Undergraduate Research Poster Session

 

Middle East Studies Association
Undergraduate Research Poster Session

Sponsored by the Committee on Undergraduate Middle East Studies (CUMES)

The sixteen presenters in this poster session are participants in the eighth annual Undergraduate Research Workshop, hosted by MESA’s Committee for Undergraduate Middle East Studies (CUMES). The papers were selected in a competitive application process, bringing together students from universities in Sweden, Qatar, and all over the United States.  The workshop was directed by MESA award winners, CUMES board members, and faculty experts in the topics or disciplinary areas. This poster session is an opportunity for the students to share their research with the wider MESA community and the public. The open poster session is an opportunity for students in any academic discipline with a focus on the Middle East to present their research and get feedback and research advice from MESA attendess. It will be held Friday, December 3rd from 3:00-4:00pm EST. 

Please find information regarding students presenters below. 

Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89935535830

 

 

Member Name

 

Poster PDF

Maha Abadi
, University The Struggle of Palestinian Refugee Women in Lebanon

Abstract: The historical background in the first section of this research explains how Zionist colonialism caused Palestinians to seek refuge in neighboring countries, including Lebanon, since 1948. The first section also tackles the Lebanese laws that deprive Palestinian refugees of their basic civil rights, along with the social and political discriminations they face. Palestinian refugee women have been a steady subject of research in the social sciences. However, almost no research addresses the ways in which the intersectionality of their identity shapes their life chances and affects their lived experiences. The life chances of Palestinian refugee women living in Lebanon are shaped simultaneously by their gender, social class, political affiliation, and refugee status. Moroever, Palestinian refugee women are never represented as human beings with hopes and dreams. Instead, research tends to portray refugee women only as victims. In this sense, they are dehumanized and objectified. In this research, I hope to document the human stories beyond victimhood. My examination of the lives of Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon applies the concept and theory of Neopatriarchy coined by the Palestinian sociologist Hisham Sharabi, the concept and theory of Life Chances as devised by Max Weber, and the notion and theory of intersectionality as discussed by feminists K. Crenshaw and P. Hill-Collins. This examination aims at presenting their lives as a complex web shaped by several intersecting variables. Their identity components like refugee status, gender, and class intersect creating their unique experience. I chose qualitative methods for this research in order to achieve reliable documentation that comes close to reflecting reality. I conducted ten one-on-one interviews for the purpose of asking seven questions in each interview. My questions addressed the following topics: happiness, hopes and dreams, struggles and life challenges, incidents of injustices, and romantic life of the participating women.

Member Name


Poster PDF

Sophia Brown, Tulane University Strange Alliance: The Case of Hezbollah and the FPM in Post-Taif Lebanon

Abstract: Lebanese politics operate within a framework of confessionalism, where power sharing is divided along sectarian lines, specifically religious communities. The system of partitioning public offices along sectarian lines breeds a rich culture of trading allegiances in an effort to maximize a party’s proportion of influence, making for unusual cross-sectarian alliances. In a 2006 memorandum of understanding, the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah began an unlikely alliance that has weathered far longer than expected. The alliance has allowed for the Maronite-Shiite bloc to dominate Lebanese politics by neutralizing a perceived Sunni threat. In my paper, I will analyze what conditions have allowed for such an unlikely alliance to remain intact for so long by examining the interests each party has in maintaining the alliance. More recently, the FPM-Hezbollah coalition has seen fractures in its relationship. I will discuss possible sources of recent tension between the two and offer an assessment of where the alliance may head in the future. The source material for my paper will consist of a combination of books, academic articles, official government documents and news articles. The source material drawn from books will mainly consist of contextual background information that will set the historical stage of both parties' emergence and their respective ideologies, and goals. I will draw upon government documents for pivotal turning points in the FPM-Hezbollah alliance such as the Taif agreement of 1989, the 2006 memorandum of understanding, and the Doha Accord of 2008, as well as any official press releases by Lebanese political parties. Lastly, I will be supplementing my analysis with the research of other academics who have studied political parties, electoral politics, and coalition governments in Lebanon.

 

Member Name


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Kathryn Carroll, University of Alabama in Huntsville The Great Divide: Sectarian Life in Beirut and the Response Of Youth To Sectarianism

Abstract: Lebanon’s rich history is full of trying times and powerful movements that have shaken the Middle East and the world. Lebanon experienced a civil war starting in
1975, which led to the spatial segregation of the capitol city Beirut. This way of life still persists in Beirut, Lebanon today, and affects generation after generation by placing the youth in a social structure of seclusion and tension. Recently though, the youth of Beirut have openly fought against the current status quo, protesting economic hardships and infrastructural ruin brought on by government mismanagement, as well as acting as agents in breaking through the current stigma associated with sect and religious mixing. Using interviews, secondary literature, primary data, and historical sources on the effects of the religious divisions in Beirut, this paper will show how the current segregation of the city came to be and how it is passed on intergenerationally, as well as how the youth of Beirut are fighting for a more egalitarian society through school elections, inter religious marriages, and expanding educational and economic opportunities. To show the determination of the youth, I conducted interviews with a young woman who is native to Beirut, Lebanon, as well as researching recent events of youth protests of the August 4th explosion, the economic crises, and Covid-19 medical supply shortages. In doing so I hope to shed light on the sectarian social structure of Beirut and the ways in which the youth are causing changes to this age-old system.

Member Name


Poster PDF

Juliana Cosenza
, Villanova University Mind the Gap: Aid Provision to Iraqi and Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Abstract: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan hosts a sizeable refugee population, which contains over 700,000 Iraqis and Syrians. This refugee influx challenges Jordan’s national refugee response by allowing deficiencies, or “provisional gaps”, from governmental and humanitarian assistance to emerge and persist throughout current response plans. Within this paper, “provisional gaps” are defined as refugees’ inadequate access to essential rights as well as resources. Insufficient governmental and humanitarian assistance, as seen through provisional gaps, delays the development of sustainable refugee response strategies that would integrate Iraqi and Syrian refugees into the greater Jordanian society, including the national economy. As conflicts in neighboring Middle Eastern countries, such as Iraq and Syria, prolong without a foreseeable end, the protracted reality for refugees in Jordan necessitates durable efforts by the governmental and humanitarian sectors to fill these provisional gaps by implementing long-term refugee integration resolutions. This paper seeks to understand how provisional gaps emerge from governmental and humanitarian assistance by answering the main research question: “Why do provisional gaps in refugee assistance towards Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Jordan exist?” By exploring this research question, this paper will critically analyze the existence and persistence of provisional gaps through the lens of key governmental and humanitarian actors operating in Jordan. This actor-based, interdisciplinary research will consult various primary sources, such as governmental reports and humanitarian sector data, as well as secondary sources, including academic literature, academic journal articles, analyses regarding refugee conditions in Jordan, and excerpts from interviews with humanitarian workers in Jordan. This research interrogates how the interrelated actions of both the governmental and humanitarian sectors contribute to provisional gaps in refugee assistance. Overall, this paper will provide a contextual understanding of Jordan’s refugee response that concludes with an equitable vision aiming to improve future provisional efforts towards Iraqi and Syrian refugees on the ground.

 

 

 

Member Name

 

Poster PDF

Lillian Giles
, Wake Forest University Strategic Indifference’ in Tunisia’s Approach to Migration

Abstract: In Reluctant Reception, Kelsey Norman proposes a new theory to explain state approaches to migration and observes how this theory functions within three cases. Norman theorizes that, though most scholars have previously argued that states adopt either repressive or integrative policies regarding migrants, there is a third strategy, which she terms “strategic indifference,” where states ignore migrants’ integration into informal economies and entrust NGOs with providing services to these populations. I consider whether Norman’s theory applies to Tunisia. It is important to consider Tunisia in this context because of its position as a traditional transit country between Africa and Europe, and due to the impact of Tunisian migrant reception policies on both the region and migrants and refugees residing in Tunisia. Therefore, I will be specifically considering whether strategic indifference is an appropriate theory for describing Tunisia’s approach to migration in the past thirty years. To answer this, an intensive review of the literature on historical Tunisian migrant reception and current empirical indicators will be done. In addition, a grant from my university will permit numerous elite interviews with representatives of the Arab Reform Initiative, Arab Center in Washington D.C., Yale University, International Organization for Migration, Migration Policy Institute, REACH, European Centre for Development and Policy Management, Brookings, Human Rights Watch, Georgetown’s Democracy and Governance Program, UN Refugee Agency, and Columbia Global Centers. Using Atlas.ti, a computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software, I will identify major themes among the interviews. This research will add to a growing literature that attempts to go beyond explanations that simply resort to claims about state weakness or lack of will to account for gaps in policy implementation. A better understanding of the strategic choices employed by and constraints faced by states such as Tunisia is vital to ameliorating migrant and refugee policy shortcomings.

Member Name

 

Poster PDF

Leonora Haag
, Stockholm University Awakening Egyptian Women’s Conscience: A critical discourse analysis of Durriya Shafiq’s articles in Bint al-Nīl from a feminist postcolonial perspective

Abstract: This research gives an academic perspective on eleven articles written by Durriya Shafiq (1908-1975) and published in Bint an-Nīl 1948-1956, where the ideological undertones of her feminist discourse are critically examined. The purpose of this qualitative analysis was to study how Shafiq, in an Egyptian context, discussed the contemporary women's societal participation and status, but also which ideological values and conceptions were prominent in her articles. Gayatri Spivak’s reconceptualization of representation and Chandra Mohanty’s identification of ethnocentrism in feminist discourse, were drawn upon to examine representation, agency, essentialisation and Eurocentrism.

An extensive linguistic analysis and examination of the socio-cultural context were conducted, using Norman Fairclough’s Dialectical-Relational Approach. The results showed that women’s agency was grammatically reduced and that women in object formation were described as a monolithic entity. Conflicting statements exhibited an ideological shift in the content, as a reflection of how the contemporary political conditions changed in Egypt. Doria Shafiq both reproduced a patriarchal discourse that perpetuated discursive victimisation of women, but also subtly induced liberal values and progressive depictions of the contemporary Egyptian woman.

 

Member Name

 

Poster PDF

Hanane Idihoum
, St. Olaf College Mapping Queer Resistance in Morocco

Abstract: Morocco has seen a growing number of feminist and queer advocacy groups organizing and forming alliances with other North African collectives. Although their activism strategies and platforms vary, one common theme has been the calling for the abolishment of French colonial law article number 489 of the penal code, which criminalizes same-sex relationships and describes them as: “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex” . Queer Organizations also occupy the position of the primary producers of knowledge on queer sexualities in Morocco. Doing so, these organizations find themselves operating within a hegemonic discourse on sexuality, and are often trapped between two narratives. First, the narrative that views Europe as a secular progressive refuge for queers, and second, the narrative that posits that queers suffer under a culturally oppressive Muslim Morocco. My research maps the scene of queer resistance and organizing in Morocco. I aim to situate the changing representations of queerness in Morocco within the discourses of sexuality in the region dictated by the geopolitical location of the Kingdom (neighboring Europe), the legacy of colonialism it had suffered, and current neoliberalism. I argue that the current discourse on queerness in Morocco that prioritizes a cultural critique at the expense of a socio-economic and postcolonial one conceals the heterogeneity of the queer communities in Morocco and ignores a class critique of injustice in the country. The research will draw from interviews with several leaders of the organizations and will examine and unveil the history of queer activism in Morocco, the challenges, and the struggle for liberation. The research begins with a survey of the number of organizations in Morocco, their geographical distribution, their funding, and the networks they are part of. It also examines the legal framework under which they operate in addition to their visions, objectives, activities, and the services they offer.

Member Name

 

Poster PDF

John Jamil Kallas
, New York University Formalizing Informality in the State: Urban Expansion of the Poor in Damascus

Abstract: This paper analyzes the expansion of informal housing settlements in Damascus, Syria since 1970 by investigating this phenomenon alongside the state’s transitioning (primarily liberalizing) political economy leading up to the Syrian Uprising of 2011. Although informal housing settlements have been observed and studied in many urban centers of the Third World, they have a considerable presence within the Syrian housing sector. Their abundance in Damascus, as with other areas of the country, contributed to a reshaping of the urban economy as well as the state’s political alignments and commitments over time, continually disempowering the poor living in these informal areas while emboldening the emerging network of state-business alliances that would define the Baath Party’s rule for decades. Considering the integration of informality into the political economy of the city and the state while reflecting on the contemporary post-uprising context, this paper investigates the transforming geographies of Baathist Syria by asking: what caused the number of informal housing settlements to increase over time? And, more broadly, what role did this increase play in the landscape of postcolonial state-led development?

 

 

Member Name

 

Poster PDF

Nina Kaushikkar
, Carleton University Jineology and Gender Justice: Rethinking a Feminist Peace in Syria

Abstract: Peace and conflict scholars have established the importance of gender parity and justice in peace processes, exemplified by the passage of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 in 2000. However, peacebuilding efforts in Syria have largely failed to account for an ongoing gender revolution occurring in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). In particular, what is less established is the influence of the ideological underpinning of Jineology in the AANES, a feminist paradigm of knowledge production created by Kurdish women in their struggle for gender equality and justice. To remedy this gap, my project connects the theoretical framing of Jineology with larger peace efforts in Syria through the lens of the work conducted by local women’s organizations throughout the country, both in the AANES and beyond. Specifically, I ask: how can (and do) Kurdish women’s organizations and their ideologies influence Syrian peace processes? To answer this question, I use previously published interviews, reports, and news articles from organizations working directly in the
AANES and Syria. During the summer of 2021, I intend to interview scholars and experts who have already conducted research in the region to triangulate my data and gain further information and context. Using these materials, I will discuss how Kurdish women’s organizing, especially in establishing justice institutions and deradicalizing former Daesh members, bridges Jineological theory with peace praxis. I therefore argue that the restorative and transitional justice practices enacted by Kurdish women’s organizations in the AANES can provide a useful template for the implementation of gender justice frameworks and a feminist peace in Syria, building on the goals of UNSCR 1325. This research has important implications for the future of feminist peace studies through the activities and aspirations of local women’s collectives.

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Poster PDF

Seva Nix
, Drury University Framework for Democracy: A Study of Placemaking and the Macrocosm of The Egg in Beirut

Abstract: This article offers a close reading of Beirut’s unfinished cinema building known as the “Egg,” looking mainly at how its (hi)stories and spatial (re)makings have made the space favorable for socio-political discourses. The famous Egg, along with such other spaces as the Grand Theater and Samir Kassir Garden could be seen emblematic of the types of conducive, yet, marginalized spaces for the city’s timely democratic discourse needs. The article founds on the premise that competent public space is essential for a functioning democracy and that Beirut residents are ingenious, despite shortcomings, working determinedly to represent themselves in an otherwise controlled environment. The study argues that, due to the neoliberalization and privatization of public spaces in Beirut, urban vestigial spaces have instead taken on multiple lives and roles throughout the city’s history. It is, in fact, these interstices of the built environment where most uprisings and revolutionary movements are incubated, nurtured, and taking place. Often, we can ubiquitously observe how catalyst conversations for civil discourse happen in fringes of society and, particularly, how those can be spatially thriving in existing gaps within the built environment. In Beirut, likewise, urban vestigial spaces have served as important vessels for discussion and activism. At the same time, however, inadequate public space in Beirut has long perpetuated divisions and been disenfranchising its residents. The following questions have guided the study: How are these historic ruins refranchising and empowering Beirut residents in their activism? To what extent are citywide lacks of formal public forums, or residual space types’ raw milieus or unreserved social symbolisms driving forces? What dynamics and phenomena are behind Beirutis’ acts of reclaiming the city, contesting spaces and turning them into places? For interpretations, the article draws on de Sola-Morales’ (1995) concept of “terrain vague” and Foucault’s (1986) notion of “heterotopias” as main theoretical lenses.

 

Member Name

 

Poster PDF

Tanya Raghu
, University of Texas at Austin South Asian Migrant Workers in Dubai

Abstract: This paper explores the interplay between the UAE government, Emiratis, and the long term South Asian migrant workers that comprise approximately 90 percent of Dubai. In reaction, the native Arab population of 1 million has felt increasingly alienated as ‘strangers in their own land.’ The role of the state in managing this ‘demographic imbalance’ between long-term Indian expatriates and native Emiraties is the focus of this paper. As the ultimate arbitrator in regulating population affairs, I argue that the state has strengthened its relevance and role as both the protector against exploitation for expatriates and the guardian of citizens from the overwhelming foreigners. As such, the research question of this paper is: How has the presence of the long-term Indian expatriate population reinforced the role of the monarchy in Dubai? This paper employs ethnographic methods including interviews with current and previous South Asian residents of Dubai as well as conducts a literature review of existing research. Relevant sources will be academic articles related to the social, political, and economic role of South Asian migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as current theories explaining the relationship between monarchies and its subjects. While the media has highlighted widespread human rights violations against laborers as well the shrinking Emirati population and loss of cultural heritage, the presence of long term migrants left in an “in-between'' state has been overlooked. This article looks to contribute to this discussion at the intersection of human rights, governance in the Arabian Peninsula, and social consequences as a result of a reliance on economic expatriates.

Member Name

 

Poster PDF

Jasper Schutt
, UNC Chapel Hill Hashemite Discourse and Jordanian National Identity in Independent Film

Abstract: The paper advances this argument through a close analysis of several films, on which there is a noticeable paucity of scholarship, including Struggle in Jerash, I am Ready, Growing up in Amman’s Suburbia, and Sharar. It focuses on the sites and spaces of 1950s and 2000s Jordan, and how each group of filmmakers treats them, their choices about what to include, and what cinematic techniques they use to situate these places, be they Jerusalem’s holy sites or Amman’s decaying urban periphery within Hashemite Jordanian national discourse. It ultimately concludes that the dissonance between Yassin’s work in 1957 and the Amman Filmmakers Cooperative’s work in the 2000s is a result of several factors: contemporary disillusionment with both iterations of Hashemite discourse, the exclusion of urban Palestinians from national identity, and the worsening material conditions in Amman’s urban periphery.

 

 

Member Name

 

Poster PDF

Irmak Şensöz
, Georgetown University ‘Are We Going to Establish This Nation Divided?’: Integration of Muslim Refugees in Turkey After the 1923 Population Exchange

Abstract: The 1923 Turkish-Greek population exchange stripped approximately 1.2 million Greek-
Orthodox Christian Anatolians and 400,000 Muslims from Greece of their pre-war citizenship, uprooted them from their homes, and forced them to resettle on the opposite shores of the Aegean Sea. Given the fact that Greece had to absorb a significantly greater number of refugees than Turkey, it is perhaps not surprising that the historiography of the post-exchange period has largely focused on the resettlement of Christian refugees in Greece. As Onur Yıldırım points out in his Diplomacy and Displacement, historians have traditionally assumed that most Muslim refugees in Turkey were simply given property and swiftly assimilated into their new society. My research challenges the narrative about post-exchange Turkey by exploring how nationalist attitudes and government resettlement policies hindered refugee attempts to develop a collective identity in the 1920s. First, I examine the different ways in which refugees tried to create a communal identity outside of Turkish nationalism. I utilize periodicals from archives such as the Hakkı Tarık Us Collection and the Atatürk Library to trace the activities of local refugee social organizations, workers’ unions, and political advocacy groups. I also analyze published interviews with Muslim refugees, in texts such as İskender Özsoy’s İki Vatan Yorgunları, to identify shared narratives of exclusion, integration, and reaction to resettlement. Second, through debate transcripts from the Turkish Parliament’s Archive, I show that the policymakers of the early Republic rejected and looked to take action against this creation of a distinct refugee identity. In doing so, this research attempts to fill an important gap in the historiography, shed light on the lived experiences of exchanged populations, and build on existing work about assimilation in Early Republican Turkey.

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Khushboo Shah
, Georgetown University in Qatar Nation Branding, Soft, and Subtle Power Projection: A Comparative Study of UAE and Qatar

Abstract: This paper argues that branding is a strategic practice for UAE and Qatar, which operates on an interconnected economic and political level in both countries. The purpose of branding, on an economic level, is to amplify the market value of each country’s real estate properties (the product) to attract investors. The country, vis-à-vis its iconic real estate properties, can be sold like a product on the world stage as the processes of globalization and neoliberalism have altered the relationship between the state and the private sector. For UAE and Qatar, real estate, city, and nation branding are intertwined and concentric circle like processes, where one reinforces the other. While branding serves as a strategic political tool for both countries, branding outcomes vary for Dubai and Doha due to the different nature of their real estate projects. Dubai’s real estate such as Burj Khalifa hold economic and symbolic capital through which the state (UAE) exerts and consolidates “soft power” on the world stage. In this way, UAE looks inward, via its real estate properties on the ground, to project power in the international realm. Qatar’s branding has a diplomatic edge as it looks outward to project power, via owning symbolic real estate in other countries such as the Shard and Harrods in England. This way, it compensates for its lack of world- famous iconic projects and exerts “subtle power.” The paper employs content and textual analysis of select interviews, financial reports, brochures, and advertisements to demonstrate how branding works in praxis to fulfill the strategic aims of both nation-states. Both countries’ real estate markets are worthy of scholarly attention with regards to international relations, as they are tied to the question of security, in economic terms, in the region.

 

Member Name

 

Poster PDF

Ian Smith
, Purdue University Omani Diplomacy and Maritime Trade in the Indian Ocean World, 1792-1856

Abstract: When considering the dynamics of the nineteenth-century Indian Ocean, many historians consider the British Empire the premier maritime power. Interestingly, England’s greatest political and economic challenger in this resource-rich region arose not in Europe, but in Oman, a small state on the eastern fringes of the Arab world overlooking the Persian Gulf. Oman emerged as a thalassocracy during the reigns of Sultan bin Ahmad (r. 1792-1804) and Said bin Sultan (r. 1807-1856). Many scholars agree with Reda Bhaker, who argues that England and other Western powers manipulated the Omani state to serve their economic goals, leading to its dissolution after 1856. My research, however, will assess how the Albusaid dynasty set economic policies and engaged diplomatically with foreign and regional powers as Omani merchants engaged in trade along the coast of East Africa. I have begun to investigate the influence of Omani merchants and rulers in published primary sources, like Vincenzo Maurizi’s History of Sayid Said (1819) and Hamid ibn Ruzayq’s History of the Sayyids and Imams of Oman (1871). These sources suggest a need to further investigate the economic liberalizaion by the Albusaid rulers as well as their relocation of their primary commercial center from Muscat to Zanzibar. Having studied Arabic at Purdue University, I can write and read at an upper-intermediate level. As I gain fluency, I hope to examine documents archived at Oman’s National Archives and Records Authority, the Sayid Mohammed bin Ahmad Albusaidi Library, and the Zanzibar National Archives. I believe these sources will allow me to assess what I consider to be Oman’s under-appreciated contributions to the Indian Ocean world. In doing so, my research will contribute to conversations about the role of this regional power in the evolution of European imperialism and maritime commerce.

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Poster PDF

Coco Zhang
, University of Southern California Orientalism in Sounds of The Mummy: Tracking changes in Orientalist attitudes through time

Abstract: Hollywood’s depiction of the Middle East Orient has faced increasing scrutiny, yet analysis generally privileges visual and textual elements over sound. However, sound plays a significant role in the audience’s intuitive understanding of a film’s spatial and temporal locality within the context of their own surroundings. Sound design can illuminate underlying biases, and illustrate how media can continue to perpetuate cultural stereotypes on a subconscious level. ThE Mummy franchise provides a chance to analyze the role sound plays in our evolving perception of the Orient over time. Its many iterations, sequels, and reboots over the past century, along with its continuing cultural pervasiveness in popular culture, give plentiful landmarks along which we can observe change in Hollywood’s conception of the Orient. There are two major sections to this analysis: diegetic and non-diegetic soundscapes. For former, the in-universe background noises of the set, various films in The Mummy franchise are surveyed for their background sounds. I then look to works such as Mitchell’s Egypt at the Exhibition, which delve into the link between sound, chaos, and The Orient, and apply my own analysis to the sounds within the films. For the latter, I explore the legacy of Orientalism within the western music tradition using Said’s The Imperial Spectacle, and D.B. Scott’s Orientalism and Musical Style, then analyze the elements of music (most notably harmony, tone color, and texture) within the soundtracks to show how they perpetuate or subvert audience expectations of the time. Ultimately, this paper will demonstrate the importance of sound in perpetuating Orientalist attitudes: sound in Hollywood has not only helped to advance stereotypes of timelessness, exoticism, and adventure but facilitated their more recent development to that of violence and terror.

 

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