Call for Papers - Nuclear Issues in the Middle East and North Africa

Nuclear Issues in the Middle East and North Africa

International Conference at the University of Pennsylvania’s Middle East Center

April 2023

Call for Papers

While Iran’s controversial nuclear program continues to spark headlines about the place of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the global nuclear order, it also raises important and intersecting questions about the broader place of nuclear technology in the region. The strategic interests of the United States, those of its nuclear-armed allies and rivals, Israel’s “opaque” capabilities and covert operations, and the inspection and verification duties charged to the specialized intergovernmental organization known as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are all integral components of this challenge. How has such close attention to the Iranian nuclear program and global efforts to prevent its weaponization framed regional MENA engagement with a broad range of nuclear technologies and nuclear issues? What have these headlines revealed and what have they obscured?

Without discounting the regional risks of nuclear proliferation, this conference aims to document and discuss the diversity of past, present, and future experiences of the atomic age in the Middle East and North Africa. These include French uranium prospecting and U.S. nuclear weapons based in Cold War Morocco, atmospheric and underground nuclear explosions during French colonialism and after national independence in Algeria, Israel’s well-documented but ostensibly secret weapons program, “failed” weapons programs in Libya and Iraq, the Egyptian diplomat and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei’s decade spent leading the IAEA, ongoing efforts to create a regional nuclear weapons free zone, and current projects to develop and install nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states. The temporal sweep and geographical scope of these events suggest that the very concept of MENA region, a framework developed by Cold-War-funded U.S. area studies, has also grown out of the nuclear arms race and international goals to control it.

We invite a wide range of historical, political, diplomatic, cultural, and technological approaches to nuclear issues in the Middle East and North Africa. We welcome submissions from scholars working across the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences; policy and security professionals; journalists, filmmakers, and activists; and other relevant groups. We are particularly interested in interventions that draw on diverse experiences and expertise to inform regional nuclear policy-making.


Potential topics include:

  • Nonproliferation regime; arms control; intergovernmental organizations; diplomacy
  • Assessment of policy failures, policy process, other contexts as model policy 
  • Changes in balance of power; U.S. and other foreign roles; regional capacity
  • Nuclear strategy; nuclear sharing; weapons posture; foreign bases; geopolitics
  • Nuclear power and nuclear reactors; energy mix and energy transition; climate change
  • Uranium mining, refining, trade; labor issues; environmental contamination
  • Anti-nuclear activism; disarmament movements; nuclear cultures (e.g., print, visual, etc.)
  • Intersections with other political movements, including independence struggles, anti-colonialism, pan-Arabism, pan-Africanism, Zionism, Third Worldism, climate justice
  • Weapons testing; communities exposed to radiation (global hibakusha); health risks
  • Scientific institutions; technology transfer; radiation protection; regulatory systems


The University of Pennsylvania’s Middle East Center expects to host this multi-day, international conference at our Philadelphia campus in April 2023. Some financial support for travel and lodging may be available for conference participants on a case-by-case basis. The conference format will prioritize discussion by asking participants to pre-circulate their papers.

To apply, please submit an abstract of 300 words and a 1-page CV or biosketch, including contact information as well as description of relevant work, publications, and/or affiliations. Please send materials to <>. The deadline for submissions is April 15, 2022.

The conference seeks to advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the intersection of nuclear studies and work on the MENA region. We especially encourage applications from members of underrepresented groups and other individuals who can speak to MENA experiences and engagement with nuclear technologies.


Conference Organizers

Austin R. Cooper (PhD Candidate, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania)

Dr. John Ghazvinian (Executive Director, Middle East Center, University of Pennsylvania)

Ibrahim Bakri (Assistant Director, Middle East Center, University of Pennsylvania)


Program Committee

Tomisha Bino (United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research)

Joseph Cirincione (Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft)

Dr. Hassan Elbahtimy (Centre for Science and Security Studies and Department of War Studies, King’s College London)

Dr. Harun Küçük (Middle East Center and History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania)

Dr. Giordana Pulcini (Wilson Center and Political Science, Università Roma Tre)

Dr. Heba Taha (Political Science, American University in Cairo)