Ibrahim Bakri was recently appointed as the new associate director of the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy.
Bakri stepped into the new role after former Associate Director Matthew Roth moved to a position at McGill University in Canada. Bakri, who previously served as the assistant director of the Middle East Center, spoke with The Daily Pennsylvanian about how his background and deep ties to Penn will inform his leadership of the Mitchell Center.
Bakri received his bachelor's degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from Penn. He was introduced to the Middle East Center through an Arabic class as an undergraduate and worked part time at the center his senior year. After graduating in 2018, he was hired as the center's assistant director.
During his time at the Middle East Center, Bakri planned numerous programs and worked closely with community colleges, student groups, and nonprofit organizations.
“The main purpose of the center and my work was to take information and demystify it so that members of our community — whether it's our campus community, city community, or national community — can have access to this information, that for so long existed trapped in the ivory tower that is these Ivy League institutions,” Bakri said.
Bakri said that his upbringing as the son of Syrian immigrants living in South Philadelphia shaped his academic interests and personhood. He emphasized that his time at the Middle East Center helped him learn about his Syrian heritage in a healthy, constructive, and academic way.
“For so many of us that grow up in diaspora and are separated from countries of our parents’ origins, you can find yourself at odds with your own identity,” Bakri said. “Being able to work at the Middle East Center put me in a position where I didn’t have to explain myself or my heritage and instead had the opportunity to help bring all these things that are so important to my own identity in a way that the larger community can interact with.”
In 2023, Bakri received his master's degree in social policy at the School of Social Policy & Practice. He is currently involved in foreign policy research, specifically the intersection between Middle Eastern and United States policy.
Bakri is also a nonresident fellow at the think tank TRENDS, which is based in the United Arab Emirates. His experience with think tanks began as an undergraduate, when he interned with the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program.
“Storytelling is part of who we are as human beings,” Bakri said. “Think tanks are so valuable because you have individuals who have immersed themselves and spent years and years of their lives studying these issues trying to impact policy through fact and truth."
Bakri said that there is an overlap between the work of the Middle East Center and the Mitchell Center, as they are both partnership-oriented and committed to connecting with different parts of the Penn community. He added that defining community and practicing meaningful conversation at the Middle East Center has helped him take on the new role of associate director at the Mitchell Center.
“I’ve been able to capitalize on two parts of myself that I care so much about: one that is immersed in my past and one that is connected to uplifting voices of the unheard, encouragement of civic engagement, and informed citizenship,” Bakri said. “It’s absolutely a different experience and one that I don’t take for granted: being able to stand on both sides seeing Penn through the eyes of a student and through the eyes of a staff member.”