A seminar with Safwan Masri, Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development and Senior Research Scholar, School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University.

Moderated by Tarek Masoud, Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations, HKS.

Books will be available for purchase, however the event does not include a book signing.

It has been seven years since the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor inspired a nation, and in turn a region, to rise up in defiance of a corrupt and autocratic regime and demand a better future. In the subsequent years since the overthrow of Zine al-Abadine Ben Ali, Tunisia has accomplished much on the political front: it oversaw the region’s first peaceful transition of power between an Islamist and secular party, passed a progressive constitution, and held free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections. But recent protests and strikes across the country remind us of the fragility of Tunisia’s nascent democracy. Drawing on his recent book, Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly (Columbia University Press, 2017), Professor Safwan Masri will examine the factors that have led to Tunisia’s democratic transition and how the challenges facing the country as it attempts to consolidate its democratic gains may be addressed.

About the book (From Columbia University Press)

"The Arab Spring began and ended with Tunisia. In a region beset by brutal repression, humanitarian disasters, and civil war, Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution alone gave way to a peaceful transition to a functioning democracy. Within four short years, Tunisians passed a progressive constitution, held fair parliamentary elections, and ushered in the country's first-ever democratically elected president. But did Tunisia simply avoid the misfortunes that befell its neighbors, or were there particular features that set the country apart and made it a special case?

In Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly, Safwan M. Masri explores the factors that have shaped the country's exceptional experience. He traces Tunisia's history of reform in the realms of education, religion, and women's rights, arguing that the seeds for today's relatively liberal and democratic society were planted as far back as the middle of the nineteenth century. Masri argues that Tunisia stands out not as a model that can be replicated in other Arab countries, but rather as an anomaly, as its history of reformism set it on a separate trajectory from the rest of the region. The narrative explores notions of identity, the relationship between Islam and society, and the hegemonic role of religion in shaping educational, social, and political agendas across the Arab region. Based on interviews with dozens of experts, leaders, activists, and ordinary citizens, and a synthesis of a rich body of knowledge, Masri provides a sensitive, often personal, account that is critical for understanding not only Tunisia but also the broader Arab world."

About the speaker

Professor Safwan M. Masri is Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University, and a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

In his role as EVP, Masri directs a number of Columbia’s global initiatives and is responsible for the development of an expanding network of Global Centers, located in Amman, Beijing, Istanbul, Mumbai, Nairobi, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, and Tunis. These centers work to advance Columbia’s global mission and extend the University’s reach to address the pressing demands of our global society.

Masri joined Columbia University in 1988 as a member of the faculty of Columbia Business School. He was appointed Vice Dean in 1993, a position he held for thirteen years. He previously taught engineering at Stanford University, and was a visiting professor at INSEAD (Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires) in France.

A scholar on education and contemporary geopolitics and society in the Arab world, Masri’s work focuses on understanding the historic, postcolonial dynamics among religion, education, society, and politics. He is the author of Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly (Columbia University Press, 2017), which examines why Tunisia was the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring as a democracy. The book has received positive coverage in a number of media outlets, including the Financial Times and Le Monde. Masri’s writings on education and current affairs have been featured in the Financial Times, Huffington Post, The Hill, and Times Higher Education. He has also appeared on BBC World News, CNN, CBC News Network, ABC News, CBS News, among others, and has been widely quoted in the press, including in the New York Times.

Masri is an honorary fellow of the Foreign Policy Association and a member of the International Advisory Council of the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES). He was founding chairman of both King’s Academy and Queen Rania Teacher Academy in Jordan, and served as an advisor to Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah. He is a trustee of International College in Beirut and of the Welfare Association (Taawon) in Ramallah, and a member of the advisory board of the School of Business at the American University in Cairo. Masri serves on the governing boards of Endeavor Jordan and the Children’s Museum Jordan, and was a director of Arab Bankers Association of North America (ABANA) and Aramex.

Masri earned his Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University in 1982; his Master of Science in industrial engineering, also from Purdue in 1984; and his Ph.D. in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University in 1988. He was honored with the Singhvi Professor of the Year for Scholarship in the Classroom Award in 1990, the Robert W. Lear Service Award in 1998, and the Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence in a Core Course in 2000. Masri has also been honored with the 2003 American Service Award from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.