They Are Just Ordinary People

Faculty Spotlight: Bessma Momani

Who is Bessma Momani?Profile photo of Bessma Momani

Bessma Momani was once an accounting student at the University of Toronto. However, the events of the Persian Gulf War that occurred between August 1990 and February 1991 – a conflict between Iraq and a coalition of 34 states –influenced Bessma Momani to pursue a degree in Political Science.

Political Science is a social science that fosters a deeper understanding of power at multiple scales: domestic, regional, and global.

  • Momani’s specializations include:
  • The Middle East
  • International Affairs
  • Populism and Diversity
  • Inernational Financial Insititutions

In 2004, two years after receiving her Ph.D. at the University of Western Ontario, Bessma Momani joined the Department of Political Science at the University of Waterloo. She is currently a professor at the University of Waterloo and the Balsillie School of International affairs (BSIA).

Momani has authored and co-edited over nine books, and in addition to over 75 scholarly, peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters. Alongside teaching and participating in her fellowships, Momani has written editorials for the New York Times, The Globe and Mail, Newsweek, The Economist and many other reputable global newspapers.

Readers can also catch Momani live on television apperances and radio interviews, across various networks such as CTV News, Al Jazeera, CNN, Business News Network, and much more [1][3].

Awards and Fellowships

While teaching at the University of Waterloo and at the BSIA, Momani has received many grants, awards and honours under her name, for the notable contributions she brings to the Faculty of Arts.

From her many research grants, scholarly journals, lectures and seminars, many students, staff and colleagues have recognized Bessma Momani’s passion for the Middle East, as drive that lead her to be known as a well-respected and engaging professor.

After fifteen years of teaching at the University, and for her exceptional achievement in the Department of Political Science, she was the recipient for the Outstanding Performance Award and the University of Waterloo Excellence in Arts Teaching Award [3].

Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI)

Since 2005, alongside teaching, Bessma Momani is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) here in Waterloo, Ontario. As a Senior Fellow, Momani spends a lot of her time producing policy brief, engaging with policymakers, and sharing her ideas with a broad public audience.

Earlier this year, Momani presented a talk on “Flashpoints of the Middle East”, which was delivered at the Global Policy Forum hosted by CIGI. Her presentation involved her expertise in Middle Eastern geopolitics, for which she examined the concerning crises and issues that the Middle East experiences on the daily.

Unfortunately, the media often dehumanizes those residing in the Middle Eastern region because of the war and other tragic events that the media has chosen to publicize, rather than sharing the human elements of the region [2].

Bessma Momani giving a talk

Alongside being a Senior Fellow at CIGI, Bessma Momani was the 2015 fellow for the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, a member of the Provincial Security Advisory Board, and a non-resident Senior fellow at the Stimson Centre in Washington, DC. Readers can view her CV for a complete list of grants, awards, honours and previous fellowships [3].

Ongoing Research: Canadian Arab youth and Canadian Network for Defence & Security Analysis,

Violence, war, autocracy, and gender inequality, are negative connotations often spoken by the media to portray the Middle East. Unfortunately, the media too often misrepresents the region by neglecting to share the stories about the people of the Middle East. By doing so, the media

dehumanizes the experience of the people, rather than understanding their situation and their story.

Families often emigrate from their home region to reside in another country for many reasons. Mostly, parents are wanting better security, economy, education, living situation, and overall a better lifestyle for their children. Sadly, for some families who immigrate from the Middle East, they too often find themselves in a not very welcoming situation.

In addition to her other work, Dr. Momani looks at some of the challenges Canadian Arab youth have in our society.

Canadian Arab Youth

One of Momani’s research study is on the stresses that Canadian youth of Arab descent often experience when traveling across borders [6]. Momani and a group of researchers from the University of Waterloo and from Wilfrid Laurier University, conducted a study in which they asked Canadian Arab youth between the ages of 18 and 22 on how they feel about their Arab background having an affect on their travel experiences. Their responses were unsettling.

They found that most Canadian Arab youth have the natural tendency to “disassociate themselves from being distinctly identified as an Arab in order to feel safer and more accepted when they travel,” said Bessma Momani when asked about the results of their study. Participants of the study were found to adjust their appearance and their behaviour prior, during departure and even after they have landed.

A few participants reported that they frequently shave their beards prior to travel, while other youths would modify their appearance to minimize unwanted attention. Unfortunately, many Canadian-Arab youth experience this kind of gaze and feelings that is out of their control. Through this study, Bessma Momani wants us to remember that Canadian-Arab youth face many challenges and have to internalize the stress that comes from traveling.

You can learn more about the study on the stresses that the Canadian youth of Arab descent often experience, by visiting the media release written by Pamela Smyth on the University of Waterloo website [6].

“They are well educated, multicultural, cosmopolitan, creative, and very hyperconnected. They are just ordinary people.”

Bessma Momani

Canadian-Arab youth and their families immigrate to Canada to find a better lifestyle, to find security and get a good education, and yet, they face discrimination when they travel across borders.

Momani continues to further her studies on Canadian-Arab youth, to bring awareness to the kinds of unpleasant situations that people from the Middle East too often experience. As a professor of Political Science who specializes in the Middle East, her aspiration is to not only

educate and change the political views that people have towards the region, but to have her students “love the region [of the Middle East] and the 400 million people who deserve to be seen as human beings.”

Canadian Network for Defence & Security Analysis (CNDSA)

Led by Bessma Momani, The “Canadian Network for Defence & Security Analysis” is a project bringing Waterloo’s BSIA and Dalhousie University’s Centre for the Study of Security and Development (CSSD) and academics across the country to form to a comprehensive network of scholars and technical experts on defence and security.

The network is a prototype funded by the Department of National Basillie School logoDefence’s Defence Engagement Program (DEP)[4][5].

Currently, the team has developed five main issues that the Network proposes to address:

1. Peacekeeping and the United Nations

  • Outlining transition and exit strategies

2. Issues throughout the Middle East and North Africa

  • To promote regional security and stability

3. Diversity and well-being in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)

  • Identify means to support the members and their families, promote mental heald, and develop diversity and inclusion strategies

4. Canada-US defence relations,

  • Security relations with the Trump administration

5. Cyber-security and terrorism

  • Assessing the role of emerging technologies to obtain defence

The project will run from September 2018 and into the early months of 2019. Network members will meet to provide policy advice to DND on the facing Canadian defence and security.

Readers can learn more about the CNDSA project by visiting the web page on the Balsillie School of International Affairs website. On the website, readers can learn more about the objectives of the project, the participating organizations, and the detailed timeline of network events, activities and deliverables [4][5].

Advice for Undergraduate Students

Like any professor at the University of Waterloo, Bessma Momani was once an undergraduate student, who luckily found an undergraduate program that allows her to pursue her passions and values.

Passionate is the word that Bessma Momani uses to describe the students who are successful in her courses and those in the Political Science program.

Momani’s advice to student is to do what you are passionate about and utilize the resources on campus to not only further develop your academic career, but to also gain the necessary skills and experiences you need to succeed in your chosen field.

The Political Science program offers three pathways for students who wish to participate in experimental learning:

  • Research Pathway
  • Co-op Pathway
  • Engagement Pathway

Through experiential learning, students can increase their knowledge, develop skills and clarify values, while improving their ability to critically think and analyze the social and political world.

Alongside taking classes, here is a list of other student opportunities:

  • Political Science Student Association
  • Attend events to meet professors, listen to seminars and attend book launches
  • Partake in science field courses, internships, and apply to be a research assistant
  • Be a member of the University of Waterloo Model UN community

Field Trip Courses with Bessma Momani

Special Subjects Course FIeld TripPolitical Science students can enrol in fourth year level classes titled “Special Subjects”, for which students can enjoy the opportunity to participate in Field Trips.

In the Spring 2018, Bessma Momani and the class of PSCI 493 course, had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC, where they spent four days participating in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting, and attended several presentations on Global Economy Issues, Poverty and as well as Gender, Environment and Climate Issues.

Also in the Spring term, Model Arab League (PSCI 490-002) is a course taught by Bessma Momani. Model Arab League is another Field Trip course opportunity, that provides a lived experience of Political Science and International Relations where students can partake in the Model Arab League conference in Washington, DC.

Both fourth year level courses are Model Arab League logoexcellent for students who are interested in specializing in Global Governance, and as well as preparing students considering to pursue an MA in either Global Governance or one of the other MA programs in Political Science. Students can learn more about the Field Trip courses instructed by Bessma Momani, on the Political Science website.


Bessma Momani is a very well accomplished professor at the University of Waterloo, and as a Political Scientist who is very passionate about the culture, the people, and the geopolitics of Middle East. Momani frequently visits the Middle East whenever she needs a quick mood fix.

The three reasons as to why she loves visiting the region is because of the food, the beautiful landscapes and the people. Since the Middle East people rarely have a say in their government, Momani says it’s best to visit and talk to the people who live in the region. When asked about the things Momani would like students to take away from her pedagogy is this: to start conversations, combat dehumanization, focus on the human elements of the geopolitics, and work towards bettering our own multicultural society.

Momani aims to continue educating people about the region of the Middle East, with her main focus on reminding everyone that “the region is beautiful. Yes some Middle East governments have atrocious policies and can garner the headlines, but Middle Easterners are just people who want to live ordinary lives” .

CIGI | Bessma Momani | Flashpoints of the Middle East


[1] Bessma Momani. (n.d.) Retrieved September 17, 2018 from

[2] CIGI. (February 07, 2018) Video: Flashpoints of the Middle East. Retrieved September 18, 2018 from

[3] Bessma Momani. (n.d.) Curriculum Vitae. Retrieved September 19, 2018 from

[4] BSIA. (n.d.) Canadian Network for Defence and Security Analysis. Retrieved September 19, 2018 from

[5] Dalhousie University. (n.d) CNDSA. Retrieved September 19, 2018 from

[6] Pamela Smyth. (September 6, 2018) News: Professor Bessma Momani identifies stresses experienced by Canadian Arab youth. Retrieved September 18, 2018 from

[7] Aga Khan Museum. (n.d.) Feature Image. Retrieved September 18, 2018 from