The Annual Middle East Studies Conference

Minority and Ethnic Politics
in and from the Middle East
April 28, 2023
8:30 am-5:15 pm

In the Old Madison room, Room 3312*
Memorial Union, 800 Langdon Street, Madison, WI
Free and Open to the Public

You are cordially invited to attend our conference featuring outstanding scholars from around the US discussing the historical background, sociopolitical realities, and challenges facing religious, ethnic, and other minorities in the MENA region.

Please Register Here

*Please note that this floor can only be accessed using the elevator/stairs on the east side of the building (where Peet’s coffee is located)

8:30 am

9:00 – 9:15 am
Steven Brooke
Associate Professor of Political Science
Director, Middle East Studies Program

9:15 – 9:30 am
Barry Gerhart
Interim Vice Provost and Dean of the International Division, UW-Madison

9:30 – 11:30 am
Moderator: Daniel Stolz, UW-Madison

Güneş Murat Tezcür, University of Central Florida
Liminal Minorities: Religious Difference & Mass Violence

Daniel Tavana, Penn State University
Identity and Ideology in Kuwaiti Electoral Politics

Anoush Tamar Suni, Northwestern University
Landscapes of Ruins: Between Armenian and Kurdish Histories in Turkey

11:30 am – 1:00 pm

1:00 – 3:00 pm
Moderator: Adam Stern, UW-Madison

Sa’ed Atshan, Emory University
Queer Imaginaries across the Middle East and North Africa

Neda Bolourchi, Rutgers University
The Politics of Belonging: Jewish Iranian War Participation
and Post-War Co-Options and Contestations

Nora Loori, Boston University
Arab or African? Disputes over the Status
of East African Minorities in the Gulf

3:00 – 3:15 pm

3:15 – 5:15 pm
Moderator: Jennifer Pruitt, UW-Madison

Afifa Ltifi, Cornell University
Black Tunisians: Diasporic from Within, Diasporic from Without

Candace Lukasik, Mississippi State University
‘Draining the Middle East of Christians’:
The Contested Politics of Migration Among Egypt’s Copts

Christopher Livanos, UW-Madison
The Egyptian Cavafy: An Alexandrian Voice
of the Greek Diaspora

Queer Imaginaries across the Middle East and North Africa
Sa’ed Atshan

Over the past 20 years, there has been a mushrooming of Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer (LGBTQ) social movements across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This talk will explore the rise of these movements and their region-wide networks, demonstrating how queer imaginaries are helping to re-make the idea of a MENA region.

Sa’ed Atshan is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. He has previously taught at UC Berkeley and Swarthmore College. Atshan earned a PhD at Harvard University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Brown University. He has published Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique (Stanford University Press, 2020), The Moral Triangle: Germans, Israelis, Palestinians (Duke University Press, 2020, with Katharina Galor), and Reel Gender: Palestinian and Israeli Cinema (Bloomsbury, 2022, with Katharina Gallor). Atshan is also a Palestinian Quaker LGBTQ human rights advocate.

The Politics of Belonging: Jewish Iranian War Participation
and Post-War Co-Options and Contestations
Neda Bolourchi

This talks examines the Jewish Exemption Claim, the assertion that the Iranian government gave Jewish Iranians an exception from 1980 to 1986 to keep members from the “war fronts” of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). Importantly, at the heart of the Exemption Claim are questions about belonging and how to acclimatize to a newly asecular place as a minority community. Based on over twelve months of research and interviews, this talk provides a glimpse into the lives and reasons why some Jewish Iranians stayed during the War and served Iran.

Neda Bolourchi is the Associate Director of and Post-Doctoral Associate in Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. Her research focuses on the roles of religion, secularism, minorities, economic development, and utopic concepts in political movements and nation-state formation in the Middle East. Her published work has appeared in History and Anthropology and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, among other places. Her forthcoming manuscript, Contending Visions of Iran, examines the transformative discourse on Iran as sacred across the religious and political spectra during the twentieth century.

The Egyptian Cavafy: An Alexandrian Voice of the Greek Diaspora
Chris Livanos

Chris Livanos is a Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies at UW-Madison. His academic research concentrates on literature of the Medieval and Early Modern Mediterranean, emphasizing interactions between European and non-European cultures. He is currently studying the theme of Spain’s Muslim legacy as a haunting, repressed cultural presence in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. 

Arab or African? Disputes over the Status of East African Minorities in the Gulf
Noora Lori

This presentation focuses on the contested status of Zanzibaris in the United Arab Emirates. She argues that their designation as “Arab” or “African” is not exclusively (or even primarily) determined by characteristics like language, religion, customs, territory, ethnicity, phenotype, genealogy, or nationality. Instead, “Arab” represents a claim to authenticity–one that must be recognized by the political entities that have monopolized the authority over a territory and its inhabitants.

Noora Lori is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University. Her research focuses on citizenship, migration and racial politics in the Middle East and in comparative perspective. Her first book, Offshore Citizens: Permanent “Temporary” Status in the Gulf (Cambridge University Press 2019) received the best book prize from the Migration and Citizenship section of the American Political Science Association (2020), the Distinguished Book Award from the Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration Studies section of the International Studies Association (2021), and the Best Book award from the Middle East and North Africa politics section of the American Political Science Association. She is the co-director (with Kaija Schilde) of the Pardee School Initiative on Forced Migration and Human Trafficking.

Called into Being: The Diasporic inflections of Maghrebian Blackness
Afifa Ltifi 

While shedding light on the exemplarity of (anti)blackness in a continent that is older than race, blackness and the idea of Africa itself, this talk posits the predicament of black Tunisians as a challenge to the intellectual paradigms of black and African diaspora studies, as well as a meta-critique to the historiography of race and slavery in (North)Africa.

Afifa Ltifi is a Mellon Graduate Fellow at the Society for the Humanities and a Ph.D. candidate in Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. Originally from Tunisia, her research interests are located in the overlap of (North) Africa’s critical history and culture, Afro-Arab relations, theories of time and modernity, comparative slavery, black critical theory, race and racial formation, among others. Her dissertation project excavates a conceptual genealogy of race and blackness in Tunisia, by examining late nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ epistemic modes of black subjectification and their engendered ontological workings in shaping ideas of the nation, the self and the African other, in the wake of the traumatic trans-Saharan slavery moments and global specters of race.

‘Draining the Middle East of Christians’: The Contested Politics of Migration Among Egypt’s Copts
Candace Lukasik

This talk examines the contemporary conditions of Coptic Christian emigration from Egypt to the United States, focusing primarily on the Diversity Visa (also known as the Green Card Lottery). International media, Euro-American politicians and policymakers, and diasporic Middle Eastern Christians themselves have argued that Christians in the region are facing extinction and are fleeing for their lives from the forces of rising religious extremism and sectarian violence. Based on twenty-months of fieldwork between Egypt and the US-diaspora, this talk will unfold the contentious ethnographic texture of transnational migration for a Christian minority community in the Middle East.

Candace Lukasik is an Assistant Professor of Religion and Anthropology at Mississippi State University. Her research focuses on the intersections of transnational migration, religion, race, and empire, and her first book manuscript, Martyrs and Migrants: Coptic Christians and the Persecution Politics of U.S. Empire, ethnographically examines how the American politicization of Middle Eastern Christians has shaped patterns of migration and transnational minority subjectivities.

Landscapes of Ruins: Between Armenian and Kurdish Histories in Turkey
Anoush Tamar Suni

This talk focuses on the overlapping histories of the Armenian and Kurdish communities in the region of Van in southeastern Turkey through an exploration of spaces of material ruination. Landscapes of ruins are testament to the repeating cycles of state violence against these minority communities over the past century. Through the examples of Armenian and Kurdish homes destroyed by genocide and war, a century apart, I demonstrate how spaces of destruction become dynamic sites in which understandings of the past, politics in the present, and possible futures are negotiated, imagined, and enacted.

Anoush Tamar Suni is currently the Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University. She was a Manoogian Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Armenian Studies Program and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. She earned her PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2019. She is currently working on her book project, which investigates questions of memory and the material legacies of state violence in the region of Van with a focus on the historic Armenian and contemporary Kurdish communities. Her research was recently published in the journal Comparative Studies in Society and History and is forthcoming in Anthropological Quarterly.

Identity and Ideology in Kuwaiti Electoral Politics
Daniel L. Tavana

Drawing on novel archival data from Kuwait, this talk presents evidence that following the implementation of a new electoral law in 1980, excluded minority elites used ideological appeals to mobilize out-group voters. As the use of these ideological appeals diffused, oppositional activity in the legislature increased. In Kuwait, elections themselves facilitated the endogenous expansion of opposition. Once elected, elites who ran in elections using ideological appeals frequently blocked the ruling Al-Sabah family’s legislative agenda. Qualitative and quantitative tests of the argument probe the theory’s implications for the study of authoritarian politics and account for alternative explanations.

Daniel L. Tavana is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Penn State University. His research interests include a focus on elections, identity, and comparative political behavior, as well as the dynamics of political opposition in authoritarian regimes. He studies these issues in the Middle East and North Africa, where he uses a variety of methods and sources of data to study electoral politics. His research is motivated by a broader interest in understanding the origins of contemporary patterns of mass politics across the region.

Liminal Minorities: Religious Difference & Mass Violence
Güneş Murat Tezcür

Why do some religious minorities, lacking any significant power and presenting no threat, provoke the ire of popular groups and become targets of violent attacks? This talk argues that certain faith groups, defined as liminal minorities, are stigmatized across generations, as they lack theological recognition and social acceptance from a dominant religious group.  These dynamics make liminal minorities particularly vulnerable to attacks during periods of political change generating resentment among members of a majority group. This talk will focus on the dynamics of anti-Yezidi genocidal attacks in northern Iraq in the 2010s and anti-Alevi massacres in Turkey in the 1970s and 1990s. Utilizing a rich variety of original sources, including in-depth interviews with survivors, field trips, and court documents, I demonstrate how religious stigmatization and political resentment directly informed the motives of ordinary people who participated in the atrocities.

Güneş Murat Tezcür is the Director of the School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs and the Jalal Talabani Chair and Professor at the University of Central Florida. He studies political violence, politics of identity, and democratic struggles with a focus on Iranian, Kurdish, and Turkish human geography. He is the author of Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation (University of Texas Press, 2010) and the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Turkish Politics (Oxford University Press, 2022) and Kurds and Yezidis in the Middle East: Shifting Identities, Borders, and the Experience of Minority Communities (IB Tauris, 2021). He has recently completed a book manuscript on mass violence targeting religious minorities and is currently working on an NSF-funded research project titled Diversity in Linked Fate: Political Behavior and Opinions of Latinx Americans in collaboration with Kenicia Wright.



At Memorial Union, There’s plenty of tables on the beautiful terrace overlooking Lake Mendota.

Der Rathskeller, pub food

Strada, Italian

Carte, sandwiches

Sunset Lounge & Outdoor Restaurant

Daily Scoop in Memorial Union, ice cream made on campus!

Peet’s Coffee, coffee/tea/desserts

Pub fare

Colectivo (café with a variety of sandwiches) 583 State Street

Coopers Tavern 20 W Mifflin Street

Great Dane 123 E Doty Street

MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes 571 State Street

Old Fashioned 23 N Pickney Street. (Try the cheese curds!)

State Street Brats  603 State Street

Teddywedgers 101 State Street (carryout Cornish pasties)


Fugu 411 W Gilman Street

Himal Chuli Restaurant (Nepalese) 318 State Street

Ruyi Hand Pulled Noodle 334 State Street

Sol’s on the Square (Korean) 117 E Mifflin Street

Chen’s Dumpling House  505 State Street


International food carts on Library Mall on campus, including Korean, Mexican,
Ethiopian, and Thai.

Dubai Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar  419 State Street

Forage Kitchen (make your own salads) 665 State Street

Mediterranean Café (open at lunchtime) 625 State Street

Parthenon Gyros  316 State Street


Tutto Pasta  305 State Street

Ian’s Pizza on State 100 State Street

Cento 122 W Mifflin Street

Osteria Papavero 128 E Wilson Street

FURTHER AWAY (not walking distance)


Ha Long Bay (Vietnamese) 1353 Williamson Street

Lao Laan-Xaang (Laotian) 1146 Williamson Street

Sa Bai Thong (Thai) 2840 University Avenue



Bar Corallini 2004 Atwood Avene

Pizza Brutta 1805 Monroe Street


Maharani Indian Restaurant 380 W Washington Avenue

Petra Bakery & Restaurant (Middle Eastern) 6119 Odana Road

Swagat Indian Restaurant 707 North Highpoint Road

Pub Food

Alchemy Cafe 1980 Atwood Avenue

Green Owl Café (no indoor dining, vegetarian and vegan)  1970 Atwood Avenue

Everly (eclectic eatery) 2701 Monroe Street

Monty’s Blue Plate  2089 Atwood Avenue

The Weary Traveler 1201 Willilamson Street