The Second Century Initiative (2CI) brought more than 80 leading scholars and researchers across a diverse array of disciplines; its successor program, the Next Generation Program, continues to do so.
This article is part of a series highlighting past and present 2CI fellows and their perspectives through a question-and-answer format. Houda Abadi was one of the first 2CI fellows of Georgia State. She now serves as the Associate Director for the Conflict Resolution Program for the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Carter Center.
Q:Where are you from?
A: I am from Tangier, Morocco. I moved to the U.S. at the age of 19. My heart and sense of home belongs in two different countries: Morocco and U.S.
Q:Can you tell me about your educational background?
A: I received my B.A. from Luther College in Political Communications, a graduate certificate from Duke-UNC in Middle East Studies, M.A. from Seton Hall University in International Relations and Diplomacy, with a concentration in Middle East Studies and Conflict Resolution, and a Ph.D. from Georgia State University in Political Communication and Media Studies.
Q:Why did you choose to attend Georgia State?
A: My academic doctorate journey is atypical. I started my Ph.D. program at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I was fortunate to do all of my two-year doctoral coursework and theoretical training at UNC. However, I became more motivated to bridge the gap between theory and practice. I found the Center for International Media Education and the Transcultural Conflict and Violence Fellowship will give me access to real world experiences of global affairs as well as opportunities for research. This was a great fit to my career goals as my ideal job was a combination of both academia and fieldwork.
Q:Who was your advisor?
A: My advisor was Dr. Carol Winkler. She is an amazing dissertation advisor, mentor, professor, and I am fortunate to call her a friend.
Q:Can you briefly describe your research?
A: My doctoral dissertation, “The February 20th Movement’s Communication Strategies: Towards Participatory Politics”, examines the role of social media and the Arab Spring, drawing on interviews and fieldwork in Morocco. The study shifts the focus to a movement that did not call for regime change, investigates how online and offline media strategies converged, interacted, or prevailed within the various socioeconomic and political contexts, and examines the multiple forms of communication flows in meaning making and nation building within dominant and non-dominant publics. Furthermore, this study examines how the February 20th activists deployed a collective identity to mobilize and engage marginalized groups to function on everyday politics.
Q:What did you find or were hoping to discover from your research?
A: My study expanded the understanding of movements in the Arab Spring in four ways. It shifted the focus on the Arab Spring communication studies to a movement that did not call for regime change to demonstrate how discursive strategies could help dislodge authoritarian constraints while still respecting monarchical authority. Second, the study investigated how and why the online and offline media strategies converged, interacted, or prevailed within the various socioeconomic and political contexts. Third, the study discussed the strategic targeting of the subaltern populations to encourage and frame participatory politics from below. Lastly, the study expanded on previous studies of the February 20th movement by examining how the communication strategies the social activists deployed challenged the hegemonic system. It shows how strategic use of particular communication channels and message constructions worked to mobilize subaltern publics and accomplish the movement’s other purposes.
Q:Why did you choose that field?
A: As a young female Muslim student living in Iowa during September 11 2001, I had to come to terms with my identity very quickly. I was no longer identified as an international student, but rather as a Muslim, a label I started to embrace and take more seriously. This experience not only tuned me into my true calling in life, but also made me aware that politics and specifically peace mediation is far too significant to overlook. I became increasingly fascinated by the relationships that exist between the United States government and the Middle East North Africa (MENA) and my mind became geared towards pursuing a career in peace mediation, with a focus on MENA region. The events of 9/11 captured my attention and I have since focused my career and efforts on preventing violent extremism of all forms, conflict resolution, social change, religious and cultural understanding of the “other”, and women in peace processes.
Q:What type of career do you have now?
A: I am fortunate to work on issues I am deeply passionate about. In 2014 I joined the Carter Center as the associate director of the Conflict Resolution Program. While working on the Syrian and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, I designed and directed a locally tailored grassroots project that works with community and faith-based leaders from North Africa, Europe, and the United States to develop practical applications to prevent and address all forms of violent extremism. I am ready for my next chapter. Stay tuned for exciting announcement in the next coming months.
Q:How did the 2CI Fellowship help you?
A:The 2CI fellowship helped me in my writing and research skills. I was granted the opportunity to do fieldwork in Morocco and learn about grassroots approaches to inclusive peacebuilding. Working closely with Dr. Winkler was incredibly invaluable. Her commitment to her students was ever-present. Under her guidance, I improved my research and methodology skills. 2CI fellowship also granted me the opportunity to write, present and organize events around Arab Spring, political Islam, violence prevention, women and peace processes, and nonviolent forms of resistance.
Q:Any advice for students interested in applying for a fellowship?
A: My advice to the incoming students is to dream big and to follow their passion. There will be bumps along the way but it’s important to not give up. Surround yourself with aligned people that support and believe in you. Lastly, invest your time in choosing the right advisor and mentor. It makes a difference.
Q:Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Enjoy the journey!