When Bessma Momani teaches her students about past and current conflict in the Middle East, she tries to focus on one important point – the human side of struggle.

Bessma Momani

“When we lose sight of the people affected by conflict, we dehumanize their experience,” says the associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Waterloo. “Sadly, the Middle East is often described in ways that are void of real people with real feelings. I hope my students leave with a better appreciation of the kind people in the region who are too often stuck under autocratic governments.”

Along with being a popular Waterloo professor, Momani teaches at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and is a Senior Fellow at the Centre For International Governance and Innovation (CIGI).

Waterloo researcher writes book on Arab youth

Most recently, Momani completed a book about Arab youth in the Middle East, which focuses on negative assumptions about the region and its youth. “I demonstrate how they are more cosmopolitan, educated, entrepreneurial, creative and tolerant than their parents’ generation. They can bring great prosperity for the region, if combined with targeted policies to harness the capabilities of Arab youth.”

Momani is also a renowned author and regular media analyst and contributor to both national and international media on the Middle East and global economic governance issues. She has authored and co-edited several books and articles and writes a blog at CIGI called Wealth and International politics and a column for the Huffington Post.

Much of Momani's research has focused on the Arab Spring, which she says “was a cry of Arab youth to say 'we deserve better' than the autocratic, corrupt and dysfunctional politics of our countries.’ ”

Desire for change in the Middle East is still strong

Despite years of protests and demonstrations, Momani says it’s unlikely the fight is over. “With so much death and destruction, especially in Syria, it is hard to be joyous about the Arab Spring,” she says. “That said, I don't think it is finished and the desire for change is just as strong as ever, but perhaps there is a rethinking of the means to achieve change.”

Momani has provided private and public sector clients with advice on investment opportunities in the Middle East and has worked as a consultant to the International Monetary Fund to help devise a new set of guidelines for its staff members.

She has also provided business presentations to law firms, oil and gas companies and global manufacturers on how best to expand their markets in the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab Gulf countries.

As for Canadians, and in particular, her students, Momani says it is important to focus on humanity. “It is important for Canadians to always remember these are people, not numbers or ideologies or governments,” she says. “Behind these struggles are individuals with normal lives who find themselves as activist, blogger, protestor, rebel and refugee.”