Maria J. Stephan

Nonresident Senior Fellow, Strategic Foresight Initiative

stephan maria

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Arab transitions, Civil society, Democracy, Democracy and human rights


Middle East

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Full Bio

Dr. Maria J. Stephan is a nonresident senior fellow with the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security's Strategic Foresight Initiative. Stephan is working on the "Future of Authoritarianism," a project cosponsored by the Atlantic Council and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC). The project aims to assess the possibilities for influencing development of nonviolent civil society in authoritarian political systems and hasten the peaceful transformation of authoritarian regimes to democratic societies.

Stephan is also a senior policy fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), where she focuses on the dynamics of civil resistance and their relevance for violent conflict prevention and democratic development. Previously, she was lead foreign affairs officer in the US State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, where she worked on both policy and operations. Her last assignment entailed engaging the Syrian opposition in Turkey. Earlier, she was detailed to the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan to focus on subnational governance and civil-military planning.

Prior to government service, Stephan directed policy and research at ICNC, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to developing and disseminating practical knowledge about nonviolent struggle. She was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and American University's School of International Service. Stephan is the editor of Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance in the Middle East (Palgrave, 2009) and the coauthor of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press, 2011). The latter book was awarded the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Prize by the American Political Science Association for the best book published in political science.

Stephan has worked with the European/NATO policy office of the US Department of Defense and at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. She received both Harry S. Truman and J. William Fulbright scholarships. She holds doctoral and master's degrees from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a bachelor's degree from Boston College.