Since its founding in 1981, the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) has dedicated its programs to improve American understanding of the politics and societies of the Arab world and the wider Middle East, and to promote thoughtful discussion and debate about American interests and U.S. policies in the region. The Council has established a reputation for providing fair, unbiased and intellectually rigorous information and analysis about the Middle East and U.S. national interests there, and for promoting policies that support U.S. interests and partnerships in the region. In 2017 MEPC achieved several new milestones with its core programs, its special events and outreach efforts. The Council’s quarterly Capitol Hill Conference series, its quarterly journal Middle East Policy, its TeachMideast program for educators and students, its media engagement, and its digital platforms all reached new heights in 2017. MEPC’s 2017 activities and achievements are summarized below.
Capitol Hill Conferences
The Council is unique in having a several decades-long history of convening conferences dealing with the Middle East on Capitol Hill. These programs foster engagement with members of Congress and their staffs as well as executive branch officials, opinion-leaders, journalists, academics, diplomats, and members of the business community. Our four 2017 Capitol Hill Conferences — our 87th, 88th, 89th, and 90th such events — took place in the Russell Senate Office Building on January 11, April 26, July 14, and October 13. The 16 panelists involved were all former or current U.S. government officials, members of leading DC-based think tanks or other organizations with a focus on the political, economic and security challenges facing the U.S. in the Middle East. Total attendees at these events exceeded 350, with some 41,785 viewing them either live or afterwards through our website. Many thousands also accessed the conference transcripts on our website, as well as the conference summaries. The transcripts were also carried in our journal, Middle East Policy, which went to our more than 11,000 institutional and individual subscribers, including libraries. Following are brief summaries of and links to these four events.
January 11, 2017: “U.S. Commitments in the Middle East: Advice to the Trump Administration,” featured Jake Sullivan, Senior Policy Advisor to Clinton for President 2016; Mary Beth Long, former Assistant Secretary of Defense; Derek Chollet, Vice President, German Marshall Fund and former Assistant Secretary of Defense; and Dimitri Simes, President and CEO, Center for the National Interest.
April 26, 2017: “New Approaches to Israel-Palestine Peace Efforts: Can Regional Powers Make a Difference?” featured Chas Freeman, Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Hady Amr, Nonresident Senior Foreign Policy Fellow, Brookings Institution; Ian Lustick, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania; and Riad Kahwaji, Founder and CEO of INEGMA.
July 14, 2017: “Post-ISIS Iraq & Syria: Avoiding Chaos,” featured James Jeffrey, Former Ambassador to Turkey and Iraq and Former Deputy National Security Advisor; Denise Natali, Distinguished Research Fellow, National Defense University; Wa’el Alzayat, CEO, Emgage Foundation and former advisor on Syria at the State Department; and Paul Salem, Vice President of Policy Analysis, Research and Programs at the Middle East Institute.
October 13, 2017: “The GCC Rift: Regional and Global Implications” featured Timothy Lenderking, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Peninsula Affairs; Ali Shihabi, President, Arabia Foundation; Perry Cammack, Fellow, Middle Eastern Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and David Des Roches, Associate Professor, National Defense University.
May 11: In cooperation with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Information, MEPC organized a symposium at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on Examining U.S.–Saudi Counter-Terrorism Cooperation. The event featured Saudi Arabian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Abdallah Y. al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabian Lt. Col. Khalid Al-Zahrani, and late MEPC President Amb. Ford Fraker. C-Span covered the program as well as several other television, wire service and print media outlets. Excerpts from the program were carried on the national evening news program in Saudi Arabia.
- May 16-17: MEPC participation by late President Amb. Ford Fraker, Chairman Amb. Richard Schmierer, and Executive Director Dr. Tom Mattair in the Third Workshop on Saudi-U.S. Bilateral Relations, hosted by the Prince Saud Al Faisal Institute for Diplomatic Studies in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia;
- August 25: MEPC hosted a roundtable with a delegation from the Riyadh-based Center for Strategic Development;
- September 18: MEPC participation by Executive Director Dr. Tom Mattair in a roundtable discussion in New York with Turkey’s President Erdogan;
- October 16-17: MEPC participation by Chairman Amb. Richard Schmierer, Board member Amb. Ron Neumann, and Executive Director Dr. Tom Mattair in the Bahrain International Defence and Exhibit Conference, hosted by the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International & Energy Studies (DERASAT) in Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain;
- November 11-13: MEPC participation by Executive Director Dr. Tom Mattair in the Fourth Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, hosted by the Emirates Policy Center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates;
- November 29: MEPC hosted a Roundtable on Labor Reforms in Bahrain with the CEO of Bahrain’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority HE Ausamah Alabsi.
The Council also continued its partnership with its fellow members of the North American Bridge consortium:
- National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations
- Arab-American Institute
- Bridges of Understanding
- Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
- Search for Common Ground
Middle East Policy
2017 Middle East Policy Highlights:
- The subscriber access to the journal rose to a total of 11,894 institutions globally, the most ever;
- Downloads of journal articles through the Wiley publisher platform exceeded 80,000, the highest number ever recorded;
- Traffic to journal essays on the Council’s website surpassed 100,000 page views, another record;
- The journal continued to be one of the most frequently cited publications on the Middle East. The world's principal citation index, the Institute for Scientific Information, ranked it in the top 10% in its "International Relations" category, with a ranking of 66 out of 860 journals;
- The process of digitizing all back issues of the journal was completed, resulting in 135 issues of the journal now being available online;
- Our publisher, Wiley, marketed the back issues of the journal to the national library systems of China and Egypt;
- The journal benefitted from the migration of the Wiley Online Library to a new publishing platform hosted by the leading scientific and scholarly digital platform provider.
In 2017 Middle East Policy featured 36 full-length articles as well as reviews of 26 books and the transcripts of our four Capitol Hill Conferences. The appeal of the journal is reflected in the prominence and diversity of its contributors. In 2017, journal articles were authored by scholars from the following countries: Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Qatar, Switzerland, Syria, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States. The Spring 2017 issue featured a special collaboration with the prestigious London-based think tank Chatham House, with a five-article collection on “Syria and Its Neighbors.”
We continued the gratis distribution of some 500 copies of Middle East Policy to select members of Congress and their staffs, including members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who sit on committees dealing with foreign affairs and the Middle East. This gratis circulation also included U.S. executive branch officials and other key individuals in government, business, academia, and the media in the U.S. and the Middle East, as well as prominent think tanks and media outlets.
In 2017 the Council’s educational outreach program TeachMideast continued to expand its engagement with educators and students and to augment its educational resources through a variety of different platforms: its website, social media, direct community engagement, collaborative programming with partners, virtual exchanges, and student mentorship:
- Our educational outreach efforts involved cooperation with the following partners: the Middle East Studies Association, the Close-Up Foundation, Soliya Connect, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, the Middle East Outreach Council, the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, the George Washington University Institute for Middle East Studies, the Georgetown University Al Waleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, the Arab American Institute, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, the National Council for the Social Studies, the Hinkley Institute of the University of Utah, and the New Era Academy;
- Our TeachMideast website, TeachMideast.org, attracted 65,810 visitors during 2017, the highest number ever;
- The number of teachers in our educational outreach database increased by more than 300, to reach a new total of 1,680;
- We began engaging in virtual exchange programming in collaboration with Soliya Connect; the Educational Outreach Specialist completed training to be a global dialogue facilitator and subsequently co-facilitated two 8-week online exchange terms with university students from the Muslim world and the West;
- Our collaboration of many years with the Washington-based teacher education organization Close-Up continued, with briefings for 8 teacher and student groups reaching 400 participants.
- The educational materials on the Middle East on the TeachMideast website grew to 87 pages and included comprehensive country profiles, lesson plans and teaching guides, thematic articles on current issues, a weekly news digest, chronological and country timelines, and a compendium of teacher and student opportunities and events;
- Our TeachMideast outreach efforts in 2017 included participation by the MEPC Educational Outreach Specialist at the annual Middle East Studies Association (MESA) conference November 18-21 in Washington, DC., partnering with the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations in hosting an information booth featuring our educational materials and outreach programs;
- We participated remotely in the National Council for the Social Studies conference in San Francisco November 14-19, through which we added 130 new educator contacts to our audience;
- We hosted 6 university-level student interns who contributed to the TeachMideast program by generating and updating website content, completing special projects such as videos and seminar sessions, and expanding the program’s capacity and network.
In 2017 digital and social media played an increased role in MEPC’s program and outreach efforts. Through our website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and YouTube channel we engaged several hundred thousand individuals with an interest in the Middle East.
In July, we upgraded the operating system powering the MEPC website at mepc.org in order to better feature our content, be fully compatible with mobile devices, and appear more prominently in Google search results. This effort was successful at generating increased traffic during 2017: total visits to the site increased to 473,423, a 24% increase compared to 2016. Mobile traffic to the website more than doubled from 2016, reaching 182,168. In 2017, almost 40% of visitors to the MEPC website accessed it through a mobile device. MEPC content continues to feature prominently in Google search results. One example of this is that a Google search of the phrase “articles on Middle East policy” returns a list of websites in which the MEPC website is cited as the first three results, with the New York Times next in fourth place. The site’s feature material is drawn primarily from our Capitol Hill Conferences and our journal Middle East Policy. It prominently highlights our TeachMideast educational program as well. A unique element of the site is our Middle East in Focus (MEIF) feature. The MEIF postings contain collections of commentary from the region on current events and issues, drawn from English-language media published locally. The website published over 50 editions of MEIF items in 2017.
E-mail outreach further supports MEPC content distribution. Our e-mail list of over 10,000 subscribers receives periodic updates from the Council. In 2017, these recipients received 4 previews of new journal essays, 5 event recaps with a summary of remarks from our Capitol Hill Conferences and other communications, including event invitations.
The MEPC utilizes social media to engage new users with our content and to reach “influencers” vital to advancing our mission, including policy makers, journalists and academics. The MEPC has some 4,000 followers on Twitter, and another ca. 4,000 on Facebook. Our tweets and Facebook posts receive thousands of weekly impressions and are often shared or “retweeted” so that this content reaches other feeds of individuals and institutions beyond our direct network. The MEPC also has almost 600 subscribers on its YouTube channel. Video from our Capitol Hill conferences and other events is posted on this channel and distributed through Facebook and Twitter. In 2018, MEPC plans to conduct podcasts of our Capitol Hill Conferences and other events.
In addition to the media coverage of our programs, the Council played an active role in engaging with a broad array of media outlets in discussing issues and policies related to the Middle East. MEPC Board members and staff are sought-after interlocutors on Middle East issues by broadcast and print media outlets. The full list of the more than 70 such media engagements during 2017 is available here. Interviews, commentary, quotes and other input by MEPC Board members and staff were carried in the following media outlets during 2017:
- Television: Al-Araby, Al-Hurrah, Al-Jazeera, Bahrain TV, BBC TV, CNN, i24 News, Saudi Press Agency, and Sky News Arabia
- Radio: ABC News Radio; Air Talk; BBC Radio, Federal News Radio, National Public Radio and Radio Sawa
- Print / Online: Arab News, Bloomberg, Hayat Washington, CBS News, CNN, Foreign Policy, Fortune, Gulf Daily News, Huffington Post, Military Times, National Interest, New York Times, Politico, Saudi Press Agency, Voice of America, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.
Amb. Ford M. Fraker, 1948-2017
President of the Middle East Policy Council, 2013-17
In 2017 the Middle East Policy Council suffered the sudden loss of our President, the Honorable Ford M. Fraker. Amb. Fraker died of a stroke on September 4, 2017, while on Nantucket Island with his family. Born in Princeton, New Jersey, on July 15, 1948, he attended Phillips Academy and Harvard University. Over the next several decades he held positions in banking and finance with different organizations connected to the Middle East. Fraker served as U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from April 2007 to April 2009. In that position, he played a key role in rebuilding the U.S.-Saudi Arabian relationship in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. He worked with then King Abdullah to expand visa accessibility between the two countries, resulting in greatly increased business, educational, tourist and other ties, including a significant expansion of the number of Saudi students studying in the U.S.