Middle East Focus is a weekly podcast featuring discussion and analysis on U.S. foreign policy, contemporary political and social issues in the Middle East, and the arts and culture of region. It is hosted by Paul Salem.
March 15, 2018 - Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had long been at odds with President Trump on key issues in the Middle East, from the intra-GCC dispute between Qatar and other member states, to the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the Iran nuclear deal. MEI fellows Gerald Feierstein, Charles Lister and Alex Vatanka join host Paul Salem to discuss how his replacement may impact these and other regional policy issues.
March 8, 2018 - Irina Zvyagelskaya, professor at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, and Randa Slim, director of MEI’s Program on Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues, join host Paul Salem to discuss U.S. and Russian efforts to find shared interests in the region, from Syria to Yemen, and to avoid confrontation and escalation.
March 1, 2018 - The Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta is the site of a humanitarian disaster unfolding day by day as the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian backers have maintained a massive aerial assault that has killed hundreds. MEI Fellows Ibrahim al-Assil and Charles Lister join host Paul Salem to discuss the conditions on the ground and what led to the campaign that has turned Ghouta into a “Hell on Earth.”
February 22, 2018 - Turkey is one month into its military offensive against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces in the area of Afrin in northwest Syria. How is the operation going, and how has the strained U.S.-Turkish relationship been affected? Gonul Tol, director of Turkish studies at MEI, and Amberin Zaman, a journalist and columnist for Al-Monitor, join host Paul Salem to discuss.
February 15, 2018 - Lebanon has not held parliamentary elections for almost a decade, delayed in part to await the outcome of the Syrian crisis next door. Polls are now set for May 6 and the race to form a majority coalition is on. What will the elections mean for Lebanon’s ability to manage domestic and external pressures? How strong will Hezbollah’s influence be? And will a new election law help or add to the confusion? MEI’s Paul Salem and Randa Slim join guest host Jerry Feierstein to discuss.
February 8, 2018 - With the absence of multilateral diplomatic forums in the Middle East and the Trump administration scaling back on U.S. diplomatic outreach, the role of backdoor diplomatic channels, known as “Track II” dialogues, has seldom been more important. Randa Slim, director of MEI's program on conflict management and Track II dialogues, and Robert Ford, former US ambassador to Syria, join Paul Salem to discuss the role of these dialogues in addressing issues ranging from the Syrian civil war to the conflict in Yemen and regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
February 1, 2018 - Nowhere in the world are women more unequal than in the Middle East and North Africa, but there have been signs of progress in the region and several key reforms took place in 2017, such as Saudi Arabia’s decision to lift the ban on women driving. Manal Omar, founder of Across Red Lines, and Hala Aldosari, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, join guest host Kate Seelye to discuss these reforms and whether they signal real change in attitudes toward women's rights in the region.
January 25, 2018 - Widespread protests have rocked Tunisia in recent weeks in response to a series of tax increases, exposing a general frustration among the population who have yet to see the fruits of the 2011 revolution. Are these the growing pains of a nascent democracy, or is Tunisia at another breaking point? Dokhi Fassihian (Freedom House), Eric Goldstein (Human Rights Watch), and Tunisian journalist and researcher Asma Ghribi join Paul Salem to discuss.
January 18, 2018 - The demonstrations that broke out across Iran in late December were the largest the country has seen since 2009, however their causes and participants were quite different from past protests. Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council and MEI Senior Fellow Alex Vatanka join host Paul Salem to discuss what we’ve learned about these protests and their implications for Iran’s leaders, the region, and U.S. policy.
January 11, 2018 - In this extended episode to kick off 2018, Paul Salem interviews several MEI scholars on the key trends and events to watch for across the region in the year ahead. Guests include Alex Vatanka, Randa Slim, Gerald Feierstein, Marvin Weinbaum, Bilal Saab, and Gonul Tol.
December 19, 2017 - In our final episode of the year, Paul Salem interviews several MEI scholars on the key events that transpired across the Middle East in 2017 including in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Guests include Gerald Feierstein, Charles Lister, Gonul Tol, and Alex Vatanka.
December 12, 2017 - The big news in recent days has been President Trump’s very contentious decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It was a decision roundly condemned by allies in Europe and the Middle East and marks a major shift in U.S. policy. MEI expert Eran Etzion, Yousef Munayyer, and Nathan Stock join host Paul Salem to discuss the fallout.
December 7, 2017 - The killing of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh marks a major turning point in Yemen’s ongoing civil war. Nadwa Al-Dawsari (POMED) and Gerald Feierstein (MEI) join Paul Salem to discuss the immediate fallout and what lies ahead.
December 1, 2017 - From mixed signals over U.S. policy toward Syria's Kurds, to an alleged kidnapping plot involving Michael Flynn, to the implication of President Erdogan in an international corruption scheme, U.S.-Turkey relations have struggled to find solid ground. Nicholas Danforth, senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Gonul Tol, director of Turkish studies at the Middle East Institute, join host Paul Salem to explain these stories and what they mean for both countries.
November 16, 2017 - The war in Afghanistan has dragged on for 16 years, appearing to many Americans to have no end in sight or positive outcome. However, as Gen. Mattis recently testified, “Violence and progress in Afghanistan continue to coexist.” What is that progress, and what does it mean for Afghans themselves? Saad Mohseni, chairman and CEO of Moby Media Group, and Ahmad Majidyar, director of MEI’s IranObserved project, join host Paul Salem to discuss the positive changes taking place in the country.
November 9, 2017 - Last weekend’s arrests of prominent Saudi government officials and leading businessmen on charges of corruption has sent shockwaves through Saudi society as well as global center of finance and commerce. The developments also impacted Lebanon, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri announcing his resignation from the Saudi capital of Riyadh. MEI experts Gerald Feierstein, Jean-Francois Seznec, and Randa Slim join host Paul Salem to discuss these developments.
November 4, 2017 - Last week’s terrorist attack in New York City utilized similar tactics to other low-tech attacks carried out in western Europe, closely following the ISIS playbook. Jasmine El-Gamal, Charles Lister, and Will Wechsler join host Paul Salem to discuss what the attack means for U.S. counterterrorism policy and the future of the fight against ISIS.
October 26, 2017 - In their new report for the Atlantic Council, “U.S. Strategy Options for Iran’s Regional Challenge,” and an essay version published in the Washington Quarterly, Bilal Saab and Kenneth M. Pollack lay out a “pushback” strategy to weaken Iran’s regional influence. The co-authors join host Paul Salem to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of this and other strategies in this week’s podcast.
October 19, 2017 - Who will win the spoils from ISIS' demise in Syria? The Syrian civil war is entering a new phase with the liberation of Raqqa, as well as the Turkish intervention in the north. MEI experts Paul Salem, Charles Lister, Ibrahim al-Assil and Gonul Tol discuss the latest developments in Syria.
October 11, 2017 - The Russians dramatically stepped up their involvement in the Middle East in 2015 when they intervened militarily in the Syrian conflict to support President Assad. Since then, Moscow has become a hot destination, with more heads of state from the Middle East visiting the Russian capital than Washington this year. MEI experts Robert Ford, Gerald Feierstein, and Gonul Tol join host Paul Salem to discuss what this trend means for the region.
October 4, 2017 - On September 25 Iraq's Kurdish region pressed ahead with a controversial independence referendum. MEI experts Randa Slim, Gonul Tol, and Ahmad Majidyar join host Paul Salem to discuss the implications of the vote and what happens next.
Sep 26, 2017 - President Donald Trump spent a portion of his first speech before the U.N. General Assembly attacking Iran. MEI experts Gerald Feierstein and Ahmad Majidyar join host Paul Salem for a discussion of the speech and what lies ahead for U.S.-Iran relations and the nuclear deal.