Faculty members discussed their research on the Middle Eastern economy and Iran's political situation at the Crown Center for Middle Eastern Studies' forum "What's Going on in the Middle East?" last Thursday.
Director of the Crown Center Prof. Shai Feldman (POL) said the Crown Center was founded to prove the possibility of conducting "balanced and dispassionate research of the Middle East," even when most activities in that region are "imbalanced and passionate."
One topic of interest researched at the Center is Iran's political climate. Prof. Naghmeh Sohrabi (NEJS) discussed how Iran is "very much in the throes of election fever."
Sohrabi discussed current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's status as an outsider to the system of family and clerical connections and what this means for the upcoming 2009 election, in which he will run.
Sohrabi said Ahmadinejad ran as an anti-establishment candidate in the past, and his disconnect from the clerics limits his interest in maintaining the status quo.
Sohrabi also acknowledged that potential support from Iranian leaders may change Ahmadejinad's revolutionary rhetoric.
Iranian Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a statement recently in which he told Ahmadinejad to proceed as if he had four more years as president. While the statement could show signs of support, it could also be a push for Ahmadinejad to work hard in order to get re-elected, Sohrabi said.
Sohrabi said that rather than seeing Ahmadinejad as an "agent of change" with an outsider's perspective, traditionalists in the country see him as an "agent of total destruction."
Prof. Nader Habibi (ECON) discussed his work on the history of economic developments in the Middle East after World War II.
Habibi stressed that increasing oil revenue is a major factor in the recently improved economic situation in Middle Eastern countries.
He said oil revenue has allowed countries to invest more and spend more money domestically. The increase in money has allowed for a cultural revolution in education with many more resources going toward higher education.
Habibi said that some Gulf countries have started to use oil revenue to manufacture goods.
While the region has experienced positive economic growth in the past five years, the future will only look good if oil prices stay high. Oil is a limited resource, so countries need to be careful with how they use it, Habibi said.
Feldman closed the discussion with a synopsis of the Arab/Israeli conflict. He said the situation is "good" because a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, is "more or less holding" and a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon is holding "in the narrow sense of the word."
He said the situation is "not good" because the Bush administration is not pushing the involved parties hard enough to agree on negotiations and that "the bad guys are here to stay," referring to Islamic fundamentalist group Hezbollah's veto power in Lebanon and Hamas' control of Gaza.
The forum also allowed for the professors to promote their classes.
Prof. Larry Rubin (POL) discussed his fall course "Strategies of Islamic political activism in the Arab Middle East," which he said would focus on the political implications of various strategies groups pursue.