2017 Incoming Students - Center for Contemporary Arab Studies | Georgetown University

2017 Incoming Students

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Abrar Alshammari

Hometown: Kuwait City, Kuwait

Research interests: Politics in Kuwait, freedom of expression in the Gulf, human rights, tribalism, women’s changing roles in the MENA region, civic freedoms, marginalised communities such as the stateless population in Kuwait, the role of education in shaping political agency, the different forms of democratic growth, culture, literature and art’s influence on social and political beliefs, and other subjects.

Abrar Alshammari graduated with a BA in International Relations, and a minor in English Language and Literature from the American University of Kuwait, where she took part in several extracurricular activities and was an assistant to visiting academic scholars. Her IR concentration was in International Organisations and Diplomacy. Abrar is a native Arabic speaker and participated in the Italian MFA program of Women in Diplomacy, and worked for the Lothan Youth Achievement Centre in Kuwait as a part-time writer. She worked with children at the Dar Al Athar Children’s Library, as well as the British Council in Kuwait’s Young Learners program, and volunteered to teach English to stateless children in Kuwait. Alshammari has also participated in the UNDP Young Leaders Program. She was a Political Advisor to the British Embassy in Kuwait for a year before joining the MAAS program. Abrar is a strong advocate of the importance of culture – literature, art, and music in furthering political and social expression and freedom – and an opponent of censorship, and plans to demonstrate examples of this through her research.

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Caroline Manela

Hometown: Sharon, Massachusetts

Research Interests: Modern history, culture, and politics of the Gulf

Caroline graduated magna cum laude from NYU Abu Dhabi in 2014 with a BA in history and a concentration in Arabic. As an undergraduate, she spent semesters away in New York and Tel Aviv, studied Arabic in Morocco on a Critical Language Scholarship, and interned at the Clinton Foundation and Hedayah, a UAE-based think tank focused on countering violent extremism. Her senior thesis focused on religious violence in the 16th and 17th century Mediterranean. After graduating, Caroline spent three years living in Singapore and working in student life and writing center administration at Yale-NUS College, a partnership between Yale University and the National University of Singapore.

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Chirin Dirani

Hometown: Damascus, Syria

Research Interests: women’s economic survival during and after times of crises

Chirin is a Syrian development practitioner with over fifteen years of field experience. She was raised in the heart of Damascus, right next to Umayyad Mosque. Chirin learned from the merchants of the Silk Bazaar how to negotiate for results, and how to build bridges of trust for mutual benefit. Damascus taught her how business can be an act of art. Chirin graduated from Damascus University with a B.A. in Political Economy. Before arriving to the U.S in 2015, she worked as a Field Manager in Jordan at NICCOD. Her main role was focused on supporting the economic empowerment of Syrian female refugees and women from host community. The participating women were encouraged to launch and grow their own businesses. The profits of this project helped mothers send their children to school and paid for their health expenses. In Syria, Chirin used her business experience to help young female entrepreneurs establish their small businesses. Her business network joined hundreds of Arab businesswomen who mentored and supported each other’s work. In 2012, she was granted the World of Difference Award by the International Alliance for Women.

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Collin T. Berill

Hometown: Meriden, Connecticut

Research Interests: Al-Nahda and late Ottoman Empire; Arab intellectual histories

Collin is a student of history whose research interests lie in the Arabic cultural renaissance of the 19th century and intellectual exchanges between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Having graduated from Central Connecticut State University with a BA in history and a direction for his graduate work, he is extremely grateful to the all the faculty members, peers, and family whom encouraged his studies. He has delivered a conference presentation on the Arab Revolt in World War I and on the problems of Eurocentrism in African studies. Additionally, Collin has worked closely on several professional projects in the capacity of chapter co-authorship, oral history collection, editorial duties, and archival photo research. His goals at Georgetown University’s MAAS program include achieving Arabic language proficiency and increasing his base of historical knowledge of the Middle East.



Abu Rabia, Hazza. The Orthodox Church in Nazareth. (Israel: Al-Hakim; Hartford: Mustafa Foundation at the University of Hartford, 2017 (future). Print.

  •         [Co-author: Chapter 2 – Treasures of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation]

Collin Berill. Leonard Thompson and Pre-Colonial Southern Africa: A Critique of Eurocentric Narratives.Africa Update, 2015. Digital.

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Donald Fantozzi

Hometown: Torrington, CT

Research Interests: Causes of revolutions in the Middle East; technology’s role in revolutionary activity

Donald graduated with honors from the University of Hartford in Hartford, CT in 2014 with a dual B.A. in political science and international relations. In 2012 Donald studied abroad in Amman, Jordan, where he focused on improving his Arabic skills and beginning independent research regarding the use of social media during the “Arab Spring.” After completing his undergraduate degree, Donald moved to Washington, DC where he found work at the strategic communications firm TogoRun. He worked with healthcare nonprofit groups on earned media placement, executive visibility, and membership growth and led the in-house media research team. Donald is excited to transition his focus back to the Middle East, and in the summer of 2017 he attended the Middlebury Arabic Language School in Oakland, CA. Donald plans to concentrate on politics in the MAAS program and hopes to continue studying technology’s effects on revolutionary activity in the Middle East.

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Ghadeer Awwad

Hometown: Nablus, Palestine
Research interests: women empowerment, conflict resolution, peacebuilding and human rights, Palestinian society under Israeli occupation   

Ghadeer earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in International Studies and Human development & social Relations from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. During her undergraduate career, Ghadeer took a gap semester to work as the External Communication Officer for the Drama, Diversity and Development Project, which used street theater as a tool to promote diversity and challenge discrimination against minorities in the MENA region. Countries that the project covered included Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine.  In addition, she interned at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington, DC and the human rights Pat Finucane Center in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, where she was able to effectively engage with research surrounding conflict societies.  Through these experiences and many others, Ghadeer developed great communication skills and a passion for Arab affairs, human rights, and conflict resolution.

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Gillian Shaw

Hometown: Clearwater, Florida

Research Interests: U.S. foreign policy concerning the Western Sahara Conflict and other lesser-known conflicts in the MENA region.

Gillian Shaw graduated cum laude from the University of Florida in 2015 with a B.A. in International Studies with a concentration in the Middle East. While at the University of Florida, she was awarded the departmental Arabic Language Award for academic excellence in the language at the intermediate level. In the summer of 2015, she studied intensive Arabic in Morocco at the Arabic Language Institute in Fez. She wrote her senior thesis on U.S. foreign policy regarding the Western Sahara Conflict, an interest that was influenced by her experiences in Morocco.

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Jacob Kopfensteiner

Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Research interests: Islamism, Salafism, and post Arab Spring politics, with a particular focus on Egypt

Jacob graduated magna cum laude from Saint Louis University in 2016 with a BA in History and a minor in Middle Eastern studies. At Saint Louis University, his passion for the region began with an introductory course, a passion that soon took over his history studies and extended to the study of Arabic as well. Throughout his undergraduate career, Jacob completed research projects on the ideological foundations of Daesh, the sectarian nature of the Syrian civil war, and U.S. – Saudi relations post-9/11. While at Saint Louis University, Jacob also served as Vice President of Public Relations for the SLU chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, a national honors history society. After graduating, he continued his study of Arabic abroad, at the Ahlan language school in Cairo, Egypt, where he lived for two months. After Georgetown, Jacob hopes to work for the U.S. State Department or for an organization providing aid to refugees in the Middle East.

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Jennifer H Luong

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Research interests:  Arab society and culture, women and gender, education in the Arab world, conflict resolution, philosophy

A graduate of both the Defense Language Institute and the United States Air Force Academy, Jennifer has spent a semester in Meknes studying at  the Moulay Ismail University and the Arab American Language Institute in Morocco. She was first introduced to the Arabic language in 2011 at the Defense Language Institute. It was there that she discovered her love of languages and their ability to aid in conflict resolution.  Since then, she has dedicated herself to learning as many languages as possible; to include Spanish, Chinese, and Russian. While at Georgetown, she hopes to focus on gaining a deeper understanding of Arab society and culture in order to help foster positive Arab-American relations. Upon successful completion  of the MAAS program, she will serve as an officer in the United States Air Force and will continue studying Arabic as a member of Air Force’s Language Enabled Airman Program. Outside her academic interests, she enjoys eating good food, retail therapy, and travelling.

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Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi

Hometown: Baghdad, Iraq

Research Interest: Iraqi National Reconciliation

Khairuldeen holds a degree in Political Science and Near Eastern Languages and Literature from UC Berkeley. His writing has appeared in The Arab Weekly, Foreign Policy Journal, Middle East Eye, Berkeley Political Review, openDemocracy and The New Khalij. Khairuldeen has worked on research titled  ” Obstacles to National Reconciliation in Iraq” in Amman and also worked as a research assistant in UC Berkeley’s International and Area Studies program. His research there was titled “1948 From Below: A Transitional History of the War for Palestine” and sought to trace the socio-cultural history of the war as seen by ordinary actors.

Website:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/k-makhzoomi-725

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Lauren Stewart Khater Meyer

Hometown: Denver, CO

Research Interests: Lebanese governance and U.S.-Arab relations

Lauren graduated magna cum laude from Davidson College in 2012 with honors and a B.A. in Political Science, minor in Arabic language. Drawing on her extensive research capabilities, she co-authored two chapters in a tome reviewing American experiences with irregular warfare, focusing on developments in insurgent tactics and strategies and their implications for current U.S. foreign policy. Additionally, she worked as a freelance graphic artist for the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, crafting stories and artwork for an interactive museum exhibit detailing the experience of early Lebanese immigrants to the United States. Currently, she works as a translator in Arabic and French.


Publications“Intermezzo: T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt, 1916-1918.” Co-authored with Crandall, Russell. America’s Dirty Wars: Irregular warfare from 1776 to the War on Terror. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

“A Cold Winter in Siberia. Co-authored with Crandall, Russell. America’s Dirty Wars: Irregular warfare from 1776 to the War on Terror. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

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Majd al Waheidi

Hometown: Gaza, Palestine
Research interests: politics, diplomacy, and culture.

Majd Al Waheidi is a first-year student in MAAS, with a concentration in Politics. She comes to DC after three years as the New York Times Gaza Reporter. Born in Gaza to a Bedouin family from Beersheva, she naturally developed an interest in writing on and learning about the wider Middle East from which Gaza is so isolated.
She graduated in Business from Al-Azhar University in Gaza City in 2014, working as a TV correspondent for Kuwait TV in English and Channel News Asia while still a student. She covered the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas known as Operation Protective Edge for various TV channels before being appointed the New York Times reporter later that year, covering both the daily stories of ordinary Gazans and breaking political exclusives. She speaks Arabic and English and has basic knowledge of French and Italian, and is a dedicated reader of Arabic calligraphy and poetry.


Gaza Dating Site Matches Widows to Men Seeking 2nd (or 3rd) Wife

With Electricity in Short Supply, 10,000 Protest in Gaza, Defying Hamas

Desperate Gaza Escape Attempt Leads to Death, and Recriminations

Hamas Publicly Executes 3 in Gaza After Killing of a Senior Leader

Follow Majd on Twitter @majdreports or see her photos on Instagram.

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Maxwell Scurlock

Hometown: San Diego, CA

Research Interests: Non-state actors, international relations, Levantine politics, religious minorities

Maxwell graduated magna cum laude from The Ohio State University in 2017 with a B.A. in International Studies and minors in History, Middle East Studies, and Arabic. His senior thesis examined Hezbollah’s communication strategies within the context of the Syrian Civil War. During his undergraduate studies, he completed multiple internships and worked with Syrian and Iraqi refugees. He has travelled extensively in Jordan and has studied Arabic in Tetouan, Morocco and at the American University of Beirut. At Georgetown, he plans to focus on Lebanese and Syrian politics. He has also studied Persian and is interested in Iranian relations with the Arab world.

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Minatullah Alobaidi

Hometown: Baghdad, Iraq

Research interests: Development in post-Daesh Iraq, effects of social media on the Arab World

Minatullah Alobaidi is an alumnus of the American University of Iraq Sulaimaniyah (AUIS), originally from Baghdad, Iraq. Minatullah graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies after receiving a full scholarship from the US Department of State. During her years at AUIS, she worked as an assistant at the student services department for more than three years. Minatullah has worked with international organizations of Heartland Alliance International and the World Bank. Her most recent work experience was at Aktis Strategy Ltd, a British company that provides solutions and digital services to the Iraqi government. While at MAAS, Minatullah is focusing on development and politics in the Middle East. Minatullah enjoys running, cooking, and exploring new ideas.

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Naomi Smith

Hometown: North Palm Beach, FL

Research interests: Relationship between of Muslim and Christian communities in the Middle East; Arab-Israeli conflict

Naomi Smith graduated from Emory University in 2015 with a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies and a minor in Arabic. Before beginning her studies at Emory, Naomi participated in a gap year program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she fell in love with the Arabic language through her experiences as part of the first class of the Arabic Immersion Program. During her time at Emory, Naomi spent a summer studying abroad at Al-Akhawayn University in Morocco, as well as another semester at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Prior to beginning her studies at Georgetown, Naomi moved to Jerusalem and worked as a copy editor and freelance writer at The Jerusalem Post.

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Nicoleta Nichifor

Hometown: Abaclia Basarabeasca, the Republic of Moldova

Research interests: International relations and development in the Middle East.

Nicoleta graduated with honors from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2017 with a B.A. in Political Science and minors in Economics and Arabic Language. In addition to learning Standard Arabic at NYUAD, Nicoleta spent a January term in Al Ain (UAE) studying Emirati Dialect. For her undergraduate thesis, Nicoleta researched the relationship between natural resources and intrastate conflict variations in the Central African Republic. She focused on studying the least conflict-affected regions and the mechanisms through which these regions sustained their relative peace. Nicoleta has always been passionate about International Relations and Diplomacy. She interned with the Moldovan Embassy in Beijing, the Moldovan Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office and the World Trade Organization in Geneva, and the Moldovan Mission to the European Union in Brussels. She was also a corporate legal intern at Gianni, Origoni, Grippo, Cappelli & Partners International Business Law Firm in Abu Dhabi.

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Nour Mousa Laswi

Hometown: Amman, Jordan

Research interests: Market trends, impact of refugee influx on markets and country resources, and humanitarian aid.

Nour is a young professional born and raised in Amman, Jordan. She received a full scholarship from MEPI Tomorrow’s Leaders to study her undergrad at the Lebanese American University. From there, she graduated with distinction in 2014 with a BSc in Banking and Finance, minor in Economics. Nour also received the Rhoda Orme Award in university for her service and dedication to others. Volunteering is a crucial part to her way of living as she is an active member in several NGOs both in Jordan and Lebanon, especially in Rotaract as she was Head of International Understanding back in 2012. For the past three years, she was working as a trader in Arab Bank. Part of her role was to analyze market trends; how political policies and events impact the market, and predict the market’s movements. She is interested in researching how refugee influx influences those trends as well as the effect on each country’s resources.



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Richard Sacco

Hometown: San Diego, California

Research Interests: Refugees and displacement in the Arab World, the effects of the Arab Spring on civil society and grassroots movements in Arab societies, the techniques and initiatives of local activists combating sectarianism in the Levant/Greater Syria Region.

Richard Sacco graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Arabic. Since his time as a transfer student from Grossmont College, Richard has strived to immerse himself in the language, history, and culture of the Arab World. His most recent and influential immersion experience was during a semester studying abroad with the CIEE Language and Culture program in Amman, Jordan. His experiences in Jordan inspired his interest in pursuing a career with refugee resettlement and development agencies, such as UNRWA or UNHCR. Richard has a passion for languages and speaks varying levels of Arabic, Spanish, French, and Italian.

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Samar Saeed

Hometown: Palestine & Jordan

Research interests: political economy of the Arab world, authoritarianism, identity politics, power and education.

Samar holds a BA from George Mason University (2009) and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies with a major in Politics (Distinction) from SOAS, University of London. Upon graduation in 2013, Samar worked as a Researcher at the Columbia University global center in Amman and started her own educational initiative with the Middle East institute at SOAS focused on youth political education. During her time in Amman, Samar attended the Institute for Critical Thought and completed three courses in critical theory (identity politics, Islam and Modernity, and Ethics and Exile). In 2015 she completed a community organizing course called Leadership,Organizing, and Action at Harvard University and organized various community campaigns in Amman. She also taught IB Global Politics for the past two years. Samar’s favorite dish is maklobeh; she loves to dance dabkeh and started to learn to play the Oud this year: and she reviews and recommends books on her Instagram blog @samarreads and twitter @samarsaeed.


The PA & the Shadow State in Palestine

On Marwan and Syrian Child Refugees

The Gas Deal with Israel Is Bad News for Jordan and Jordanians Know It

A king’s vengeance

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Shannon Hayes

Hometown: New Boston, New Hampshire

Research Interests: Gender politics in Morocco, especially the role of social media in shaping romantic interactions; hymenoplasty in the Middle East and among diaspora communities in Europe; sexual education implementation in MENA.

Shannon graduated from Davidson College in 2017 with a B.A. in Arab Studies and significant coursework in French. In 2014, she received a Dean Rusk grant to study Modern Standard Arabic intensively at the Qasid Institute in Amman, Jordan. After spending a semester studying Arabic and literature at the Arabic Language Institute of Fez, Morocco, she narrowed her research interests and began to research for her thesis on premarital sex and dating in Morocco. Awarded another Dean Rusk grant in 2016, Shannon spent the Winter conducting interviews at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fez, and was awarded honors for her resulting thesis work.