Understanding the Middle East:
Historical and Contemporary Transformations
Scholars from the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University respond to questions posed by Feryaz Ocakli, assistant professor of government.
The Middle East is in a process of transformation. After a long period of seemingly
stable autocratic rule, the "Arab Spring" sent millions to protest and demand change.
The Arab revolts led to regime change in Tunisia, military takeover in Egypt, civil
war in Syria and Libya and nothing at all in Saudi Arabia. How can we make sense of
these profound movements across the Middle East? In this panel, our guest scholars
will address both the durable social structures in the Middle East, as well as the
changing nature of social life, political institutions and cultural developments in
Iris Agmon, visiting scholar, is a social historian of the Ottoman and post-Ottoman Middle East. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on socio-legal Ottoman history, family history and historiography. Her research focuses on late Ottoman and early Mandate Palestine. She is the author of Family & Court: Legal Culture and Modernity in Late Ottoman Palestine (Syracuse, 2006). She was a Greenberg Scholar-in Residence at Skidmore College in 2012.
Alon Fragman, visiting scholar, is the coordinator of Arabic studies in the Department of Middle East Studies, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His book Tiger Paper (2013) includes 47 short stories by the famous Syrian writer Zakaria Tamer, translated into Hebrew, with a preface about his writing and perception of Syrian society in the 20th century. Another field of interest of Fragman is Arabic acquisition, mainly among native Hebrew speakers from a linguistic point of view.
Yair Horesh is the fall 2013 Greenberg Middle East Scholar-in-Residence. He is a tenured senior lecturer and drector of the Arabic Language and Culture Program in the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In the past, he has been a visiting lecturer in Tel-Aviv University, Hebrew University and at the Israeli branch of New York University. His research focuses primarily on modern Arabic Literature (particularly the literature written in Western exile) and Arab intellectual thought as reflected in literary and critical works. In the field of Arabic exilic literature he seeks to explore the literary and poetic rendition of displacement in the writings of major contemporary Arab writers, poets and intellectuals. Through thematic analysis and close readings that place their texts within wider literary contexts, he attempt to offer in his studies a coherent framework for understanding the literary body of work created by these men of letters. In his study, he views the literary and poetic texts as scripts arising out of the particular effects of exile from their homeland or former way of life, enabling the writers, from the position of expatriation, to imaginatively reenter the home space and to negotiate the narratives of “belonging and longing.” He argues that these texts not only register the distinct sense of loss and profound up-rootedness, but also demonstrate how these poets exhibit a radical openness to their exilic surroundings.
Nimrod Hurvitz, visiting scholar, received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1994 and currently teaches at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. He has written extensively about Islamic religious movements. His book The Formation of Hanbalism has been translated into Arabic. Between 2004 and 2006 he was a visiting scholar at Harvard Law School and a Greenberg Scholar-in-Residence at Skidmore College. He has lectured on the Middle East and contributes op-eds to leading Israeli newspapers such as Haaretz (English), Yediot Ahronot, Maariv and Makor Rishon, as well as HNN (History News Network). He is also a contributor to the website "CanThink."
Yoram Meital, visiting scholar, is an associate professor at the Department of Middle East Studies and chairperson of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies & Diplomacy, both at Ben-Gurion University. He was a fellow in the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard University Law School (2011–12) and since then has been a member of the Working Group on Arab Transformative Movements (Harvard, Center for Middle East Studies). Among his publications are: Peace in Tatters: Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East (2007); Egypt's Struggle for Peace: Continuity and Change, 1967–1977 (1997); and Jewish Life and Sites in Egypt (1995). His current research focuses on the making of hegemony and resistance in Egypt since the 1950s, with special emphasis on exceptional courts. Meital has been quoted regularly about Middle East affairs in the media, and his views and op-ed were published by various papers and media outlets, including Ha'aretz, Yediot Ahronot and al-Jazeera. He was a Greenberg Scholar-in Residence at Skidmore College in 2008.
Haggai Ram, visiting scholar, is an associate professor at the Department of Middle East Studies, BGU. He teaches and writes about secularism, religion, colonialism and popular culture in the modern Middle East, with particular emphasis on Iran and Israel-Palestine. His publications include Myth and Mobilization in Revolutionary Iran (American University Press, 1994); Reading Iran in Israel: Self and Other, Religion and Modernity (Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2006); and Iranophobia: The Logics of an Israeli Obsession (Stanford University Press, 2009). Ram’s current research focuses on the social history of hashish in Palestine-Israel from the 1920s to the present. He was a Greenberg Scholar-in Residence at Skidmore College in 2006.
Dror Ze’evi, visiting scholar, teaches Ottoman and Turkish history at Ben-Gurion University of
the Negev. He received his Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University in 1992, and after post-doctoral
studies at Princeton University he joined the faculty of BGU, where he helped found
the Department of Middle East Studies and chaired it from 1995 to 1998 and again from
2002 to 2004. He was also among the 14 founders of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle
East Studies and Diplomacy and chaired it from its foundation in 1997 to 2002. His
research and teaching interests include Ottoman and modern Middle Eastern society
and culture. His book on Ottoman Jerusalem, An Ottoman Century: The District of Jerusalem in the 1600s, was published by SUNY Press in 1996 and translated into Hebrew and Turkish. Another
book, Producing Desire: Changing Sexual Discourse in the Ottoman Middle East, 1500–1900, was published in 2006 by the University of California Press, and a Turkish translation
was published recently. Zeevi’s current research focuses on the Armenian massacres
in the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, 1894–1924. In recent years he was a Greenberg Scholar-in-Residence
at Skidmore College (2004), senior research fellow at Brandeis University and senior
fellow at Koç University's Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations.