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April 27, 2023

Curious about the graduate students in our MA program? You’re in luck! I interviewed Samir Sefiane, who’s graduating in just a few short weeks, about his research and his experiences with us over the past two years!

Samir’s thesis committee. From left to right, Mark Driscoll, Claudia Yaghoobi, Samir Sefiane, Ashley Anderson, and Cemil Aydin.

I know you defended your thesis recently to great success! Congratulations! For those who don’t know, what is your thesis title, and can you summarize your topic for me?

Thank you! My thesis title is Monarchs, Minorities, and Marxism in the Maghrib: Leftist Thought and Movement in Mid-twentieth Century Morocco.  (I’ll just copy and paste the Abstract here, and you can decide what to leave out):

This thesis examines the development of Marxist/leftist movements in Morocco from the beginning of the French Protectorate in 1912 until Moroccan independence in 1956. Examining these movements against the backdrops of French colonialism, the Moroccan monarchy, and nationalist movements, I clarify the process by which these movements transformed leftist discourse in Morocco and the impact this had on the Moroccan political landscape. I employ historical and theoretical analysis of the writings of Moroccan Leftist/Marxist thinkers who lived and wrote in Morocco during the latter half of the twentieth century. Examining primary texts written by these activists and theorists as well as data from archives, interviews, newspapers, and published reports, my thesis argues for a Moroccan/Maghribi framing of leftist thought which developed in conversation with, but distinct from, other leftist movements within the Arab world and which drew on specifically Maghribi intellectual, cultural, and religious traditions.

Have you been involved in any events recently? Have you been able to use and share your research with others in the field?

Yes, I was fortunate to participate in the Decline of Democracy graduate symposium at the FedEx Global Education Center. This event was sponsored by the UNC College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Curriculum in Global Studies, and the TransAtlantic master’s Program.

I presented my paper, “The Roots of Leftist Movements in Morocco”, which was drawn from my MA thesis research. In this paper, I examine and analyze the origin and development of leftist movements in Morocco from the beginning of the French Protectorate until World War II. I chose the DAMES program because I tend to think across disciplinary boundaries, and this symposium was an excellent opportunity to indulge that inclination. It was fascinating to hear what my colleagues from different departments are working on and thinking about on topics ranging from the US visa immigration system as a tool of global apartheid to the resilience of Anarchist communities in Athens. This was the first time I presented a paper to my peers as a grad student, so I was a bit nervous, but my colleagues and discussants were wonderful and engaging. After years of Zoom meetings, it was so uplifting to be able to engage in person with so many brilliant scholars who are passionate about their research.

What do you plan to do next (after graduation)?

My immediate plan is to breathe a big sigh of relief! I’ll be applying to PhD programs this fall but, in the meantime, I’ll be looking at the job market to see what kinds of careers are out there that would best suit me. I’m inclined towards continuing my education, but I am open to all possibilities. I also want to continue with my Arabic language studies and possibly take up a new language. French, most likely.

How was your experience in the program and what did you get out of it?  How do you feel about being one of our very first ever MA grads? 

I really enjoyed my experience in DAMES! I was a history major as an undergrad, but I wasn’t yet sure about what field to commit to as a grad student. DAMES was a great fit for me due to its inherently interdisciplinary nature. I was able to take the courses I wanted and really step out of my comfort zone. As a result, I developed a more coherent, cohesive, and (most importantly to me) flexible worldview.

My cohort was a small but wonderful group of scholars who supported and encouraged one another throughout the program. My advisor, Claudia Yaghoobi has been amazing and kept me on track when things felt a little hectic. The administration and faculty were also so supportive and really seemed to be rooting for our success.

I feel honored to be one of the first MA grads, but mostly, I feel grateful to everyone at DAMES for making it possible.


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