Amb. Robert S. Ford
Senior Fellow, MEI
Robert Ford is a senior fellow at The Middle East Institute. He previously served for 30 years in the State Department and Peace Corps, finishing his career as the U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014. He previously served as U.S. ambassador to Algeria (2006-2008), deputy ambassador in Iraq (2008-2010), senior political advisor to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq (2004-2006), and deputy ambassador in Bahrain (2001-2003). Ambassador Ford has also held postings in Egypt, Turkey, and Cameroon, and in Algeria during its civil war. He was awarded the Presidential Honor award for his leadership of the American embassy in Damascus, and the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award for his work on Syria, which is the State Department's highest award. In 2012, he received the annual Profile in Courage award from Boston’s John F. Kennedy Library for his defense of human rights in Syria. Ambassador Ford has appeared on CNN, PBS, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, the BBC, and Arab networks, and has been published in The New York Times and Foreign Policy, among others.
Charles Lister is a resident fellow at the Middle East Institute. He was formerly a visiting fellow at the Brookings Center in Qatar and before that, the head of the Middle East and North Aftica division at the London-based IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre. Lister focuses on terrorism, insurgency, and sub-state security threats across the Middle East. He is also a senior consultant to The Shaikh Group’s Track II Syria Initiative, within which he has helped coordinate a two-year process of engagement with the leaderships of over 100 Syrian armed opposition groups. He is the author of The Islamic State: A Brief Introduction (Brookings Institution Press, 2015) and the recently released book, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency (Oxford University Press, 2016).
Director, Center of Turkish Studies, MEI
Gönül Tol is the founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies and authors a weekly column for the liberal Turkish daily Radikal. She previously worked at the U.S. Representative Office of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD) and has lectured as an adjunct professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University. She writes extensively on Turkey-U.S. relations, Turkish domestic politics, Turkish foreign policy, and the Kurdish issue. She is a frequent media commentator on Islamist movements in Western Europe and Turkish politics. She received her Ph.D. in political science from Florida International University, where she was a graduate fellow at the Middle East Studies Center.
Senior Fellow, MEI
Alex Vatanka is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute who specializes in Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Iran. From 2006-2010, he was the managing editor of Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst, based in Washington. From 2001-2006, he was a senior political analyst at Jane’s in London, where he mainly covered political developments in the Middle East. He joined the Middle East Institute in 2007. His forthcoming book is Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence.
Paul Salem (Moderator)
Vice President for Policy and Research, MEI
Paul Salem is vice president for policy and research at The Middle East Institute. He focuses on issues of political change, transition, and conflict as well as the regional and international relations of the Middle East. He has a particular emphasis on the countries of the Levant and Egypt. Salem writes regularly in the Arab and Western press and has been published in numerous journals and newspapers. Salem is the author of a number of books and reports including Bitter Legacy: Ideology and Politics in the Arab World (1994), Conflict Resolution in the Arab World (ed., 1997), Broken Orders: The Causes and Consequences of the Arab Uprisings (In Arabic, 2013), “The Recurring Rise and Fall of Political Islam” (CSIS, 2015), “The Middle East in 2015 and Beyond: Trends and Drivers” (MEI 2014). Prior to joining MEI, Salem was the founding director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon between 2006 and 2013. From 1999 to 2006, he was director of the Fares Foundation and in 1989-1999 founded and directed the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Lebanon's leading public policy think tank.