Middle East Program

The Council on Foreign Relations' Middle East program provides cutting edge analysis of the emerging political, economic, and social trends in the world's most volatile region. Through books, articles, op-eds, blogs, and media appearances, CFR scholars offer insights and recommendations for policymakers and the public about the Middle East, its history, the sources of its current instability, and where it might be headed.

The popular uprisings that have swept the Middle East in recent years are remaking the political, social, cultural, ideological, and economic landscapes of the region. The emergence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq has required increased U.S. military involvement in the region, including a coalition to support an air campaign against the terrorist group. Meanwhile, Syria’s civil war continues. Libya and Yemen are sliding into further violence and turmoil. Egypt and Tunisia are attempting to restore security and political order. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Jordan are seeking to quell unrest in their own countries. Israel is concerned about the potential for new threats to emerge from the instability in its neighborhood and remains ever vigilant over Iran's ongoing nuclear development as the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians seems to have stalled. Non-Arab regional actors like Iran and Turkey are using the changes in the Arab world to extend their influence in the region. Islamist parties have capitalized on new opportunities to advance their agendas in the political arena, backed with electoral legitimacy, following years of repression at the hands of authoritarian leaders. In some countries, these parties are confronting a fierce backlash due to incompetence and their own authoritarian approach to governance.

The ongoing upheaval in the Middle East poses new challenges for the United States. Washington continues to look to secure energy supplies, protect Israel's well-being, and preserve regional stability. However, the policies most likely to achieve these ends at acceptable costs are open to fresh debate. As the United States struggles to map new policies, regional leaders question its political will to remain a power in the region.

By analyzing the forces both driving and frustrating change in the Middle East, CFR's Middle East team provides an unrivaled resource for policymakers and the public alike seeking to understand the changing dynamics of this region.

Roundtable Series

Roundtable Series on the Rise of Islamist Political Movements and U.S. Foreign Policy

Director: Ed Husain, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
July 1, 2012—June 30, 2015

The debate within Muslim-majority societies over the role of Islam in government is long-standing, but more important today than ever before. Recent developments in the Middle East and beyond have many asking how Islamist movements will shape the future of the societies in which they exist, and how the United States should respond to the complex challenges they pose in such areas as economic policy, women's and minority rights, and relations with Israel. This roundtable series, made possible through the generous support of the Smith Richardson Foundation, explores these questions and more.

Critical Issues in the Middle East Roundtable Series

Director: Robert Danin, Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies
October 18, 2010—Present

From the Atlantic to the Gulf of Oman, the Middle East is witnessing unprecedented change and transformation. At this pivotal time of popular uprisings, revolutions, and ongoing efforts toward Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, this roundtable series seeks to generate a deeper, richer understanding of the vast array of issues currently shaping the region. To this end, the series brings together policymakers, opinion leaders, and government officials with the most intimate knowledge of the Middle East to enrich the dialogue both on developments in the region and U.S. policy.

Middle Eastern Studies Roundtable Series

Staff: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
May 2009—Present

Conflict in the Middle East has been near the top of the American foreign policy agenda for a half century. Through discussions with academic experts and especially with current and former government officials, this roundtable series aims to inform the debate surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as other challenges facing the region. These roundtables discuss developments in the region and the goals and impact of U.S. actions, with an eye to deepening understanding of the Middle East and analyzing how to make U.S. foreign policy more effective.

Roundtable on the U.S. and Middle East

Director: Ray Takeyh, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies
February 1, 2007—Present

The United States is faced with an array of serious challenges in the Middle East, perhaps unprecedented in the past fifty years. An attempt to provoke a revolutionary change in the Middle East has collapsed with a large U.S. land army lodged in the heart of the region. The United States now confronts a Middle East that features an imploding Iraqi state, an aggressive Islamic Republic about to cross the nuclear threshold and a Palestinian state broken into two failed entities.

The Roundtable on the U.S. and Middle East will seek to develop strategies for the next administration. Should the United States attempt to recoup its position by pressing forward, albeit more prudently and with international cooperation, or should the United States go "back to the future," and place "stability over freedom," to use President Bush's phrase? Is it time to create an alliance with Sunnis to stave off the immediate threat of Iranian encroachment? What should the United States' grand strategy be in the Middle East? These and other questions will be the focus of monthly discussions.

Roundtable on Reform in the Arab and Islamic World

Director: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
July 1, 2004—Present

Since September 11, 2001, U.S.-Middle East policy has sought to promote reform in the Arab and Islamic World as a U.S. national security priority. This roundtable series sheds light on the complex issues that the countries of the Middle East present and explores the different avenues available to U.S. policymakers seeking to promote change in that region. By drawing on the experience of a variety of speakers with particular expertise on social, political, and economic reform, women's issues, education, and the media, this roundtable series intends to enrich the current debate on reform promotion in the Arab world with a range of top-tier perspectives and policy recommendations in an informal discussion setting.

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Middle East Experts