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CCU Atheneum: Suheir Daoud at a conference in South Carolina in March 2009.
Suheir Daoud at a conference in South Carolina in March 2009.

Suheir Daoud: poet and professor of politics

by Ashley Morris
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Suheir Daoud, assistant professor of politics at Coastal Carolina University, is more than 6,000 miles from her native northern Israel.

But nowadays, with the revolutions rocking Egypt and the Middle East, news from home is viral. “My students and I followed events closely on YouTube and Twitter,” says Daoud, who teaches the courses “Intro to Middle East” and “Women in the Middle East.”

“Students were really good about finding out what’s going on, and interested in sharing how the social networking role was significant in this conflict and in discussing what’s going on. They began to look at the Middle East from a different perspective than just extremism – they got to know the Middle East as a diverse group, not homogeneous.”

Students were so interested, in fact, that they packed a classroom in the Edwards building and the library (via videoconference) recently to hear Daoud speak at a special forum, “The Future of Egypt and the Middle East.”

Daoud’s feelings on the region’s future are cautiously optimistic. As a Palestinian Christian, she says she is concerned about the hijacking of the revolution by other forces. There has to be a new constitution that ensures separation between religion and state. This way, rights of women and minorities will be also respected. 

“I thought that eventually a revolution in the Middle East was going to happen, but I was surprised it was Egypt,” says Daoud. “I expected Iran would be first. Obviously, those revolutions in Tunisia and in Egypt came where and when no one had expected. I have to doubt, though, at the same time that I have to hope. I mean, I’m happy about the people deciding – not the political parties, nor the foreign powers. It is the youth, the women, the children and the elderly – all segments of society taking to the streets, calling for freedom, justice and democracy. It was amazing, and I’m so proud, but this is just the first step toward change. The road is full of challenges. It requires a lot of awareness by the people who make the revolution happen to make sure it won’t be derailed from its objectives. The question now is, who will be next? I hope all the dictatorships in the Arab world will be toppled one after another.

“What concerns me,” she continues, “is that Egypt didn’t cancel the constitution, didn’t appoint a new government, which was the main source for the corruption. They did not act fast enough to put the responsible behind bars. Most importantly, the martial law is still there, the political prisoners are not freed yet. I hope Egyptians will know how to stand up for their rights to the end and that other countries are going to succeed.”

Daoud, born Suheir Abu Oksa Daoud, is also concerned for the safety of those who live in the conflict zone, including members of her extended family, who still reside in the Israeli village of Mi’ilya in Western Galilee amid an area surrounded by revolutions and bristling with the possibility of war.

“When you’re growing up in that conflict, it becomes a part of you,” she says. “I’m a poet and writer, and if you’re a Palestinian writer in Israel, you’re most likely involved in politics.” 

Daoud has published articles and poetry in Arabic, Hebrew and English in literary magazines such as Al-Adab in Beirut. She was commissioned to write original poetry for the Washington, D.C., Shakespeare Theatre Company’s March 2005 presentation of “The Tempest,” which was also translated, in sections, from English to Arabic. Daoud’s book, “Palestinian Women and Politics in Israel,” was published by Florida University Press in May 2009.

Daoud’s book, “Through Ghazalah’s Windows,” talks about growing up as a Palestinian woman. The memoir, said to be the first book by a female to speak about the experiences of Palestinians in Israel, will be published in Italian this summer. (First print was in Arabic in 2001.)

It’s poetic in form, divided into 10 vignettes, “about a girl basically growing up and looking out her window to the world,” says Daoud. “It’s based on the challenges of class and identity.”

Daoud earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a master’s degree in international development and social change from Clark University in Massachusetts and a Ph.D. in political science from Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

From 1996 to 2003, she worked as a political adviser and assistant for a Palestinian Knesset (Parliament) member. She worked in the states starting in 2004, when she served as a visiting scholar at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, followed by a position as a Mellon Post Doctorate at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and as a visiting assistant professor at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont.

Daoud returned to the East Coast to become a member of CCU’s faculty in 2008. “I was searching for a position, and I was impressed with Coastal’s Middle East program. I was teaching at some of the most prominent schools out there,” she says, “but none of them had a Middle East program.

“I love working with the politics students here because they show an interest in events,” she adds. “I would like to see more speakers on the Middle East here, more people teaching Islam and Middle Eastern languages.”

“Suheir is a valued colleague,” says Pamela Martin, associate professor of politics. “She is a prolific thinker on Israel and internationally on politics in the Middle East, most particularly the role of Palestinian women. She is also always willing to speak with the community about her home country, Israel, and its relationship with the Arab and Christian communities within it and those that surround it.”

And it’s something Daoud shares with her 8-year-old son, who, in addition to English, knows the Arabic and Hebrew languages. “He asks, and I tell him about Egypt,” she says. “I love spending time with him, and every summer, I take him to Israel, where he was born.”

 

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