Middle East Institute
|Motto||Providing non-partisan, expert information and analysis on the Middle East.|
|Type||Public Policy Think Tank|
|Headquarters||1761 N ST NW (Washington, D.C.)|
|$ 2.6 millions (2009) |
The Middle East Institute (MEI) is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank and cultural center in Washington, DC. Founded in 1946, MEI is the oldest institution in Washington dedicated exclusively to the study of the Middle East. The mission of the institute is “to increase knowledge of the Middle East among the citizens of the United States and to promote a better understanding between the people of these two areas.”
MEI fulfills this mission by:
- • Publishing the Middle East Journal.
- • Organizing events featuring regional experts from around the world, notably the MEI Annual Conference.
- • Offering Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Urdu, Pashto and Turkish language classes
- • Maintaining the Oman Library at the Middle East Institute.
- • Hosting scholars, sponsoring research, and providing regional expertise to government, media, and individuals.
- 1 History
- 2 Organizational structure
- 3 Centers of Study
- 4 Executive leadership
- 5 References
In 1946, architect George Camp Keiser felt strongly that the Middle East, a region he had traveled through prior to World War II, should be better understood as the United States entered the postwar period. To this end, he brought together a group of like-minded people to form the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C..
His colleagues on the original Board of Governors included Halford L. Hoskins, Director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS); Christian A. Herter, then congressman from Massachusetts and later Dwight Eisenhower's Secretary of State; Ambassador George V. Allen; Harold Glidden, Director of the Islamic Department at the Library of Congress; and Harvey P. Hall, the first Editor of the Middle East Journal, professor at the American University of Beirut and Robert College. Keiser himself was not only the founder of the organization, but also its chief source of financial support. In 1946, the Institute found a temporary home at 1906 Florida Avenue NW with the School of Advanced International Studies. At the time, they were linked administratively through the Diplomatic Affairs Foundation, the parent organization of both SAIS and MEI.
In its early years, the Institute concentrated on establishing a library, publishing the Middle East Journal, holding annual conferences and sponsoring formal courses in Middle East studies at SAIS. Keiser and his group recognized the need for studying the Middle East using the framework of area studies. This interdisciplinary approach to training diplomats and businesspeople was a new phenomenon at the time and as such closely linked to foreign policy initiatives in the United States.
During its founding years, the Institute was small, its membership resembling that of a club. The annual conference, held at the Friends Meeting House on Florida Avenue, brought together a close-knit group of approximately 150 people accustomed to writing short articles for the Institute's newsletter to inform fellow members about their trips to the Middle East.
George Camp Keiser - The Founder of the Institute
George Camp Keiser was born on November 2, 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as son of George Edward Keiser and Mary Bigelow (Camp) Keiser. After graduating from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1924, he went to Columbia University to complete his graduate degree in Architecture by 1930. Over the following years, he worked as a draftsman for David Hyer and James Gamble Rogers until he opened his own practice in 1938. Following his younger brother's career path, Keiser also became director of the Cuban-American Sugar Company and the Guantanamo Sugar Company.
On the private side, Keiser married Nancy Hull in 1938 and had two daughters, Mary Damaris and Anne Blossom. George Keiser built his family a home inspired by Islamic architecture, showcasing his fascination with the Middle East and Middle Eastern architecture in particular. In 1947, he founded the Middle East Institute.
During World War II, Keiser was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Signal Corps. Further positions held over the course of his life include trustee of the Foreign Service Educational Foundation, the American Research Center in Egypt, and the Visitors Committee of the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He was also a member of the American Institute of Architects and president of the Symphony Orchestra of Central Florida. Keiser died on March 23, 1956 after a brief illness and was buried in Wilton, Connecticut.
The Institute continuously built up its reputation by creating a language- as well as a publications program; St John Philby's Arabian Highlands was published by MEI in 1952. MEI also increased the number of lectures, art exhibits, and conferences dealing with and informing the public about significant contemporary issues. Themes of annual conferences like "The Evolution of Public Responsibility in the Middle East" in 1955, "Current Tensions in the Middle East" in 1956, and "Middle East Report, 1959: Neutralism, Communism - The Struggle for Power" reflected the post-World War II uncertainties about the Middle East.
After having split from SAIS in 1948, the Institute needed to find a new location. After spending a year at 2002 P Street, Keiser discovered and negotiated in late 1954 the purchase of two inter-connecting townhouses in the Dupont Circle neighborhood at 1761-1763 N Street NW with a joint garden and carriage house. The house, formerly occupied by Senator James B. Eustis and by architect Henry Ives Cobb, is the Institute's current location.
President George Camp Keiser's death in 1956 triggered a period of re-evaluation. Edwin M. Wright took over as the second president of the Middle East Institute until 1960, with Angus Sinclair briefly serving in 1958.
Following Keiser's death, MEI faced financial troubles that resulted in staffing problems as well as financial cutbacks. A series of part-time presidents including Edwin M. Wright, James Terry Duce and Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., who all served in addition to their professional or business responsibilities, chiefly launched new projects with the hope that they would be self-supporting. Among these were Lands East, an illustrated magazine, and the Middle East Report of the Week, an "insiders" newsletter which was produced on a mimeograph machine.
By 1966, MEI realized that it could not survive without full-time leadership. Ambassador Raymond A. Hare stabilized the organization at a relatively low level of activity appropriate with its resources, concentrating on fundraising and expanding the base of corporate donations. As a result of these efforts, additional projects were financed by the Ford Foundation, a few conferences were organized for the US Department of State, and the Rockefeller Foundation financed a series of discussion dinners. Georgetown University invited the Institute to hold its annual conference there, providing free accommodations and a volunteer staff.
In 1969, Ambassador Parker T. Hart led the Institute into an era of renewed activity. His vision for MEI to become an important national player led to an increased number of programs (like an annual conference on Middle East Business) and partnerships across the country and the world, a new internship program for undergraduate and graduate students, renewal of the MEI language program, and the publication of the Middle East Problem Papers. For the purpose of the Institute's increased activity, he hired the Institute's first Programs Director, Malcolm Pack.
The 1970s were marked by an unprecedented number of timely programs and events, a vast number of them pertaining to the Cold War. Panels on Soviet Aims and Interests such as "The Arab-Israeli Conflict in View of the US-Soviet Conflict", and "The Strategic and Political Dimensions on the Cold War" meant to provide the public with in-depth information.
Furthermore, MEI started a program called "Dialogue" in 1974. In cooperation with the Arabist Travel Program, MEI sent small teams of scholars and students to seven Arab countries. The program was repeated in 1978, funded by the United States Information Agency and the State Department.
MEI also introduced The Middle East Monitor, an insider newsletter, published between 1971 and 1975. Its logo is the source of the current MEI logo. It is adapted from the design on a 10th-century platter unearthed near Nishapur in present day Iran and now in the collections of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Taking on the role of the Middle East Institute's president in 1975, L. Dean Brown served until 1986. This was the longest presidential tenure in MEI's history, even longer than that of its founder. Under Ambassador Brown, the Institute focused mostly on business and investment opportunities between the Middle East and the United States. The 1980s also saw a continued increase in MEI's research and program ventures, especially focusing on issues like the theocracy of Iranian Islamic Clergy, and Egyptian perceptions of the US presence in Egypt.
After having already served a short term as MEI's president from 1974 to 1975, Ambassador Lucius D. Battle returned from 1986 to 1990. Under his leadership, MEI absorbed the functions of the American Institute for Islamic Affairs (AIIA), dedicated the Sultan Qaboos bin Said Research Center and grew the Institute's endowment fund significantly. He and then-Vice President Ambassador Christopher Van Hollen also began a tradition of traveling throughout the Middle East to gain support for MEI's mission.
Much of the Middle East Institute's agenda in the 1990s was shaped by the persisting volatility in the region. Programs dealing with the situation in the Gulf States, the Arab-Israeli peace process, the changing role of women in the Arab world, and the contentious U.S. policy regarding the region were put forward.
Ambassador Robert Keeley succeeded Ambassador Brown and served as President until 1995. During his tenure, MEI became a leading source for information on the Gulf region in particular, organized its first language-focused trip to the Middle East, set-up a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Cairo, and renovated the building extensively.
The next man to assume this post was Ambassador Roscoe S. Suddarth, who stayed on as President until 2001. During this time, the Foundation for Middle East Peace began renting space in the building (1996) and MEI celebrated its 50th anniversary. Furthermore, MEI established the Public Policy Center in 1999, bringing together MEI scholars-in-residence and adjunct scholars to provide expert commentaries on pressing issues in the Middle East region.
Ambassador Edward S. Walker Jr. assumed the presidency in 2001 and left the post in 2006. While continuing MEI's tradition of hosting cultural events and discussions on a wide range of topics, Walker highlighted America's struggle with the Arab-Israeli conflict, the challenge of global terrorism, and the situation in Iraq.
In 2007, Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, MEI's current President, became the first woman in MEI's history to hold this position. Since then she has worked to renovate MEI's facilities, improve its finances, and expand its reach.
The Middle East Institute hosts public events, typically one or more per week, that respond to events as they unfold in the Middle East. These events range from panel presentations and book signings to roundtables and policy workshops. MEI invites a broad range of experts from the Middle East and around the world to participate in its programs and conferences. Its larger events include annual conferences on Turkey and Egypt, as well as its main event of each year, the Annual Conference and Banquet, held in November.
The Institute's roster of over 40 scholars is composed of former U.S. ambassadors, government officials, and top academics and analysts. Together, MEI's scholars possess decades of experience and expertise in the Middle East. They are routinely called upon by domestic and international media outlets to provide informed commentary and analysis of events and key issues in the region. MEI Scholars are regularly quoted in major media outlets such as NPR, BBC, and al-Jazeera, among many others. MEI Scholars take the conversation beyond the Beltway by publishing op-eds in national and international newspapers including the Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico, and Foreign Policy. They make frequent speaking appearances before audiences of policymakers, military officials, analysts, and students.
The Publications Department is best known for the quarterly Middle East Journal, MEI's only printed publication. In addition to the Journal, analysis - and opinion pieces are posted on the website. Additionally, the members-only bulletin @MEI is distributed on a regular basis.
The Middle East Journal (MEJ)
The Journal was first published in 1947, making it the oldest US peer-reviewed publication on the modern Middle East.
|“||Even though the American people may be suffering from a surfeit of periodical publications, no apology need be offered for adding a quarterly journal relating to the Middle East. Except to a very few Americans - Foreign Service and Army officers, educators, businessmen, travelers - this area is essentially terra incognita. Such a circumstance was a matter of no great practical consequence when the world was large and only loosely knit together. Now that the Middle East is very near the United States in point of time-distance and almost equally near with respect to matters of concern in American foreign policy, it deserves such thoughtful attention as can be initiated and encouraged through the pages of The Middle East Journal.||”|
 In its early years, the Journal covered regional issues and history from the 19th and 20th Centuries. In the 1980s, however, the Journal restricted its coverage to the post-World War II era. It now carries analyses of political, economic, and social developments as well as historical events in North Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus region, and Central Asia. Each issue features articles by a diverse array of scholars, book reviews and a chronology of regional events organized by topic and country for each quarter. The fundamental policy of the Journal is to provide a forum that represents all views on issues facing the Middle East while maintaining a non-partisan stance. The current Editor of MEJ, Dr. Michael Collins Dunn, has been in this post since 1999.
Department of Languages
The Language Department's mission is to promote cultural understanding by offering evening and weekend language classes in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and Pashto. The classes are taught by experienced native as well as non-native instructors, many of whom also teach at nearby universities such as Georgetown University and the University of Maryland. People from both the public and private sectors and everyone from government officials to university students take advantage of the classes. They are either taught in a seminar format or through private and small group tutoring. Off-site tutoring at private institutions and study abroad are offered as well. The current Chairman of the Department of Languages is Mr. Mohamed Elmenshawy.
The Oman Library at the Middle East Institute
The library, originally named after MEI's founder George Camp Keiser, was created with the Institute's birth in 1946 and is housed in an old carriage house behind MEI's main building. Following a major contribution by the Sultan of Oman, the library acquired its current name and completed a renovation of its facilities in 2013. The library comprises the largest collection of literature on the Middle East in Washington outside of the Library of Congress and holds materials in regional languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish and Persian. Works in the library include material covering current events, economics, history, politics, religion, and languages of the Middle East. It is estimated to house over 20,000 books and periodicals, all devoted to the region. The library is open to the public for in-house use.
Centers of Study
Center for Pakistan Studies
Founded in April 2009, the Center for Pakistan Studies aims to foster closer relations and increased understanding between Pakistan and the US. While Pakistan is not part of the “traditional” Middle East, it was included in MEI's original definition of the region due to its strong ties to Middle Eastern countries as well as its connection with the US.
The center’s main focus is to create an online think tank of Pakistan experts where a unique online forum facilitates scholarly exchange between Pakistanis and Americans. This forum features a daily news feed as well as a collection of documents and publications from the US Government. The Center's two main concerns are Pakistani news as well as more long-term issues such as security, water, energy, and the Kashmir conflict. The general public may state their opinions on each of these topics in open forums. The current Director for the Center for Pakistan Studies is Dr. Marvin Weinbaum.
Center for Turkish Studies
MEI established the Center for Turkish Studies in Summer 2009 to promote increased knowledge and understanding of Turkish politics, economics, and society. The distinctive feature of the Center for Turkish Studies is its analysis of Turkey within the context of its relationship with the Middle East. Through its activities, the Center for Turkish Studies aims to also enhance understanding and dialogue between the US and Turkey through providing a channel of communication for academic and policy circles in the US, Turkey and the Middle East. The founding head of MEI’s Center for Turkish studies is Dr.Gönül Tol.
Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center (SQCC)
The Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center (SQCC) was established in 2005 following an agreement between the Sultanate of Oman and the Middle East Institute. SQCC's establishment replaced the Sultan Qaboos bin Said Research Center for Middle East Studies, located at MEI since the mid-1980s. Kathleen Ridolfo serves as SQCC's Executive Director. SQCC's mission is to educate Americans and Omanis about the breadth and richness of the two cultures. In 2011, SQCC opened a Cultural Center, which showcased Omani crafts and culture and serves as a space for workshops and other events. In 2013, SQCC parted with MEI and relocated to new offices in Washington.
Middle East-Asia Project (MAP)
The Middle East-Asia Project (MAP)  is an initiative undertaken by the Middle East Institute which is designed to serve two broad objectives:
1. To promote awareness and understanding of the multidimensional relations between the Middle East and Asia by providing information and analysis on cross-regional economic, political, security, and social/cultural interactions and their implications; and
2. To foster collaborative research and other activities regarding Middle East-Asia relations through establishing an online community of experts and forging institutional partnerships. The Cyber Library contains publication details, abstracts and live links to full text versions of previously published works on Middle East-Asian affairs organized by country and by topic/issue.
The Experts Directory contains the profiles and contact details of a worldwide network of academics, business leaders, diplomats, journalists, researchers and other practitioners affiliated with the MAP.
The Infographics project element consists of periodically updated charts, tables and timelines depicting key trends and developments in trade, investment, migration, and other spheres of cross-regional activity.
The Publications element is organized as follows:
Partner Content: refers to original works produced by MAP-affiliated experts for non-MEI outlets but made available to and posted to the MAP microsite in full-text format and later integrated into the Cyber Library.
New MAP Publications:
- Analysis: Short analytical essays (2,000 words) on key issues grouped under three main headings (i.e., politics/security, energy/commerce, and culture/society).
- Dialogues: Brief commentaries by two or more contributors (each 500 words) on specific cross-regional developments or viewed from cross-regional perspectives.
- Interviews: Online text-based conversations conducted with diplomats, businessmen or others drawing upon their own cross-cultural experiences, as well as insights and observations about the evolution of Middle East-Asian relations.
- General Anthony Zinni: Chairman of the Board
- Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin: President
- Kate Seelye: Vice President of Programs and Communications
- Dr. Paul Salem: Vice President for Policy and Research
- "The Middle East Institute on Charity Navigator". charitynavigator.org. Retrieved March 4, 2012.
- Washington, DC, Recorder of Deeds (1948). Middle East Institute Certificate of Incorporation.
- "Happening Now at MEI | Middle East Institute". Mei.edu. Retrieved 2014-04-16.
- "The Oman Library at the Middle East Institute | Middle East Institute". Mei.edu. 2011-12-22. Retrieved 2014-04-16.
- "George Camp Keiser". Middle East Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
- Kathleen Manalo (1987). A Short History of the Middle East Institute.
- "History of the Middle East Institute". Middle East Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
- "The Logo of the Middle East Institute". Middle East Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-25.
- "Middle East Journal". Middle East Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
- Middle East Institute (1947). Middle East Journal.
- "Oman Library at the Middle East Institute". Middle East Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
- "Middle East Asia Project". Middle East Institute. 2013.