Mar 9th, 2017, 03:28 PM

Professor Spotlight: Ziad Majed

By Isabel Guigui
Ziad Majed: father, intellectual, activist, human. Image Credit: Facebook/Ziad Majed
Spending an afternoon with the Middle Eastern Studies professor at the American University of Paris.

What do you call a political researcher, university professor, father, football fan, activist, writer, intellectual with an entire volume of encyclopedias in his brain and a Facebook page with nearly 38,000 likes? You might call him "Sayyid," "Prof," or simply "Ziad." AUP's beloved Middle Eastern Studies teacher is much more than you could have imagined. Beyond his employment at our school he leads the life of a public citizen, having attained the status of a leading scholar on many Arab world matters over years of working and lecturing throughout the Middle East and Europe. Besides these other obligations, Ziad is also my academic advisor, an esteemed position I exploited to take a moment to learn a bit more about him. 

Growing up during the Civil War in Lebanon, which lasted from 1975 until 1991, the trajectory of his life was profoundly influenced by his interest in his country's political problems and the wider turmoil of the region. As Ziad began his Bachelor of the Arts in Economics at the American University of Beirut, (the first time he studied in an anglophone institution), he also started to work for the Red Cross. For the first four years, he volunteered—with 2500 others—for humanitarian efforts, organizing vaccination and blood donation campaigns and other such assistance programs, as the war came to a close. This work also entailed the grisly task of moving bodies to hospitals, or "unfortunately, sometimes, other places". Later on in these first years he was also charged with coordinating the youth programs: recruiting for the Red Cross; going to schools to give lectures about human rights and the Geneva Conventions, as well as health education and first aid instruction; organizing seminars in which people could meet to discuss their lives; "Creating a platform for young people, students mostly, who used to live in different zones" to meet for the first time as a part of the "peace effort". 

"What were you doing at the Red Cross?" Ziad pauses briefly, "Lots of things," he laughs. 

As he wrapped up his Bachelor degree at AUB, Ziad moved on to commence his MA in Arabic Literature, at which point in time he also became an employee for the Red Cross. Promoted to director of the information department, he worked in that position for the next six years, managing the many facets of the organization's media presence as well working on the dissemination of international humanitarian law. This latter task primarily concerned members of the armed forces, whether they were former or current soldiers or militiamen, again addressing topics like the Geneva Conventions, and also working to integrate former militiamen into the Red Cross. During this time he took his first trip to Paris, on behalf of the Red Cross. 

In 1994 he also began to work for a research center, "and that's why I got closer to political science". Through his engagement with the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, he began to get involved in the organization and regulation of electoral campaigns, aiming to reform the electoral system. Following this experience, Ziad was sent as the program officer for the Arab World policy research center to Stockholm, where he spent a year working with other researchers from the Middle East and editing their publications. 

In 2001 he returned to Paris to begin his DEA (Diplome d'Etudes Approfondies) at Sciences Po and registered for his Ph.D. afterward. This final degree he completed principally in Beirut, with regular trips back to the City of Lights to meet with his adviser. When he made the move permanent in 2006, Ziad remained committed to several projects in Beirut such as serving as a UNDP consultant for a human development report on Lebanon, and he also established the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy, which unites researchers from eleven Arab countries and organizes many events related to Middle Eastern questions—here he cites the large diaspora of Lebanese in the city. And, naturally, all along he has been writing for various Lebanese and Arab press outlets since 1994. 

In 2010 Ziad came to AUP, but by no means did this switch take him out of the public light, for in 2011 things became "very hectic" with the beginnings of the Arab Spring and what evolved into a bloody war in Syria. He continues to write for several Arab sources, now has a book to his name, and of course, also has his regular postings on the website Souria Houria. "This absorbed a lot of my energy," he says, admitting that the little free time he has left he prioritizes for his family. 

Image credit: Actes Sud

However, Ziad is also an avid football fan and still allows himself time every weekend to watch a match, whether at home or at the stadium. This is a habit that has endured since his youth, when he went to the Nijba games in Beirut, "Every Sunday... even during the war". Though his favorite French team is Marseille, because it is a Mediterranean city like the one from which he hails and because the fans are so passionate and loyal, he ranks his preferred teams as Real Madrid, Liverpool, and Roma.

Beyond football, we spoke of music and spent the last minutes listening to Oriental jazz. As Ziad hums along and gently taps the beat on the desk I take the opportunity to look with greater care around his office: it is a space he shares with an esteemed colleague of his, Ali, and there is a very definite Arab presence. The two tall bookshelves are completely filled, with even more books lying lengthwise on top of the rows of titles spanning all topics concerning the Middle East and theological dissertations. The wall adjunct to the desks is painted blue, and Ziad has made a mural out of his space, combining a child's painting of a tree with a black and white image of Jerusalem, beautiful Arabic calligraphy with what he calls "a metaphor" designed by a Syrian artist about the war—a sort of tic tac toe with blood stains in some squares, an apple, a heart in the center, and a flower comprising a diagonal.

The time has come for him to run to class, so he switches off Rahid Abou's melodious tones and bids me good day with a smile. Off runs Ziad, the man who can do it all. 

To keep up to date with Professor Ziad Majed, you can follow him on Twitter and on his blog