Wadah Al-Shugaa is a student in the CMES AM Program in Regional Studies — Middle East.
How did you become interested in Middle East Studies?
I was born and grew up in the green mountains of Ibb, Yemen before moving with my family to New York City in 2002. Living in post-9/11 NYC at a time coinciding with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I developed a political consciousness at a time charged with trepidation, anger, and often-polarizing rhetoric. I soon realized the need for more cross-cultural understanding in order to establish partnership and multilateral cooperation based on mutual interests.
What was your background in the field before coming to Harvard?
In 2013, I completed an accelerated degree from Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in foreign policy and Arab politics. While there, I also developed an interest in political economy and economic development. I become cognizant of the value of job security and the importance of free and fair markets to liberate people, allow them to fulfill their potential, and ensure equal access to a life of dignity. At first, I saw no connection between my interest in international cooperation and my new fascination with political economy and economic development. However, after taking a survey class on the political economy of the Middle East and similar other courses on trade, business, and international investments, I became interested in questions like: how can trade and mutual economic interests build bridges between the people of the Middle East and the United States, the European Union, and the international community? How can free and open markets build understanding and mutual respect across cultures?
Why did you choose CMES?
CMES offers a flexible and multidisciplinary program; yet, it requires rigorous and serious scholastic engagement with the topic of your interest. With access to virtually all of the resources a place like Harvard can offer, it is often overwhelming for me to stay focused on a particular topic or research question. But with the guidance of CMES and Harvard faculty and professors like Professor William Granara and Dr. Susan Kahn, I have been able to define a specific area of interest and work to contribute something original to it.
What are your research interests?
My research interests include topics like the political economy of post–Arab Spring states, private-public partnership, political institutions and economic policies, financial regulations, investment and development laws, and the entrepreneurship ecosystems in the MENA states.
My master’s thesis, under the supervision of Professor Roger Owen, will examine the race between Doha, Manama, and Dubai to become the Middle East’s financial center and will attempt to analyze what impacts the cities’ projects to become the region’s financial hub (the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), the Bahrain Financial Harbor (BFH), and the Qatar Financial Center Regulatory Authority (QFC)) will have on the three countries’ political economies, institutional arrangements, business laws, government-market relations, and regulatory infrastructures.
What do you like best about living in Cambridge and studying at Harvard?
Cambridge is a great place for graduate studies. It combines both the small town feeling but also the close proximity to a historically and nationally important metropolis like Boston. Being at Harvard and surrounded by many world-renowned colleges and universities, there are always exciting conferences, talks, forums, and a host of other things to do. To quote a friend, when you are in Cambridge, “you never stop thinking.”
What are your plans after finishing your degree?
My future goals are to explore the hybrid space created by law, business, and economics to find viable solutions to the region’s multifaceted issues. I am considering national and multinational institutions working to improve the economies and emerging markets of the Middle East and Asia.