Spring 2021 Student Participants

Dima Balut 
Dima is a sophomore International Studies and History double major at Southern Methodist University. She is interested in human rights, particularly in the Middle East, because having lived in Lebanon for the majority of her life, she witnessed first-hand how damaging it could be for individuals to not have full rights under the law. This experience in large part is what shaped her passion for the law, and her hopes to attend law school after graduation.

Sereen Al-Chachani         
Sereen is a second year student at the American University of Madaba and is currently majoring in Translation. She thinks the majority of people where she lives tend to avoid certain topics about human rights and all the branches that come with it due to the lack of education and the sense of superiority of being "right". She is interested in discussing these matters openly, to be heard, and to listen to other people's ideas and thoughts. As a woman living in the Arab world, and as an individual who doesn't have all her rights preserved and who cannot fully share her true identity, she participated in the summit to leave an impact for a better, safer, and understanding world for her generation and those that will follow. 

Daniel John Diaz
Daniel is a sophomore studying International Relations at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. He is particularly interested in human rights in relation to religious norms. He loves learning languages (currently learning Persian) and playing percussion! Daniel was an MEI intern at the Oman Library.  

Maryam Ishaya
Maryam is an Assyrian-American who will attend Columbia University's SIPA program this fall to receive her masters in International Affairs with a concentration on Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy. She formally interned for MEI president Paul Salem at the Middle East Institute where their region of focus was Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the Levantine. Additionally, Maryam formally interned for the International Christian Concern, where she concentrated on Turkey's role in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijani) during the six week war against the Armenians as well as researched the Turkish Grey Wolves agenda in Syria. Currently, she is a research assistant for the Assyrian Policy Institute and a member of the Seyfo Center, an Assyrian Genocide Research Center.

Leen Lahlouh
Leen is a fourth year business administration student at the American University Of Madaba in Jordan. She speaks four languages fluently, works with her university as a brand ambassador and acts in sketches aside from that. Leen has always been interested in human rights, specifically gender equality, because of seeing the societal differences between genders in the middle east and how much it affects a female’s life and her freedom of choice. She calls for justice and equal opportunities, which was resisted by some people in the society, so this summit was a way to express what she has in mind and deliver a fair message about this topic.

Chip Meyers
Chip is an American graduate student who will attend a dual program split between MGIMO in Moscow and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Сalifornia, beginning in the fall. He received his BA in History with a minor in Political Science from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where he studied the history of the Middle East and its relationship with the United States.

Ra'ed Nemat
Ra'ed studies at the American University of Madaba, majoring in translation and interpretation, and he has always been interested in human rights, especially in child protection. He plans to get a Master's degree in international relations and diplomatic studies.

Mushfequr Rahman
Mushfequr is a senior at Southern Methodist University studying International Studies and Health and Society with minors in Spanish and Biology. His interest in human rights, particularly in public health and education, stems from his passions for cultural exchange, people, and fighting for autonomy for all. These passions dovetail with his love for Arabic language and culture, which he has been studying for the past two years. 

Sultan Rashdan
Sultan Rashdan is a second-year mechanical engineering student at The American University of Madaba. He was excited to join this summit and meet people from all over the world, and to discuss several important issues, as well as the obstacles, that the world is currently facing to achieve a better quality of life for everybody. Sultan’s interest in human rights stems from an understanding that we as people, residing in our respective communities, will never truly be free until everyone, within or external to the community, completely shares the same rights and benefits of a human being. 

Amal Rashid
Amal is an English Language and Literature graduate from the American University of Madaba. She plans to pursue a Master’s degree in English Applied Linguistics at the beginning of the next academic year. Amal is interested in human rights because they articulate and protect the basic rights and freedoms of every person in the world. She believes that no human being deserves to be discriminated against for whatever reason, and human rights teach us to respect the being of all people. 

Samar Rawas
Samar Rawas is a junior at SMU majoring in International Studies and minoring in Arabic and Educational studies. He is interested in human rights in the Middle East not only because of his Lebanese descent, but because he has witnessed the significant need for help in terms of other people not having the rights they deserve as human beings during the times he has visited a handful of countries in the Middle East. His goal is to serve others and bring people justice, which is why after his undergraduate studies, he plans to go to law school and potentially serve as a foreign service officer in the future. He is genuinely excited about the youth summit meetings and engaging with like-minded individuals who have a passion for human rights.

Nabeel Samman
Nabeel is a Jordanian who is currently majoring in risk management at the American University of Madaba in Jordan. He has been involved in political activism since 2016 and researches internal and foreign political and economic issues, the relationship between wealthy countries and their peripheral counterparts, and how they affect each other, and how the crises of the Middle East serve some of their interests.

River Taifour
River Taifour is currently majoring in English Language and Literature. They have been advocating for human rights since they were a young teen. River has seen, been in, and heard countless situations where human rights (River’s included) weren't delivered as they should, or even fully taken away, which is why they decided it was time to help themself and others. River feels the need to at least use their voice and put it to good use. 

Spring 2021 Expert Moderators

Ibrahim Al-Assil
Ibrahim Al-Assil is a Middle East analyst and commentator. He is a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. His work focuses on U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East, great-power competition, regional dynamics, and political economy. Al-Assil is the founder and managing partner of Dynamics Advisory, a consulting firm that provides political risk assessment.

Between 2012 and 2015, Al-Assil served as a fellow with the Orient Research Centre (ORC) in Dubai, and he continued to be a nonresident senior fellow with ORC until 2020. Between 2016 and 2020, Al-Assil led a 'Track II Strategic Dialogue' focusing on U.S. and GCC relations. The dialogue had eight rounds and included different think-tanks, experts, former government officials from Washington D.C. and the gulf countries. In 2018-2019, Al-Assil finished a fellowship at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School.

Al-Assil has been published and quoted in a variety of media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Time, BBC, and NPR. He appears regularly on TV stations, such as Skynews, AlHurra, France24, and AlArabiya.

He is the founder, host, and producer of Podcast AlAwsat and the weekly video series Ara' min Washington (Opinions from Washington). He currently serves on the board of the Harvard Arab Alumni Association.

Al-Assil is preparing for his doctoral degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins SAIS, focusing on great-power competition in the Middle East. 

Sabri Ates
SMU Professor Ates specializes in Ottoman-Iranian Relations, Kurdish History, Late Ottoman Empire, Sectarianism in the Middle East, and Borderlands. At present he is working on a project tentatively called: “Sheikh Abdulqadir Nehri and the Pursuit of an Independent Kurdistan.” In this project Ates explores what historical conditions account for how the Kurds became the largest ethnic group without its own nation? He sets out to answer this question on the basis of a wide variety of primary sources in Modern Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, Persian, English and French. Anchored in the biography of its protagonist, Seyyid Abdulqadir of Nehri the book explores efforts to establish or prevent the creation of Kurdistan as an independent state or autonomous entity starting in mid 1870s. In particular, it focuses on the tumultuous period between 1880-1925, during which the creation of a Kurdish state emerged as a distinct possibility and then quickly unraveled. Moreover, it studies what role did the Kurds themselves play in making or unmaking a state of their own. In addition to this project Ates is also working on two articles: “1639 Treaty of Zohab: Founding Myth or Founding Document,” and another article on the role of sectarianism in Ottoman-Iranian relations.

Eliza Campbell
Eliza Campbell is the Associate Director for Impact and Innovation at MEI's Policy Center, and acting director with the MEI Cyber Program. She was previously a researcher in technology and human rights at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, a 2017-18 Fulbright researcher in Bulgaria, and has worked in the humanitarian field in Jordan. She holds a bachelor's degree in political science and Arabic.

She co-edited with Mike Sexton the MEI-published book, Cyber War & Cyber Peace in the Middle East (October 2020).

Charles Dunne
Charles W. Dunne is a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, a member of the John Hay Initiative, and has recently advised two presidential campaigns on Near East policy. 

He spent 24 years as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service, serving overseas in Cairo, Jerusalem, and Madras, India. He was Foreign Policy Adviser to the Director for Strategic Plans and Policy at the Joint Staff in the Pentagon (2007-2008). He was director of Middle East and North Africa programs from 2011 to 2015 at Freedom House, where he focused on human rights and democracy promotion in the region. Prior to joining Freedom House, he was Director for Iraq at the National Security Council from 2005-2007. He served as a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff, where he contributed to the development of presidential initiatives to advance political reform and democracy in the Broader Middle East and North Africa. He is currently a Visiting Distinguished Research Fellow of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. He is a frequent media guest on outlets such as BBC, al-Jazeera, and al-Hurra, and has appeared on CBS, Fox, and NPR.  He has written for numerous publications, including the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the American Interest, and The National in Dubai. He has often spoken in public on Middle East issues on panels and major conferences.

Gerald Feierstein 
Amb. (ret.) Gerald Feierstein is senior vice president at MEI. He retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in May 2016 after a 41-year career with the personal rank of Career Minister. As a diplomat he served in nine overseas postings, including three tours of duty in Pakistan, as well as assignments in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Tunisia. In 2010, President Obama appointed Amb. Feierstein U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, where he served until 2013. From 2013 until his retirement, Amb. Feierstein was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

In addition to his career-long focus on the Near East and South Asia, Amb. Feierstein also played a prominent role in developing and implementing State Department policies and programs to counter violent extremism.  As Deputy Coordinator and Principal Deputy Coordinator in the State Department’s Counter-Terrorism bureau, Amb. Feierstein led the development of initiatives to build regional networks to confront extremist groups as well as to counter terrorist financing and promote counter-terrorism messaging.  He continued to focus on defeating terrorist groups through his subsequent tours as Deputy Chief of Mission in Pakistan and as Ambassador to Yemen.

Hafsa Halawa
Hafsa Halawa is a MEI non-resident scholar and an independent consultant working on political, social and economic affairs, and development goals across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Horn of Africa regions. A former corporate lawyer, Halawa has held positions in government, the UN, INGOs/NGOs, corporate multinationals, private firms, and think tanks. She now consults independently for a similar broad set of clients on a variety of issues, at request. 

James Hollifield
James F. Hollifield is an authority on immigration, immigration policy, global migration, and assimilation into American society.

He is Ora Nixon Arnold Chair in International Political Economy, Professor in the Department of Political Science, and Director of the Tower Center at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, as well as a member of the New York Council on Foreign Relations and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, DC.

Hollifield has served as an Advisor to various governments in North and South America, Europe, East Asia and the Middle East and Africa, as well as the United Nations, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the OECD, the ILO, the IOM, the EU, and other international organizations. He currently chairs working groups at the World Bank and the IDB and serves on the International Advisory Board of the National Center for Competence in Research (NCCR for Migration and Mobility) of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

He has been the recipient of grants from private corporations and foundations as well as government agencies, including the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Social Science Research Council, the Sloan Foundation, the Owens Foundation, the Raytheon Company, and the National Science Foundation.

Mariam Jalabi
Mariam Jalabi is a member of MEI’s Syria Program Advisory Council. Ms. Jalabi is the Representative of the Syrian Opposition Coalition to the United Nations in New York. She is also a founding member of the Syrian Women's Political Movement. She has led the Syrian Opposition’s diplomatic engagement with the Permanent Missions to the United Nations, the UN Department of Political Affairs, and the office of the UN Secretary General. Her work focuses on women’s inclusion in politics and decision-making. Ms. Jalabi’s advocacy and leadership has proven instrumental in framing the narrative on Syria with the UN community. Jalabi has served as a member of the Women’s Advisory Committee to the High Negotiations Committee and was a founding member of the Syrian Non-Violence Movement. Jalabi holds degrees in Political Science from McGill University in Canada, and a Masters Degree candidate from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. She has been honored by Women’s eNews as one of the “21 Leaders in the 21st Century” in New York City for 2017 and recognized by apolitical platform as one of the 100 most influential people in global gender policy for 2019.

LaiYee Leong
Dr. LaiYee Leong is a Senior Fellow at SMU's John G. Tower Center for Political Studies and a Fellow at the SMU Center for Presidential History.  In addition to teaching in the Political Science Department, she is also on the faculty of the Graduate Liberal Studies program.  Dr. Leong received her B.A. in English with distinction in the major (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and her Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University.

Dr. Leong is the lead scholar of the CPH’s oral history projects “Post-9/11 US Policy in East and Southeast Asia” and “Transatlantic Diplomacy After 9/11: The US and Norway.”  These projects explore the impact of the 9/11 attacks on US foreign policy and consequences on relations with other states.  Comprising extensive video-recorded interviews with senior officials from the Bush administration, foreign leaders, diplomats, and expert observers, the projects offer a unique archive of digital history materials accessible to scholars and the public.

Dima Toukan
Dima Toukan is a MEI non-resident scholar. She is the Founder and Managing Partner of Integrated International, a development consulting firm based in Jordan and leading assignments and programming in the MENA region. Previously, Toukan served as Political/Women’s Issues Specialist at the MEPI Regional Office in Abu Dhabi covering Jordan, Yemen, and the GCC. She also served as Head of Communication and Foreign Affairs at the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy and was a researcher at the Jordan Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.

Over the course of her career, Toukan has consulted for UNDP, USAID, IOM, AECID, OXFAM, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and CARE among others and has conducted several evaluations of international donor programming in Jordan and the region. Ms. Toukan has written for the Economist Intelligence Unit, Sada - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, The Daily Star, and the Jordan Times. She has also co-authored the 2015 USAID Jordan National Youth Assessment  and the 2016 USAID Jordan Civil Society Assessment. Toukan was a 2017 finalist for Ernest and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship.

Dalal Yassine
Dalal Yassine is a MEI non-resident scholar. She is the Executive Director of Middle East Voices. She is a lawyer and advocate for gender and human rights for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Yassine previously worked with several Palestinian NGOs and served as the Coordinator for The Right to Work Campaign for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon. She is the co-author of The Legal Status of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon (2007). Yassine has also been a frequent media contributor in Arabic and English, including in Al Jazeera English, Al-Mayadeen, the New Arab, Al Quds, Al Akhbar, Al-Quds al-Arabi, and the Electronic Intifada. 


Jessica Agostinelli

Rick Halperin 

Tonija Navas

Ray Rafidi 

Barghav Sivaguru

Coco Tait

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