Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, June 15, 2024

Fletcher’s Fares Center hosts conference on US-Middle Eastern relations

Panels addressed “the U.S. and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and the ongoing war in Gaza.

The Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at the Fletcher School held its International Conference in the Cabot ASEAN Auditorium in April.

The Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at The Fletcher School held its International Conference on April 18 and 19, featuring guest speakers from universities across the globe, from Harvard University and Boston College to Cairo University and Radboud University.

Founded in 2001, the Fares Center used to host major conferences every year or two, until the series was discontinued. This year’s International Conference — the center’s first in over a decade — represents a revival of that tradition, according to Nadim Rouhana, director of the Fares Center and professor of international negotiation and conflict studies at Fletcher. The event was co-sponsored by the World Peace Foundation, the Fletcher Center for Strategic Studies and the Tufts departments of political science, history and international relations.

The conference theme was “The Middle East in the US, and the US in the Middle East,”  encompassing diverse aspects of U.S.-Middle Eastern relations.

“We wanted the conference to critically review and examine the pervasive influence of the U.S. on Middle Eastern societies and politics,” Rouhana said in his opening remarks on April 18. “We considered the presence of the U.S. in the Middle East to include a wide range of aspects: political and economic development, regional conflicts, democratization processes, and human rights, the long-term impact of the War on Terror, militarization, environment and human security. We extended the analytical frame to include the U.S. presence and influence on popular culture, media, tourism, social relations, the arts, education and other areas of daily life.”

The two-day conference consisted of five panels and a keynote address. Panels included “Power vacuums and the remaking of regional dynamics,” “Cultural Encounters as Sites for Defining New Directions in Arab-American Relations,” “The U.S. and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Regional and Domestic Implications” and “The U.S. in the Middle East: Questions about Dealing with Islamism, Democracy, and Peacebuilding.”

All of these panels were planned long before the events of Oct. 7, the outbreak of the war in Gaza and the wave of pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses, including Tufts’ own. To properly address these developments, Rouhana added the fifth panel, titled “The Middle East in the U.S. Campus and Implications for Knowledge Production and Freedom of Speech,” featuring Peter Beinart of the City University of New York and Sahar Aziz of Rutgers University.

For second-year MALD student Yael Krifcher, who helped organize the keynote panel, it was one of the highlights of the conference.

“We had political scientists bringing us really helpful data to help us understand illiberal peace and authoritarian peace … then you had Peter Beinart and Sahar Aziz bringing in a more accessible conversation … about how we should understand our experiences as students on the college campus during this particular moment, in the real chilling and tightening of space for free speech,” she said. “That contrast was helpful for me.”

Beyond the panel discussions, Krifcher said, the conference enabled participants to engage directly with speakers and peers who share their interests.

“It felt incredibly successful,” she said. “I think there were immediately very fruitful conversations that were happening on the topic.”

“What I hope is that what this conference will have done is set a standard at this institution for how we talk about the Middle East, who we bring in to talk about the Middle East, the perspectives that we uplift from talking about the Middle East,”  Krifcher continued, “[and set] the degree of rigor, the quality of research and analysis that we expect when people talk about the relationship between the United States and the Middle East.”

Second-year MALD student Angelina Grosso, who handled communications for the conference, expressed that the event was a big success. “The turnout was incredible, ranging from external audiences to Fletcher Students to undergrads,” Grosso wrote in an email to the Daily.

Following the conference’s positive reception, Rouhana hopes it can once again become a regular occurrence, either annually or biannually. He wants to continue exploring the complexities of U.S.-Middle Eastern relations in more detail and sees an appetite for more discussion among scholars and Tufts community members.