Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies opened its first field office in Tunisia last Tuesday in an effort to expand Harvard's global presence and provide resources for scholarship in North Africa.
Hazem Ben-Gacem '92, a London financier and former Lowell House resident, endowed the office for an undisclosed sum. Situated in Tunis, the new office joins more than eighteen Harvard international outposts, including locations in Botswana, China, and Chile.
A native Tunisian, Ben-Gacem said his primary motivation behind funding the office was to enable Harvard students to share in his enthusiasm for his country and immerse themselves in Tunisia's history.
"The Harvard Office in Tunisia is a home for Harvard students away from home to broaden and continue their research, their education, their experience and know that there is a familiar environment," Ben-Gacem said.
According to William Granara, the director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Tunisia is a unique country to study, offering both ancient history and modern institutions.
"Tunisia is both historically and geographically well-located," Granara said. "Geographically, it is in the heart of the Mediterranean so it is a part of the Mediterranean world, it's part of Africa so it's part of the African world, it's an Arab country so it's part of the Arab world, it's a Muslim country so it's part of the Islamic world, and I think one can say it's part of the broader Middle East."
The Tunisia location will offer summer and January term programs for Harvard affiliates interested in studying Arabic, conducting research in Tunisia's archives or institutions, and exploring the country's history.
According to Granara, student response to its Tunisia office has been overwhelmingly positive. Last summer, before the center officially opened, graduate students participated in an intensive Arabic writing course and did research in the Tunisian archives over winter break.
While the Tunisian office's new offerings are primarily for graduate students, Ben-Gacem said the office hopes to expand to provide undergraduates with similar programs.