A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

About the Blogger

My January 30, 2009 post called "The Stockdale Questions: About the Blogger" gave the following introduction to me as I then was, now three years ago:

The late Admiral James Stockdale, one of the most highly-decorated officers in Navy history and a longtime POW in Vietnam, is unfortunately and unfairly remembered by most Americans for two sentences: while running for Vice President under Ross Perot in 1992, he began his appearance at the Vice Presidential debate with the lines: "Who am I? Why am I here?"

But Stockdale's questions are fair enough, especially for a new blogger. Who am I? Why am I here? Why is this the Middle East Institute's first blog?

Okay. I'm Michael Collins Dunn, PhD (MIchael or Mike will do), Editor of The Middle East Journal since 1998, married and the father of one daughter, and the first Middle East Institute blogger though I'd be delighted to see other MEI scholars and officials join me out here in the blogosphere.

This is not a polemical or partisan blog. I have my biases: sometimes they may show through, but I intend to try to offer intelligence analysis (and intelligent analysis) without heavy prejudgment, which is just another word for prejudice, after all. I have too many friends on all sides of all the various Middle Eastern disputes not to be an advocate for negotiated peace; I have no deep antipathies to any of the peoples, cultures, or nations of the region and considerable experience with most of them; my personal religious beliefs are private and compel no particular stance on any of the disputes in the region; and my politics (I'm a registered Whig) doesn't tell you very much either.

That brings us to who I am and what my standing is to blog here. Sometimes I've been asked to speak to interns at the Middle East Institute about my career path, and I always warn: "Don't try this at home." My doctoral dissertation was a study of Egypt in the period 750-868 AD, so I'm a "medievalist" by European standards, an Early Islamic historian by Middle Eastern perspective, except that since 1980 I've spent all or almost all my time dealing with the contemporary Middle East.My doctorate is in Middle Eastern history from Georgetown University. I taught for nine years or so as an adjunct at Georgetown, teaching both Islam in the theology department and (during Desert Storm), Middle Eastern military issues for the national security studies program there. I lived in Cairo twice: in 1972-1973 in the Center for Arabic Studies Abroad program and as a fellow of the American Research Center in Egypt in 1977-1978. I have visited most of the Arab world, from Morocco to Oman, and at one point was visiting Israel once or twice a year as well. I speak and read Arabic, and have a little bit of asking-directions-reading-roadsigns capability in Hebrew.

I also worked through much of the 1980s for a group of publications specializing in defense issues. I became something of an expert on the military industries of the Middle East (especially Israel and Egypt). In 1989 I started my own company, The International Estimate, Inc., which published a biweekly newsletter called The Estimate from 1989 to early 2007. It was always a small-circulation newsletter, but it had its followers. It ultimately died the fate of dead-tree newsletters generally: the Internet.

All of this combines to say that I've been a Middle East specialist since the early 1970s, and an Editor since 1980 (unless you count my High School Yearbook, which is how I got set on this career path). Along the way I've met a lot of interesting people. I also may be one of the few people who's sat in both Israeli and Egyptian tanks and also taught in a theology department.

By 1998, being one of the few people who had both an extensive experience running publications and academic street cred in the Middle East, I was asked to take over The Middle East Journal. I will, at some point, post or link to the little history of the Journal I wrote for our 60th anniversary; it's in our Winter 2007 issue.

I, like the Journal, am now past 60. We both are converting as quickly as possible to the digital age, even as dead-tree publications are dying around us. I hope this blog is part of that conversion.

I have some personal interests and they will doubtless affect my choices of posting topics. Egypt is my old home and most enduring interest: Misr Umm al-Dunya as the saying goes, "Egypt is the Mother of the World." Since Misr also means Cairo, the phrase is often applied to the city as well, and I share the view. I've spent a lot of time, as noted, on defense and military issues, have skated gingerly around the edges of the intelligence communities of the US and the Middle East (though never served in any) and therefore have some expertise there. I'm interested in both ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East, though not in a confrontational way. If I blog more about some of these things than, say, oil economics or the impact of the global economic crisis on Gulf sovereign funds, forgive me. I write what I know.