Since its founding in 1981, the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) has dedicated its programs and publications to improve American understanding of the politics and societies of the Arab world and the broader 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 supporting fair, unbiased and intellectually-rigorous discussion and analysis of the Middle East and of U.S. national interests there, and for promoting mutual understanding and partnership to strengthen U.S. relations with the countries in the region. In 2018 MEPC achieved several new milestones in its core programs, 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 reach new heights in 2018. Following is a summary of MEPC’s 2018 activities and achievements.
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 2018 Capitol Hill Conferences – our 91st, 92nd, 93rd, and 94th such events -- took place in the Russell Senate Office Building on January 19, April 20, July 20, and in the Capitol Visitor Center on November 30. The 15 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. In addition to hundreds of attendees – including some three dozen from Senators’ and House members’ offices – total viewership well exceeded one hundred thousand, bolstered by C-SPAN coverage of our July conference. Many thousands also accessed the conference summaries and transcripts on our website. The transcripts were also published in our journal, Middle East Policy. Following are brief summaries of and links to these four events.
January 19, 2018: “Iranian Advances in the Arab World”: Speakers: Amb. Adam Ereli, former Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain; Paul Pillar, Senior Fellow, Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University; Geneive Abdo, Resident Scholar, Arabia Foundation; Alex Vatanka, Senior Fellow, Middle East Institute.
April 20, 2018: “Turkey’s Emerging Role in the Middle East”: Speakers: Amb. W. Robert Pearson, former Ambassador to Turkey; Dr. Gonul Tol, Founding Director of the Middle East Institute's Center for Turkish Studies; Dr. Aaron Stein, Resident Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council; Dr. Lisel Hintz, Assistant Professor, International Relations, Johns Hopkins University (SAIS).
July 20, 2018: “After the Withdrawal from the JCPOA: Strategies for the Trump Administration”: Speakers: David Albright, Founder and President, Institute for Science and International Security; Dr. Karen E. Young, Senior Resident Scholar, The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington; Michael Eisenstadt, Director of the Military and Security Studies Program, Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Norman T. Roule, Senior Adviser to the Counter Extremism Project and United Against Nuclear Iran.
November 30, 2018: “Saudi Arabian – Turkish Rivalry in the Middle East”: Amb. Ryan Crocker, former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon, and Visiting Scholar at Princeton University; Dr. Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington; Dr. Bülent Aras, Professor of International Relations, Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey.
- January 13: MEPC Chairman and President Ambassador Richard Schmierer addressed the 2018 Janadriyah Culture and Heritage Symposium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
- March 1: MEPC hosted HRH Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan to address the topic “Women and Youth in Saudi Arabia.”
- March 5: MEPC hosted the Nordic Business Council to discuss business and economic issues and opportunities in the Middle East.
- June 7: MEPC hosted a discussion with Qatari Ambassador H.E. Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani.
- August 7: MEPC hosted a discussion with Ms. Yara Faraj from the Office of the First Deputy Prime Minister of Bahrain and Bahraini Embassy officer Mr. Talal Al Absi
- December 4: MEPC hosted a roundtable with a delegation from Ministry of the Interior of the Kingdom of Bahrain involved with the DARE program.
October 31 / November 1: MEPC Board members Amb. James Smith, Amb. Patrick Theros and Ms. Anne Joyce participated in the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations annual policymakers conference.
The Council also continued its close programming partnerships with all of the members of the North American Bridge consortium:
- The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations
- The Arab-American Institute
- Bridges of Understanding
- The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
- Search for Common Ground
Middle East Policy
As of the beginning of 2018, subscriptions to the MEPC quarterly journal Middle East Policy exceeded 15,000, an increase of more than 3,000 during 2017 and the highest number ever. Of those subscriptions, more than 11,000 were with libraries and other institutions which make the journal available digitally to thousands of patrons. During this period downloads of journal articles through the Wiley publisher platform exceeded 120,000, and traffic to journal essays on the Council’s website surpassed 584,000 page views, both the highest totals ever.
The journal continued to be one of the most frequently cited publications on the Middle East: the Institute for Scientific Information, the principal citation index in the world, ranked it in the top 8% in its “International Relations” category, with a ranking of 66 out of 860 journals. With the completion of our journal digitization process, a total of 139 issues of the journal are now available online through the MEPC website.
The journal’s impact continues to benefit from the publisher’s marketing of back issues of the journal to institutions around the world, including the national library systems of China and Egypt. Journal access has also been enhanced by the migration of the Wiley Online Library to a publishing platform hosted by the leading scientific and scholarly digital platform provider.
In 2018 Middle East Policy featured 36 full-length articles as well as reviews of 21 books and the transcripts of our four Capitol Hill Conferences. Notably, the Fall 2018 issue featured a book review by prominent political theorist Noam Chomsky. The appeal and impact of the journal is reflected in the prominence and diversity of its contributors. In 2018, journal articles were authored by scholars from or with affiliations in the following countries: Australia, The Czech Republic, Egypt, France, India, Iraq, Israel, Oman, Norway, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, the UAE, the U.S. and the UK.
In 2018 the MEPC’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 Georgetown University Al Waleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, the Arab American Institute, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, the University of Utah, the National Council for the Social Studies, and the National Student Leadership Conference.
Our TeachMideast website attracted 112,783 visitors during 2018, the most ever, representing an increase of 72% over 2017; the number of educators in our educational outreach database along with social media account subscribers increased to 1,761;
We engaged in virtual exchange programming in collaboration with Soliya Connect, including the co-facilitation by our educational outreach specialist of a 4-week online exchange term with 10 university students from the Muslim world and the West. MEPC’s collaboration of many years with the teacher education organization Close-Up, and the student leadership group National Student Leadership Conference continued, with briefings for 14 teacher and student groups reaching approximately 400 participants.
The educational materials on the TeachMideast website grew to 322 pages and included comprehensive country profiles, lesson plans and teaching guides, thematic articles on current issues, a weekly news digest, chronologies and a compendium of teacher and student opportunities and events;
We hosted 8 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.
Our new website operating system increased the delivery of MEPC content to our largest audiences ever. Building on strong gains in 2017, total visits to the site increased to 584,882, a 24% increase compared to 2017. MEPC content continues to feature prominently in Google search results, with Google referrals responsible for 414,340 (or 70%) of the total visits to the site. Mobile traffic in 2018 remained at its increased 2017 level, when it more than doubled due to the new website operating system generating a “mobile-optimized” version of the MEPC website. A unique element of the site is our Middle East in Focus (MEIF) feature. MEIF postings contain collections of commentary from the region on current events and issues, drawn from media published in the region. The website published over 50 editions of MEIF items in 2018.
E-mail outreach further supports MEPC content distribution. Our e-mail list of over 10,000 subscribers receives periodic updates from the Council. In 2018, these recipients received 4 previews of new journal essays, 4 event recaps with a summary of remarks from our Capitol Hill Conferences and other communications.
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. MEPC has some 4,500 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. 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 also posted podcasts from our Capitol Hill Conferences and other events.
Media Engagement and Speeches
In addition to the media coverage of our programs, the Council played an active role in engaging with a broad array of media outlets and prominent public fora 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 60 such media engagements during 2018 is available here. The list of major speeches can be found here. Interviews, commentary, quotes and other input by MEPC Board members and staff were carried in the following media outlets during 2018:
- Television: Al-Araby, Al-Hurrah, Al-Iraqiyya, CNN, CNBC Asia, i24 News and Sky News Arabia
- Radio: Air Talk, Federal News Radio, National Public Radio, Diplomatic Dispatch (podcast)
- Print / Online: Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Foreign Policy, The Foreign Service Journal, Fortune, Government Executive, Huffington Post, The National Interest, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, The New Republic and The Washington Post.