Javed Zarif

Background: Beirut Explosion

“Reiterated Iran’s strong and steadfast solidarity with people of Lebanon in call with FM Wehbeh. Iran is sending field hospital & medicine to assist with disaster relief. Iran stands with Lebanon. “

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the great and resilient people of Lebanon. As always, Iran is fully prepared to render assistance in any way necessary. Stay strong, Lebanon. 🖤🇱🇧”

~Tweets by Iranian Foreign Minister, Javed Zarif regarding #BeirutExplosion #BeirutBlast

Around 6:08pm on August 4th, Lebanon experienced a tragic explosion at its port in Beirut. The resulting blast killed at least 210 people while injuring 6,000 more, including Syrian refugees. Dozens are still missing. One of the largest non-nuclear explosions was triggered by 3,000 tons of dangerously stored explosive ammonium nitrate catching on fire. However, the cause, point of origin, official government role in negligence, are all under investigation (detailed here by @beltrew of The Independent) in conjunction with the U.N. Consequently, thousands of Lebanese took the streets and called for the dissolution of parliament and government officials to step down.

The Beirut explosion has left 300,000 people homeless as the blast damaged 70,000 buildings. Lebanon’s infrastructural damage falls into a larger government problem of corruption and mismanagement prior to COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, nine Members of Parliament resigned and Prime Minister Hassan Diab dissolved the government within a week of the tragedy. Nonetheless, remaining parliament members called for sweeping army powers to exercise aggressive measures over its citizens protesting. Al Jazeera reported:

Citing the “militarization of the state”, parliamentarian Osama Saad was the only one out of the 119-member chamber…Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri responded the army had “not taken steps that people fear, nor suppress television [channels] and despite the chaos in the media it did not intervene and left room for protest”, according to local media.  Al-Jazeera

Twitter Sentiment Analysis

Since Iran’s Foreign Minister tweeted that Iran was providing medical aid to Lebanon, PITAPOLICY conducted a twitter sentiment analysis of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javed Zarif in the midst of Lebanon’s tragic, non-nuclear explosion to review official leaders’ responses on social media regarding aid to Lebanon. Below are sample results of his 200 most recent tweets. Although mostly positive or neutral with respect to the Beirut Explosion in expressing humanitarian solidarity, the negative tweets reference discussion on deteriorating relations with the U.S. and hopes for reinitiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, regarding Iran’s previous nonproliferation agreement. In 2016, Donald Tr ump’s administration removed the U.S. from this peaceful measure towards nuclear containment. .

As mentioned earlier, this Twitter account’s sample of 200 tweets reflects mostly positive tweets. We again see it in the more recent graph shown in green representing mostly positive tweets during crisis. Approximately 75 percent of the tweets are positive, thus 25 percent are neutral.
We measured both ‘subjectivity’ and ‘polarity’ and see that Javed’s tweets concentrate between -0.2 and .4 on the ‘polarity’ and skew positively.
PITAPOLICY visualized a wordcloud of the top words apparent in Zarif’s 200 tweets in the week of Lebanon’s explosion.

Trending in US on Twitter

These were the top 10 hashtags and themes trending in Washington, DC at that time:
Letitia James
Independence Day

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Clash of the Oil Titans

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

— Kenyan Proverb

Remember when PITAPOLICY reviewed oil data with Monotrome Consulting because oil prices fell into the red in April? Note: the price stood at a historic, record low of -40 dollars during a pandemic lockdown. Since then, Brent crude futures skyrocketed more than 80% in the second quarter. As the COVID-19 panic continues, conditions for an oil price war re-emerge… and our assessment still stands–two months after the protests in Lebanon and economic concerns in Iraq.

Concatenated World Bank and Brent Crude Oil Data to develop graphic. Graphic imported from Pitaconsumer’s Jupyter Notebook

The conflict is not without risks to the belligerents. Saudi Arabia needs a crude oil price of $82/barrel in order to balance its books; any lower and the Kingdom will need to borrow money or draw down reserves to cover oil sales that are, effectively, at a loss. Russia may be better prepared to withstand oil shocks than Saudi Arabia, as the IMF believes that Moscow breaks even at $42/barrel. The current price, however, still results in a massive loss in revenue for Russia, and both countries will be cutting their noses off to spite their faces if the price war continues for long.

Again, the oil price war looms to the detriment of countries stuck in the middle.

Saudi Arabia has threatened to ignite an oil-price war unless fellow OPEC members make up for their failure to abide by the cartel’s recent production cuts, delegates said.

Wall Street Journal

In June, former OPEC member, Qatar, offered strong rebuke of the OPEC leader, Saudi Arabia:

It was sort of a double-whammy where the market got hit in a very big way… 

Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy Affairs, Saad al-Kaabi, who is also CEO of Qatar Petroleum

Middle-Income Countries Stuck in the Middle

Meanwhile, energy demands fall back as middle-income countries, like Lebanon, are stuck in the middle: Protests broke out over its currency crisis, high food prices, and general displeasure with crony capitalism. Adding insult to injury, Lebanon’s attempt to capitalize on off-shore hydrocarbon efforts failed in late April. Moreover, the horrendous health effects of COVID-19 are accompanied by a global drop in demand for oil as factories across the world stay shuttered, and this has exacerbated the fall in oil prices.

Lebanon may serve as a microcosm of what may come if the U.S. prioritizes energy security over food and jobs security. Before oil prices started to drastically fall, the World Bank already forecasted that the 30 percent living under Lebanon’s poverty line could spiral up to 50 percent. Higher-income countries are not immune: by April, 26 million Americans had filed jobless crimes since COVID-19 forced massive furloughs and layoffs.

The International Energy Association issued a report finding that all energy sources dropped in response to COVID-19, with the exception of renewables, which “posted a growth in demand, driven by larger installed capacity and priority dispatch.”

…the IEA expects the fall in oil demand this year to be the largest in history. More recently, energy giants BP and Shell announced they have both lowered their respective long-term oil price expectations through to 2050.


Perhaps the best strategic option is to let Saudi Arabia and Russia bash each other for a bit as advanced and developing economies deal with the socio-economic challenges posed by the pandemic, such as food security. The lesson learned from the EU-Russia oil price conflict of 2009 is telling: the US should let the belligerents joust each other rather than intervene. The American economy will be better served in the long term by reducing American dependence on foreign energy sources and the unpredictability of the international oil barrel prices.

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Syria’s Sexual Violence Rate on Par With Bosnia War

“Unfortunately, violence against women is not the only injustice women face globally; it is one of the many inequalities that impede the full development of socially excluded women globally.” ~ Zainab Salbi, Iraqi-American activist and Founder of “Women for Women International”

“Rape is one of the most terrible crimes on earth and it happens every few minutes. The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they try to educate women about how to defend themselves. What really needs to be done is teaching men not to rape. Go to the source and start there.”
― Kurt Cobain, Songwriter and Musician

Conflict Countries’ Rate of Sexual Violence: A/B Testing

Since the Vietnam War, we see how conflicts take many forms and involve different actors that develop within the country, or organize as rebel forces that gain support from other countries–unwittingly, or not. In 2010, Syria was an authoritarian regime with a population of 20.4 million split between urban and rural areas. Since its 2011 political uprisings turned proxy war, Syria’s population has fallen to an estimated 17.3 million because the conflict turned violent, and thereby causing over 5 million to seek refugee. [Source:] One could argue that Syria’s conflict has exploded to the extent that warrants the most investigation into war crimes, like assassinations, chemical weapons use, and state implemented sexual violence compared to other similar conflicts. Aside from the Iraq War in 2004, the Syrian conflict represents the worst violence–not just in the region–but globally since the Balkan Crisis of the 1990’s. The complete A/B testing and visualization conducted by PITAPOLICY and Pitaconsumer may be found here.

A/B Testing of Conflict Country Cases


There will be a statistical difference between ‘Group A’, Syria, and ‘Group B’, world, in rates of sexual violence against women during conflict.

Null Hypothesis:

There will be no difference in Test A (Syria case study) and Test B (rest of world) in rates of Form or prevalence of sexual violence against women during conflict. This means that the means of both ‘Group A’ and ‘Group B’ will be equal.


For example, the Balkans Crisis resulted from in the dissolution of Yugoslavia where simultaneous independence struggles among six provinces sought their own states. However, this struggle devolved into certain states implementing ethnic cleansing measures to influence which countries succeeded in asserting independence based on population numbers. As a result, certain states carried out human rights abuses and sexual violence crimes, which skyrocketed into war crimes to the point of warranting global intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Even NATO intervention did not curtail the abuses as other countries, like Russia, intervened by supplying military assistance.

Between 1992 to 1995, the conflict erupted into outright genocide resulting in the death of over 200,000 people, 2.3 million fleeing their homes–the largest modern refugee crisis since World War II–and a record number of sexually based offenses, according to the international nonprofit the Borgen Project and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. [Sources: and]

Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, several conflicts erupted globally. In particular, the Syrian conflict has also morphed into Refugee Crisis that mirrors the internal and external dynamics witnessed after Yugoslavia’s dissolution morphed into the Balkans Crisis followed by the Bosnian Genocide. The Syrian situation repeats the 1990s catastrophe to that the extent that the human rights abuses, proxy actors, food shortages, and sexually based offenses carried out by state and non-state actors has produced 5.27 million Syrian refugees. [Source:] This is more than double the Balkans conflict. Thus, we will test if the Syrian Crisis outpaces other conflict countries in the same time period of 2011 to 2015 regarding the sexual-violence crimes because this is noted as a warcrime, not just a casualty of war.

For a more detailed discussion on the sexual violence statistics in non-conflict countries in neighboring Arab countries, please visit the United Nations report.


Sample during a set of active conflict years. We pulled population data from the UN data site. We selected the year 2013 because this year is the average of years 2011 and 2015.

For a complete discussion of PITAPOLICY’s methodology for the A/B Testing experiment behind the study of Syria’s rate of sexual violence between 2011 to 2015, please refer to the data science study and its detailed analysis here.


The target variable for this study is “Sexual Violence Index”, which was comprised of combining both ‘form’ and ‘type’ of sexual violence, followed by counting the occurrences to determine pattern.

**Note: Following the definition used by the International Criminal Court (ICC), we use a definition of crimes of sexual violence which includes (1) rape,(2) sexual slavery,(3) forced prostitution,(4) forced pregnancy, and (5) forced sterilization/abortion. Following Elisabeth Wood (2009), we also include (6) sexual mutilation, and (7) sexual torture. This definition does not exclude the existence of female perpetrators and male victims. According to the SVAC Dataset

We focus on behaviors that involve direct force and/or physical violence. We exclude acts that do not go beyond verbal sexual harassment and abuse, including sexualized insults or verbal humiliation.~Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict Data Project

**Note: Variables to Consider Countries inhabiting more of this type of actor “Rebel” will have higher rates of Form or prevalence of sexual violence against women during government and territorial conflict. Create a new index: a column that combines both columns (both violence and type). What other possible weak points? Proportion of cases larger than the average. Count of the number of cases. Proportion of cases/population. Focus across 3 years.

The study’s key variables to construct Sexual Violence Index are as follows:

  • Number incident reports by Human Rights Watch
  • Number incident reports by U.S. State Department
  • Number incident reports by Amnesty International
  • Form of Sex Crime
  • Number of Sex Crimes

For more detail about how featured variables were cleaned, wrangled, and recoded, please contact PITAPOLICY at: qayyum at

Variable: Actor Type

There are six actor types in conflict: types 1 , 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

  • Type 1: State or incumbent government (in UCDP dyadic, this actor type is called ‘Side A’).
  • Type 2: State A2 (in UCDP dyadic, this actor type is called ‘Side A2nd’). These are states supporting the state (1) involved with conflict on its territory.
  • Type 3: Rebel (in UCDP dyadic, the actor type is called ‘Side B’).
  • Type 4: State supporting ‘Side B’ in other country.
  • Type 5: Second state in interstate conflict (in UCDP dyadic, this actor is called ‘Side B’).
  • Type 6: Pro-government militias (PGMs).

Although ‘3’, or ‘Rebel’ was the most prevalent in 3,020 of the conflict country cases, ‘actor_type’ ‘6’ was the second most prevalent and defined as “Pro-government militias” (PGMs) in 2,335 country cases.

Variable: Conflict Type

Type UCDP/PRIO is a nominal variable with three categories:

  • Type 2: Interstate Conflict.
  • Type3: Intrastate Conflict.
  • Type 4: Internationalized Internal Armed Conflict.

Types of conflict range between government and territorial.

Based on the literature review conducted by Mehrunisa Qayyum of PITAPOLICY, this study characterized Syria as both types of conflict: Government & Territory. Similarly, Yemen is both types of conflict: Government & Territory

In our ‘Sexual Violence by Actor’ plot we see that there are six different ‘actor types’ committing different types of sexual violence, measured by ‘form’. “Type 1″ represents ‘State or incumbent government (in UCDP dyadic, this actor type is called ‘Side A” while “Type 3” represents Rebel (in UCDP dyadic, the actor type is called ‘Side B’) “Type 2” represent states supporting the state “Type 1” involved with conflict on its territory, and highlighted as an occurrence after year 2006 and increasingly between 2011 to 2015. Syria represents this situation regarding Russia and Iran.

So we need to parse out Syria subset, or ‘Group A’, aside from the global sample between years 2011-2015. Source:

Summary Statistics of Group A: Syria

Here we see the breakdown of summary statistics for our experiment on Syria, which is ‘Group A’. There are 28 cases between years 2011 and 2015. Unlike the U.S. Three huge entities specifically report rape or other sexual violence related to the conflict. Although the State Department shows in column ‘state_prev’ 18 reports mentioning sexual violent occurrences, both Amnesty International(‘ai_prev’) and Human Rights Watch (‘hrw_prev’) provide a higher, and the same number of reports mentioning sexual violence in Syria conflict: 23.

We need the mean in ‘sex_violence’, our independent variable of interest, for both groups. We used the numpy mean built-in method to calculate; shared immediately below: ‘Group A’: 1.6785714285714286 ‘Group B’: -16.710108073744436

Summary Statistics of Group B: World

‘Group B’ in this experiment represents all countries experiencing conflict between the same time period (our control of years 2011 through 2015) except Syria since Syria is our ‘Group A’. ‘Group B’ includes 1,573 cases for comparison.


Between both ‘Group A’, Syria, and ‘Group B’, world, we will run a t-test to review our hypothesis. We will run an ‘Independent Samples t-test’, which compares the means for two groups: ‘Group A’ (Syria) and ‘Group B’ (world). Our T-test considers that both samples have different means, variance, and sample sizes.

scipyimport stats #import researchpy as rp #~ We are using 2 dataframes, Syria and world, so use researchpy. x= df_Syria[‘sex_violence’] y= df_world[‘sex_violence’] ttest=stats.ttest_ind(x,y) print (‘t-test sex_violence’, ttest)

t-test sex_violence Ttest_indResult(statistic=1.1516107098127624, pvalue=0.24966745563067755)

We calculate a t-statistic of ‘1.1516’ with a p-value of ‘0.249’.


After conducting a t-test between ‘Group A’ and ‘Group B’, we calculated a t-statistic of ‘1.1516’. We can reject the null hypothesis of equal means between ‘Group A’ and ‘Group B’ regarding their ‘sex_violence’ level at the 0.25 level. (The p-value represents the probability of getting the data above if the null hypothesis were true in the population.) Specifically: Syria’s average rate of sexual violence compared to the conflict countries’ average rate of sexual violence are not the same. Although the t-statistic is not very low, it is important to note that our sample size for Syria (‘Group A’) is 25, which is much less than the sample size of all the other conflict countries (‘Group B’), which is 1451 country cases.

In conclusion, Syria’s sexual violence index represents a different combination of documented watchdog reports and a higher pattern and form of sexual violence types as represented by our constructed variable ‘crime_counted_another_way’, which was derived from the ‘form’ type and ‘form’ counts, or occurrences of sexual violence. As a result, the Syrian crisis could represent the worst form of violence against women in conflict since the Balkans crisis and the resulting Bosnian Genocide.

Other areas for review include examining the ‘actor_type’ carrying out the sexual violence ‘sex_violence’ as well as conducting an A/A test between Syria and Yemen. We propopse conducting the latter t-test because Syria and Yemen represent two Middle Eastern countries experiencing similar state and non-state actor conflict that are continuing until today and share similar sample sizes. The rates of violence may differ depending on whether there are more types of actors involved. Is there a statistical difference between these two countries with more actors than less actors.

For further study of conflict countries: we will compare/contrast the case study Yemen, which submerged into conflict at the same time as Syria and also resides in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

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Blockchain Tech Solutions in MENA

Blockchain technology may help refugees maintain legal identity and have access to relief services when they cross borders” ~ Staci Warden, Executive Director of the Center for Financial Markets at the Milken Institute

Blockchain technology solutions started in the cryto0currency energy and is spreading further into the hybrid of finance and technology #FinTech. Now, other sectors, like the social sector, could see benefits. On this positive note, the ArabNet virtual conference highlighted the possibilities for tech startups to address social and health problems aggravated by the Novel COVID-19 pandemic.

Webinar Series: How Regional VCs are Preparing for the New World

Speakers:Walid Mansour, Managing Partner and CIO, Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP)Maan Eshgi, Partner, VentureSouqNoor Sweid, General Partner, Global VenturesHasan Zainal, Partner, Arzan Venture CapitalModerator: Omar Christidis, Founder and CEO, Arabnet

Posted by ArabNet on Wednesday, April 8, 2020
ArabNet: How Regional VCs are Preparing for the New World

In November 2019, PITAPOLICY forecasted that the UAE would lead as the first adopter of the blockchain tech solutions in the Middle East & North Africa region and published in a joint white paper with Kurt Wedgewood. The UAE company Watania ( demonstrates this in the #fintech (financial technology) space while collaborating with tech startup Addenda–an Insurtech affiliate.

Corporate Social Responsibility: From Social Sector to Corporate

Last month, after the annual World Economic Forum (WEF), @PITAPOLICY co-wrote a piece with Kurt Wedgewood for IBM regarding the possibilities behind blockchain technology solutions for corporate social responsibility (CSR). Before WEF held its event in Davos, @PITAPOLICY spoke with the COO of the Ibtikar Fund, Ambar Amleh, and interviewed a set of Arab tech startups while in the Arab Gulf. Below is the entire discussion.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) champions the Fourth Industrial revolution by recognizing the interdependence of networks and value chains with technology capabilities for solutions to global consumers’ most pressing challenges. When we act as a global community to govern and resolve, we rely on openness, transparency, trust and authenticity in tandem with other stakeholders. Technology solutions, like blockchain technology, facilitate openneness, transparency, and authenticity.  While the topics may not be directly listed on the WEF thematic panels, the hallway conversations and speakers are sure to make points on the needs and provide recommendations.

Inclusivity & Leveraging Blockchain for CSR at Davos

Considering the next set of challenges, the WEF selected three key themes that are also informed by the fifty global civil society organizations and nongovernmental organizations:

Each theme relies upon openness, transparency, trust, and authenticity to speed up information exchange, and ultimately, the speed of  transformation. However, inclusion underpins the likelihood of success to actualize these goals and also remains an area of improvement for those critical of the Davos Summit for its elite beginnings. In fact, WEF Founder, Klaus Schwab will focus on “pushing politicians and business chiefs towards a new ‘inclusive’ globalisation to fix the gap between the ‘precariat’ many and the privileged few.”  So, what better gathering than a Davos Summit, for promoting goals and solutions, given the technology and collaborative capabilities the World Economic Forum champions.

As the summit events occur there is one role that leaders will likely be talking about:  Corporate Social Responsibility Leaders (CSRs). The role of Corporate Social Responsibility is increasing as consumers, shareholders and employees are asking corporations for more transparency.  The financial, manufacturing, energy, consumer product and retail sectors are working to provide more insights to stakeholders for both altruistic and pragmatic reasons. The efforts are aligning well to consumers.  IBM and NRF have published findings that 70 percent of consumers would pay a premium of an estimated 35 percent.  While, Thomas M. Kostigen, director of sustainability at JConnelly, declares that “investors have been moving money into the companies perceived as socially responsible.  There is now more than $12 trillion invested in a variety of socially responsible ways. That’s 1 out of 4 of the total assets under management in the U.S. alone”. Brand identity with social good will continue to help generate higher returns and those late to adopt this cultural shift will forfeit marketshare and profits.

Looking back at one of the biggest corporate social responsibility controversies in the twentieth century, conflict “blood” diamonds, highlighted the role corporations play in checking dangerous supplier value chain conditions. A series of binding agreements among industry leaders promoted tracing the source of the product and challenged unethical means of procuring diamonds from war-torn Sierra Leone.  As a result, the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme emerged to redefine the jewelry industry, raise its standards beyond profit-making, and has given birth to companies like Everledger and the advancement of blockchain technology.

In that vein, regional business consortia, like the Business Roundtable, has updated its members’ principles to reflect values from its 140 members to commit to:

…Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers. We are dedicated to serving as good partners to the other companies, large and small, that help us meet our missions. Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.

Couched within the CSR space, altruistic and profit motivations converge, which result in pages of self-produced testaments of social, environmental, and economic responsibility. To what extent are these claims true, vague, valid, or leave room for improvement or future collaboration to tackle the next level of interconnected challenges?

“Companies shouldn’t be the only arbitrator of truth”, Patricia Cartes who has led socially responsible missions at various technology companies and currently serves as the Head of Trust & Safety at the fast-growing Postmates.

Leading Globally; Developing Regionally

However, accelerating systems transformations in the food and manufacturing sectors require the latest technological innovations.  Davos will convene a variety of corporations, like Amazon and Visa, Inc, that also happen to lead in the top quartile of the SPXESRP.  The Information Technology sector represents the largest share–24.6 percent–of the S& P 500. If technology assumes the business lead by way of the SPXESRP, then naturally, why not assume the lead in the larger space of business solutions, like blockchain, which tackles two goals:

  1. Provide a publicly viewable medium to validate claims.
  2. Facilitate transformation quickly through digital access.  

Middle East North Africa Too

Similarly, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region also tracks corporate gains along environmental, social, and governance metrics. The S&P collaborates with the Institute for Corporate Governance in MENA region to track the 50 highest performing stocks. In contrast to the global trend of the S&P 500, the finance sector represents the largest share for the MENA region. Given how blockchain technology originated in the finance sector through cryptocurrency, blockchain solutions may complement, rather than adversely disrupt, the goal to address provenance and resource planning to develop at a regional level, which has not been the focus of Davos.  

For example, the Mideast-founded fintech startup, GetReceet, allows small businesses to digitally account for consumer goods and services. Now, GetReceet has aggregated big data regarding purchases ranging from food to professional services to facilitate more informed infrastructural planning at the state level that is more timely than census data.  GetReceet’s founder, Omar Barkawi, imagines how blockchain solutions could advance “provenance” goals on a macro-level. Barkawi notes how tracking money and transactions would benefit from blockchain solutions, “tracking food purchase receipts informs health departments without household data identifiers”.  Meanwhile, GetReceet’s funder, the Mideast-based Ibtikar Fund, notes how the money movement, financial services, and authentic property documentation remain a challenge, according to the Fund’s COO, Ambar Amleh, who highlighted the “physical stress of carrying and transferring all this cash” between Ramallah and Amman, for example.

GetReceet’s success resulted in an invitation to the United Arab Emirates to review blockchain solution potential.  It is no surprise given that this smaller MENA country has a population of 9.68 million situated at a high intersection of trade.  Smaller countries with strong infrastructure serve as the ideal testing ground to roll out technology solutions and build to scale quickly; thus, reaching critical mass is easier.  As a result, such inputs could inform state investments to promote regional development.  Meanwhile, forward-thinking companies also recognize that emerging markets need a network of logistics infrastructure to drive intra-continental trade to produce spill-over effects that will grow frontier markets as tracked by the MSCI Index.

Techsoup, a digital nonprofit research organization, is exploring blockchain solutions beyond the finance sector since they have been approached by philanthropic groups. According to TechSoup’s Vice President of Alliances and Program Development, Chris Worman, “TechSoup has been looking at DLTs (distributed ledger technologies) on a variety of fronts– including work on smart contracting across all of the multiple account reconciliations we have to complete each day, to DLT underpinning organizational identities in our database.” Essentially, blockchain solutions, like DLT promote self-governed and self-policed systems–as in the case of smart contracts.

Troubleshooting Challenges Via Blockchain Solutions

Blockchain solutions can facilitate corporate social responsibility (CSR) claims too. Watchdog stakeholders hold companies accountable to their CSR goals.  For example, CorpsWatch serves as a multi-faceted and interconnected watchdog group tracking gender and labor rights as well as environmental concerns.  Given CorpsWatch’s intersectional scope, they must track a variety of data sources. Obtaining real-time data quickly adds to the complexity of holding corporations accountable across horizontal and vertical supply chains.

Similarly, the Workers Rights Consortium serves as a global watchdog over labor rights and checking if corporations employ sweatshop labor. Manufacturing giants, like Nike, increase their transparency efforts when faced with watchdog pressure regarding global business practices. Nike publicizes the factories that produce its clothes whereas H & M and Zara draw criticism for specific claims about how their supply chains categorically meet sustainability goals. Thus, watchdog groups and investigative journalists ask for more information to validate corporate claims–but through what mechanism?  

Watchdog missions rely on information exchange and transparency, which operate as the incentive to push for blockchain solution adoption tailored for the issues they are tracking. By employing blockchain solutions, one could argue that we increase inclusivity and allow more participation by expanding the number comprising the watchdog collective. As such, increased watchdog participation promotes the check and balance of the 150 leading corporations to collaborate on how to solve the world’s urgent challenges across food, energy, mobility, and production. Digitizing the collective watchdog place means that the role of watchdog is not a singular unit since they operate as members within the value chain.

The watchdog stakeholders can maximize their role in holding corporations accountable. Their role in monitoring issues with digitized, real-time data is their incentive to mainstream the blockchain solutions technology and push for adoption. Watchdogs invest the time and advocate per their focused issue while the private sector invests in the infrastructure to adopt. Both stakeholder groups will push for accelerating systems transformation while evaluating the value chains in line with World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s Vision 2050 agenda. With topics covering the food and manufacturing sectors, like “Investing in food systems transformation on the road to the 2021 Food Systems Summit”, “The Race to Zero: Eliminating Auto Industry Emissions Across the Value Chain”, and “Healthy People & Healthy Planet: the protein revolution from fork to farm” social and environmental responsibility marry corporations’ interests to their global customers’ interests.

Last month, the IBM Blockchain Pulse blog covered how blockchain solutions facilitate shipping and account for claims of fresh seafood sold at premium prices. As a digital leader in tracking the food sector, IBM complements the mission behind food sustainability watchdog groups, like the Sustainable Food Group & OSI Group.  

Implications & Conclusions

Essentially, Davos possesses the power to facilitate companies coming together to provide transparency and speak to their 2050 Vision. As in the case of the blockchain solution potential, the goal for discussion at Davos is to mainstream a transformative concept and evolve it into a solution. The goal to mainstream blockchain solutions discussions increases quicker adoption.  As in the UAE example above, their public-private effort to engage in discussion now frontends their agenda to explore potential infrastructural expansion. Moreover, public platforms employing blockchain solutions provide authenticity and the “proof” that watchdog groups and global consumers expect when corporations advance CSR claims. Blockchain allows watchdog groups to hold companies accountable to their CSR claims and goals. For global consumers, blockchain solutions facilitate more information flow to inform better infrastructural development.

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COVID-19 Impact in MENA

“In just 1 week, # of #COVID19 cases in @WHOEMRO
Region has almost doubled. I can’t stress enough the urgency of the situation. We have a window of opportunity to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the Region & need to act quickly”

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LIVE: WHO and UK hold briefings on coronavirus

LIVE: The World Health Organization and UK government officials hold briefings on the coronavirus outbreak. Follow latest COVID-19 updates:

Posted by Al Jazeera English on Wednesday, April 8, 2020
World Health Organization Chief: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
presents daily update.

The World Health Organization (WHO) organizes most of the MENA region into the Eastern Mediterranean region. Similarly, the Gates Foundation, which also tracks global health issues, organizes their program operations in the same way.

With a population of 583 million people, the Eastern Mediterranean region includes Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Currently, the WHO-EMR division is led by Dr. Ahmed Al Mandhari, specializing in public health from the Kingdom of Oman and serving in Oman’s Ministry of Health. [Note: Algeria is excluded from WHO Eastern Mediterranean grouping. However, as a North African and Arab nation, PITAPOLICY considers Algeria as part of the PITAPOLICY platform area of concern. Here’s the COVID-19 tracking of cases we have learned from the John’s Hopkins Corona Virus Center: 1,468 cases, 193 deaths.]

Although the Americas and Europe are the worst hit by COVID-19 (Corona) virus, the Eastern Mediterranean region is not far behind: Iran hosts the third largest cases (60,000 as of April 6th) and a growing death toll (3,739 as of April 6th). The hardest-hit regional country is facing economic sanctions that compromise its public health interventions and relief. The UAE and Kuwait offered humanitarian assistance, but the sanctions have impeded access to personal protective equipment and ventilators– a challenge that New Yorkers are experiencing as well.

Impact #1: Conflict (Human Cost)

In addition to the economic and health impacts, COVID-19 exacerbates political challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Specifically, the COVID-19 exacerbates ongoing conflicts. In Iran’s case, the term “virus diplomacy” emerges in U.S. relief conversations: Exchange prisoners for a promise not to veto Iran’s $5 billion loan request to the International Monetary Fund.

In another example of COVID-19 exacerbating conflict, we look to both Yemen and Syria. Each country’s civilian populace has been pummeled by regime, rebel, and proxy supporter attacks. As refugees and internally displaced populations huddle in close-quarters within refugee camps, people remain untested as the virus spreads more quickly. COVID-19 cases remain underreported, underestimated, and untreated. Currently, PITAPOLICY is reviewing COVID-19 data in conflict countries, like Syria, for another study.

“The US embargo not only prohibits American companies and individuals from conducting lawful trade with Iranian counterparts, but given that the sanctions are extra-territorial, all other countries and companies are also bullied into refraining from doing legitimate business with Iranians, even the selling of medicines,”~

Tehran Mayor Piyouz Hananchi

Speaking of internally displaced populations, in Palestine, reports of untreated COVID-19 cases run rampant. For example, in villages like Tulkarem, Dr. Roa Qato was told laborers coming in from Israel have been exposed to COVID-19. Once one of the laborers self-reported, and he was “disappeared” within the area’s refugee camp. If in fact he was quarantined, the virus had already spread within densely populated camps where measures like “social-distancing” are a luxury.

In areas overseen by the Palestinian Authority (PA), there will be a tradeoff between virus containment and revenue generating activities. The PA has projected that its budget deficit could increase from $0.8bn to $2.4bn as a result of losses in government revenues. Lower to Middle-income countries will experience similar fiscal challenges.

Update on April 8th:

Al Jazeera English reports those living in Gaza fear COVID-19 virus outbreak will escalate. Specifically, Gazans are worried about a shortage of critical equipment and medical supplies for the resource-challenged area’s two million people, which has been blockaded by neighboring Israel.

Impacts #2 & #3: Socio-Cultural & Socio-Economic

The second and third impacts are socio-cultural as well as socio-economic. The religious pilgrimage for Muslims will not congregate the millions that congregate in Saudi Arabia. This is great from a public health standpoint, but Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry and local businesses relying on religio-tourists will suffer.

1895 was the last time the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca was suspended or canceled–about 39 other times in the last 1,400 years. The reason: a public health crisis surrounding the Typhoid and dystentary outbreak in neighboring Madinah. Given the suspension of another holy observation, Easter Sunday, it is no wonder that millions will hold off from performing Hajj in 2020–set to start July 28th this year. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia cleared out both grand mosques in Mecca and Madina once the World Health Organization flagged the novel COVID-19 virus as a pandemic. Thankfully, public health officials remembered the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome death toll of 850 and spread to 17 countries outside of the Arabian Gulf. (Thanks Visual Capitalist @visualcap for the amazing visual.)

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Authentic on Foreign Policy

“One of us in this race led the opposition to the war in Iraq. You’re looking at him. Another candidate voted for the war in Iraq.” ~Senator Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Candidate  

Note: A related article by Mehr Qayyum, aka PITAPOLICY, focusing on Bernie Sanders’ appeal to Muslim American voters appeared on Altmuslimah.

Bernie Sanders’ multiple primary wins reflect primary issues drawing in Muslim Americans who are tired of both parties tokenizing them. In fact, Bernie’s interview with Hassan Minhaj on Netflix’s Patriot Act addresses how Islamophobia marginalizes Muslim Americans at home, and translates into a failing, hawkish foreign policy.

Taking stock of where Donald has led us since 2016 does not fare well for Muslim Americans. Remember how Trump enacted the Muslim Ban within the first 100 days of taking office? Muslim Americans remember queuing in airpot security lines to reunite with families—and which politicians reacted with an understanding of rising Islamophobia underpinned by a spike of Anti-Muslim hate-crimes.  Although Sanders did not earn the 2016 Democratic nomination, he persists in calling out Islamophobia and racism in his role as a U.S. Senator, which reverts to progressivism when Muslims are “othered”.

For example, in July 2019, Trump magnified racist, Islamophobic, and misogynistic attacks against four congresswomen of color to “go back to their countries” (Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Pressley). Yet, Sanders took one step beyond his Democratic presidential contenders to condemn Trump’s actions by immediately fundraising for Omar’s re-election.


As a Muslim woman of color, I remember encountering Islamophobia and being called a “sand n****r” as a local candidate shortly after Donald’s inauguration. So it was encouraging to witness Sanders forming a fundraising alliance with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar after Trump vilified her.

Witnessing alliances builds momentum. Sanders has encouraged Muslim American candidates to participate. At the same time, we see Muslim American candidates running locally and statewide. For example, Abdul El-Sayed received Bernie’s endorsement for his Michigan gubernatorial primary in 2018. In 2016, Abdelnassir Rashid served the Sanders’ campaign as Deputy State Director for Illinois. Now, Rashid is running for Cook County Commissioner and is encouraged by Bernie’s persistence:

“Bernie has built a movement that supports him because he truly cares about ordinary people. His compassion is genuine and goes back decades, and as President I know he’ll fight for working and middle class families and not be influenced by the special interests that have run amok in Washington.”

Rashid cites “momentum” to explain Muslim Americans’ interest in Bernie’s message. A Muslim American, Faiz Shakir, serves as Bernie’s campaign manager because  he mirrors Sanders’ progressive values after serving as the National Political Director of the American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU). 

Shifting Demographics

Recognizing shifting demographics is forward-thinking, if not revolutionary, when both political parties appear immobile and a general tone of anti-establishment emerges in both camps. At the same time, recognizing intersectionality as a shifting identity among people of color draws in diverse engagement and innovation. 

It is unwise to view Muslim Americans as a monolithic bloc— especially when shifting demographics occur in swing-states that will determine presidential elections. For example, an estimated 25 percent of those living in swing-state Michigan are people of color; specifically: 14 percent of those  are African-American. According to Pew’s 2019 study: one-fifth of Muslim Americans are of African American descent; of the the remaining four-fifths, most represent immigrants to the US after 1970–most of whom are not Arab, but if viewed as Middle Eastern or North African, the number increases. As such, somewhere in the middle of these more recent ethnic groups, identity politics is re-emerging in what to check off in the census and how that will translate into votes. 

Bernie recognized this confluence of demographic interests in Illinois and Michigan, which is now a key swing state for 2020 and where he has campaigned before the other Democratic presidential candidates. It is in Michigan where Bernie’s campaign recognizes the socio-economic diversity across Muslim Americans, which cuts across a variety of ethnicities and socio-economic classes. Moreover, the Sanders’ campaign hired, Sami Scheetz, a Syrian American as his Constituency Director in Iowa. Given Bernie’s outreach to people of color who are not Muslim, this is consistent with Bernie’s broader political messaging.

Volunteers like Deliah Odeh, one of the 500,000 Muslims living in of Chicago, can still “feel the Bern” because she hears Sanders’ platform discussing social justice at home AND abroad: from accessing affordable medical care and college education to human rights for all as a Palestinian American woman.

Yet, even when segmenting the Muslim American audience, Bernie’s campaign message highlights engaging communities of color and authenticity that addresses long-ignored controversies, like profiling and foreign policy.  

Authentic on Foreign Policy 

Both parties appear immobile on foreign policies that hurt the subset of Muslim Americans whose parents hail from countries that the U.S. has bombed, sanctioned, turned a blind eye to human rights, or drone attacked. Muslim Americans note how Sanders does not shy away from debating such controversies. Authentic on foreign policy is refreshing for Muslim Americans. Furthermore, Sanders does not shy away from proposing legislation that speak to the meta-narrative of social justice in other countries that are populated with Muslims. Firstly, in 2004, Bernie was amongst the first to protest invading Iraq.  

Secondly and thirdly, Bernie questioned why the US overlooked Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and interference in Yemen but did not work towards diplomacy with Iran at a time when Trump broke the P5+1 peace deal with Iran over its nuclear capabilities. Sanders collaborated in a bipartisan resolution to clarify that U.S. forces are still authorized to attack Al Qaeda members in Yemen, but requires the U.S. to withdraw its support for the Saudi-led intervention.

Fourthly, Bernie has not cleaved the American value for human rights and dignity from Palestine —a historically, hot button topic around my dinner table beyond first, second, third generation Muslims in US. Although Muslims in America are wary of both parties promoting inconsistent foreign policy, the Democratic Party has tended to shy away from Palestine as a social justice cause whereas Bernie consistency calls for ceasing illegal settlements, and thereby reuniting a social justice cause with a progressive value. 

Also, Muslim Americans of the immigrant generation have often fled countries with dictators and repressing freedom of expression. So when Bernie calls out Saudi Arabia for murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi, those who are disillusioned with both parties note that Bernie is taking a stand against institutional and party alliances with Saudi Arabia.


Political participation lessons to promote listening are slowly being learned by newer minority groups.  For example, in the December debate, upon hearing a Muslim American journalist correctly pronounce ‘Afghanistan’ (predominantly Muslim country) candidate Biden did a double-take—and “corrected” her with his Anglicized pronunciation.  

Similarly, a double-take happened at the macro-level.  Back in 2006, when the U.S. invaded Iraq on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction, a GAO report examined the root causes of anti-American sentiment among overseas Muslims. Focus groups in Egypt and Pakistan explained that increased anti-American sentiment is because “U.S. foreign policy seems unfair or imbalanced”. That was not as surprising as the follow up response, “We wish there was more (raw) listening when it comes to engaging on policy” rather than being preached to via public diplomacy programming. 

Again, this reality check is consistently echoed by my family and friends living overseas, like “Mo” who pings me every time Trump tweets something racist or Islamophobic. (Every Muslim American knows a “Mo”.) So whether one speaks English or Arabic, Bernie’s campaign message is literally inviting. For now, the Sanders campaign has implemented this practice of “raw listening” even before Donald Trump became the candidate to defeat.

“Im running for president and I think–if I am invited– I should speak to as many groups as possible.”~Bernie Sanders tells Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj by Hasan Minhaj

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Middle East History & Theory Workshop Conference at University of Chicago

The 33rd Annual Meeting of the Middle East History and Theory (MEHAT) Conference will take place at the University of Chicago on will be held Friday and Saturday, May 4-5, 2018.

This conference, free and open to the public, will feature a keynote address by Dr. James Gelvin (UCLA) and our traditional lamb-roast dinner Saturday night!

To view the schedule of events, click here.

A copy of the conference flyer poster can be downloaded here.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at

Best regards,

Joseph Cross & Carl Bryant Shook



Friday, May 4, 2018

“Which Way Forward? Digital Humanities and Middle Eastern Studies”

This round-table discussion features Marlis J. Saleh (Bibliographer for Middle East Studies, University of Chicago Libraries), Miller Prosser (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago), Oya Topcuoglu (Middle East and North African Studies Program, Northwestern University), and Mohamed El Marzouki (Lewis College of Human Sciences, Illinois Institute of Technology).

4:30pm in Ida Noyes Hall (1212 E. 59th St.)

Reception to follow.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Registration and all panels take place in Stuart Hall (5835 South Greenwood Ave)

8:00-8:15am                Registration and Coffee

8:15-9:45am                 Session I

Normalizing and Interpreting Destruction in the Late 20th & Early 21st Century Middle East –  Stuart 101

Nicole Beckman (University of Chicago), Discussant

Cat Cleveland (University of Chicago), “Hiroshima in Beirut: Atomic Imagery in Lebanese War Literature 1975-1990.”

Taylor Miller (University of Arizona), “Wayfinding Through the Landswept: The Aesthetics of Homelandscapes and Material Manifestations of Belonging in Jerusalem.”

Hannah Porter (University of Chicago), “‘Screaming in the face of the arrogant’: Understanding the logic and symbolism of Ḥūthī discourse.”


Diplomacy and Third-Party Politics in the Early Twentieth Century –  Stuart 102

Sami Sweis (University of Chicago), Discussant

Aram Ghoogasian (University of Chicago), “A Weekend in Cairo: The Beginnings of American Power in Turkey.”

Richard Harrod (Independent Scholar), “Ḥamīd al-Dīn Yemen & The United States in the Early Postwar Period: Engagement & Challenges, 1946 – 1954.”

Erin O’Halloran (St. Anthony’s College, Oxford), “The St James’ Conference on Palestine, 1939: An Indian Dimension.”

The Politics of Early Modern Cultural Production: India, Iran, and the Levant –  Stuart 104

Alexandra Hoffmann (University of Chicago), Discussant

Shaahin Pishbin (University of Chicago), “Poetics of the Imagination: Mīrzā Jalāl Asīr and the ṭarz-i Khayāl.”

Tarek Shamma (Binghamton University), “Bible Translation and Minority Christian Identity in the Nineteenth-Century Levant.”

Darren Wan (University of Chicago), “Learning to Read Persian After the Persianate: The Politics and Poetics of Classicism in Colonial Bombay, 1870–1900.”


10:00-11:30am            Session II

Contested Constructs: Post-War Identities and Nationalisms in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin –  Stuart 101

Toygun Altintas (University of Chicago), Discussant

Alexandra Courcoula (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), “The Benaki Art Collection: Conceptions of History and Heritage in Early Twentieth Century Greece.”

Ufuk Erol (Indiana University Bloomington), “A Brief Genealogy of Modern Alevi Historiography.”

Varuzhan Geghamyan (Yerevan State University), “‘Reis R.T.E.’. Personality Cult and Islamic Nationalism in Modern Turkish Poetry.”

Institutions and Ideologies of Education, from Ottoman Cairo to Erdoğan’s Turkey –  Stuart 102

Annie Greene (University of Chicago)Discussant

Derya Doğan (Indiana University Bloomington), “Socio-Political Contexts of Modernization of Islamic Education in the 20th Century.”

Lauren Poulson (University of Chicago), “The Archaeological Project in the Republic of Turkey: From Atatürk to Erdoğan.”

Kyle Wynter-Stoner (University of Chicago), “An Institutional History of Madrasas in 16th and 17th Century Ottoman Cairo.”

Creating and Consuming Culture in the Modern Middle East –  Stuart 104

Rachel Schine (University of Chicago), Discussant

Mohamed Khalil Harb (Harvard University), “Escapism by Design: An Ethnography of Leisure-Consumption Architecture in Beirut.”

Sharon Jacobs (University of Pennsylvania), “Yerba Mate and the Mahjar: Diaspora Influence on Levantine Consumer Culture.”

Asma Mehan (Politecnico di Torino), “Making Heterotopia: Azadi Square as Palimpsest of Political Memory.”


11:45am-12:45pm       Lunch


1:00-2:30pm               Session III

Men in Love: Masculinity and Madness in Pre-Modern Romances –  Stuart 101

Sam Lasman (University of Chicago), Discussant

Isabel Lachenauer (University of Chicago), “Ḫusrev, Behrām Çūbīn, and Warrior Homosociality in Faḫrī’s Ḫusrev ü Şīrīn.”

Allison Kanner (University of Chicago), “A Pact Between Conflicting Codes:Javānmardī in Niẓāmī’s Laylī o Majnūn.”

Alexandra Hoffmann (University of Chicago), “Manly King or Mad Lover? On the Meaning of Blackness in Fayżī’s Nal o Daman.

Cameron Cross (University of Michigan), “A Dying Man in a Deathless Body: The (Hor)cruxes of Kingship.”


Intersections at the Periphery of the Mongol World Empire –  Stuart 102

    Carol Fan (University of Chicago), Discussant

Armen Abkarian (University of Chicago), “’In Bitter and Grievous Times’: Depictions of the Mongol Empire in Armenian Colophons.”

Zachary Schuyler (University of Chicago), “Fall of the Chinggisids: From Golden Family to Figureheads.”

Xinyi Wei (University of Chicago), “Contextualizing the Hui Hui Astronomy Bureau in the Mongol World Empire.”

Zach Winters (University of Chicago), “The Ṣavfat al-Ṣafā and Ṣūfism in the Mongol Era.”


Digital Humanities and the Middle East – Stuart 104

Joseph Cross (University of Chicago), Discussant

Matthew Brauer (Northwestern University), “Before Souffles-Anfās: Expanding the Digital Archive of Maghrebi Print Culture to the Nineteenth Century.”

Kathryn Franklin and Anthony Lauricella (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago), “The Best Digitization for Knowledge of the Regions: Mapping Medieval Literary Landscapes Using Quantitative Methods.”

Marko Jovanovic (Institute of Social Sciences), “Digital Humanities and Islamic Manuscript Studies.”

Krishna Kulkarni (University of Chicago), “The Digital Libraries of Afghanistan.”

2:45-4:15pm               Session IV

The End of Life: Implying and Interpellating Communities in Death

–  Stuart 101

Alex Shams (University of Chicago), Discussant

Itamar Toussia Cohen (Tel Aviv University), “‘A Love That Lasts Beyond the Grave’: Animals, Companionship and Death in Muslim Societies.”

Emrah Karakuş (University of Arizona), “The Viral Life: Neoliberal Immunity, AIDS panic, and the Queer Death in Turkey.”

Faraj Hamdan (University of Arizona), “The Role of Mourning Councils (Majalis al-‘Aza) among Iraqi Shi’a Women.”


Governing Change: People, Places, and the Law –  Stuart 102

    August Samie (University of Chicago), Discussant

Dilyara Agisheva (Georgetown University), “Colonial Encounter and the Transformation of the Legal System in Crimea in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries.”

Chloe Bordewich (Harvard University), “Disappearing Spaces: Mapping Egypt’s Desert Across the Colonial Divide.”

Henry Clements (Yale University), “Ottoman Bureaucracy and the Birth of the Modern Süryani Community.”

Aysegul Uysal (University of Chicago), “‘Producing “True Muslims’: A Close Examination of the Islamic State’s Governance System.”


Broadcasting for Dissent and Control: Media Beyond Censorship – Stuart 104

Thomas Maguire (University of Chicago), Discussant

Sara Farhan (York University), “‘Huna Baghdad’: Competing Visions in Television Programming in Monarchic Iraq.”

Lucy Flamm (University of Texas at Austin), “Combating Curated Memory: Modes of Narration and Pahlavi Iran.”

Andrew Mines (University of Chicago), “Generating State Authority Through Spectacles of Violence: Mapping ISIS’s Video Propaganda Strategy.”

John Perugini (University of Arizona), “Digital Space meets Protest Space: Twitter and 140journos during the Gezi Park Protests.”


5:00-6:30pm             Keynote Address

Dr. James Gelvin, UCLA

“Theorizing Nationalism in the Arab Middle East: A Personal Story”

Ida Noyes Hall (1212 E. 59th St.)

6:30-8:00pm            Traditional lamb-roast dinner

This dinner, free and open to all conference participants, is made possible by the Middle Eastern Studies’ Students Association (MESSA), University of Chicago.

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Does the Sunni-Shiite Construct Really Help Explain Electoral Politics in MENA?


How many of you feel that using the “Sunni-Shiite” construct better frames political discussions in the MENA region?  Does the Sunni-Shiite Construct Really Help Explain Electoral Politics in MENA?

The irrelevance of American rhetoric in recent weeks should, but won’t, put to rest the mythology of 2009, namely that by speaking out Obama would somehow have changed the outcome.~United States political science scholar, Marc Lynch, Director of Middle East Political Science Project at George Washington University // Tweets as @AbuAardvark

Case in Point: We still have trouble reviewing political elections through the construct of “Sunni-Shiite” and “Secularists versus Islamist” politics, as many North American and predominantly Anglo-Saxon scholars continue to do.  Such binary labeling leaves little room for moderates to assume a role… but maybe that’s the point of this constant practice of labeling.  For example, Thomas Friedman has made millions in booksales with his Sunni-Shiite obsession–I mean framework.  Kind of in the same vein, Kirk Sowell uses this framework to review Iraq’s 2018 elections.  However, he identifies Sunnis and Shiites as vested interest groups who shift to form coalitions.  So perhaps all is not lost through this persistent analysis of Sunni versus Shite political organizing strategy.

But, we digress from our main point: socio-economic grievances drove social movements, which led to protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and in a non-Arab uprising in Iran.

Better-organized and disciplined movements are more capable of sustaining nonviolent campaigns over time. The leaderless Iranian protests seem more likely to be open to escalation on the ground, regardless of any strategic decisions. The more protesters use violence, the easier it will be for the regime to justify unleashing its repressive machinery.~Source: Washington Post, Marc Lynch, Director of Middle East Political Science Project at George Washington University // Tweets as @AbuAardvark

There’s much more to follow up regarding the hopes and expectations of Iraqi’s in their elections process, Iranians and Tunisians in their organized protests, and the interplay of Arab Gulf countries providing arms to different parties in Syria and Yemen.  But to be honest: given the dramatic social movements (Women’s March, Tea Party, Ultra-Nationalism/Populism, Our Revolution, #MeToo, #EnoughisEnough) that have developed within the United States, our home, we are hard pressed to conjecture or analyze what is occurring in the MENA region.  Since the current U.S. president has done the following:

  • Called for reimposing sanctions on Iran (but not Russia);
  • Defied international conventions and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel while disregarding peace group efforts among Jews, Arab Christians, Arab Muslims, and Armenians;
  • Threatened to attack Iran, then Pakistan–then withhold aid– with intermittent bombardment of Yemen–triple the number from 2016;
  • Bombarded Syria with 59 Tomahawk missiles –in a 180 degree turn from President Obama;
  • Danced around with Arab Gulf leaders (literally) while preaching about building-bridges…here’s the video:

The current U.S. President has bombed the Middle East & North Africa region more than his predecessor.  All in the name of defeating ISIL sprinkled with Islolationism/”America First” and over White Nationalistic tendencies.  And it’s only been one year for him.

So as we at PITAPOLICY continue to apologize for his poor decision-making, which is costing civilian lives overseas, please know that we are following your social movements and inspiring startup stories .(See HALA Systems and how they use technology to develop a tool that facilitate humanitarian assistance in Syria.  They received investment from a social venture capital fund called The Impact Engine.) .  We still believe that developing social capital in the MENA region is the only tool to endure and prevent conflict.

And, yes, in addition to following, we are also praying that the social movements pitaconsumers are developing–or reforming and questioning and revising–moves your respective countries’ institutions in the direction that your citizens feel best. Because the U.S. does not know better.  We truly feel that the Sunni-Shiite divide is a pretext to create division and deride social institutions.   Nor have we demonstrated it via our current president.  Please keep tweeting us your experiences in the MENA region.  We’re listening… and learning.  We promise that we’ll return to bi-weekly blogging on the political economy and business news.  #Godspeed


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