Specialist Interviews

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations is committed to its educational mission to enhance knowledge and understanding of the Arab region, the Middle East, and the Islamic world. Mindful of this pursuit, the Council produces regular discussions and lectures with specialists in Middle East studies which are exclusively available to the students and faculty in the Youth Leadership Development Program / Model Arab League community. Information presented in these materials can be used to aid debate in Model Arab League conferences, but attribution of statements to any of the speakers is not allowed.

Some interviews require special access which can be obtained by clicking on “Request Lecture” and filling out the necessary form. Access is dependent on approval by the featured speakers and the National Council on U.S. Arab Relations.

Mental Health Care in the Middle East

Dr. Justin Thomas


PhD Experimental Psychology

(University of Manchester, UK) 

In his lecture, Dr. Thomas covers societal views of mental health, roadblocks to proper treatment, and suggests methods of improving treatment of mental health issues in the Arab region.

Soccer and Politics in the Middle East

Dr. James Dorsey
Senior Fellow
Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
–Full Biography–

Watch an interview with Dr. Dorsey as he discusses soccer in the Middle East, including its history and the politics of sports clubs. The conversation also touches on career advice for students interested in research, diplomacy, and journalism.

Government Structure and Policy in Iran

Adnan Tabatabai
Co-founder and CEO
Center for Applied Research in 
Partnership with the Orient
–Full Biography–

Adnan Tabatabai discusses Iran with a focus on the country’s various legislative bodies, political structure, and policy trends since the revolution, as well as how a growing youth population could impact Iran’s future. Additionally, the conversation covers track-one and track-two diplomacy. Special consideration is given to the rising prominence of track-two diplomacy and what needs to be done to ensure continued positive outcomes.

Politics and Islamism in Iraq

Dr. David Patel

Associate Director of Research 
Crown Center for Research 
Brandeis University
Full Biography–

In this lecture, Dr. David Patel talks about Iraq’s political system, political groups, Islamism, and how each has adapted to Iraq’s changing civic landscape. Dr. Patel also covers his research into clerical networks and how they provided social order after the 2003 invasion. At the end of the lecture, advice is given to students on ways they can best combine various, and sometimes dissimilar academic interests and build a strong foundation for a career in research and policy building.

Peace Talks and Conflicts - Liberating Palestine

Dr. Yezid Sayigh
Senior Fellow
Carnegie Middle East Center – Beirut
–Full Biography–

Dr. Yezid Sayigh explains the evolution of the Palestinian diaspora and how it impacts the liberation movement. Also under discussion is how Palestinian delegations were barred from participating in peace talks and negotiations, but how they were eventually able to overcome these obstacles. More information is given on the political future of distressed states dealing with unstable economies and authoritarian regimes. 

British Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Michael Stephens
Associate Fellow
Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)
–Full Biography–

Michael Stephens presents on current UK foreign policy in the Middle East and how it converges and diverges from US foreign policy goals. Insight is provided on how the British monarchy guides diplomatic relations with other Arab monarchies and what this means for promoting regional security and human rights. Mr. Stephens explains the work that RUSI does to train its clients in diplomatic and military affairs, and why it is important to take into account different backgrounds and viewpoints.

From Qadhafi to Chaos: Libya’s Centrality in Western Geostrategy

Jason Pack
Non-Resident Scholar
Middle East Institute
–Full Biography–

In this lecture, Jason Pack provides a crash course in Libyan history along with a breakdown of Libya’s complex economic and social institutions. Additionally, the lecture looks into the complications that come from foreign involvement in Libya’s ongoing civil war. 

#Cometogether: Cultural and Social Change in Saudi Arabia

Professor Sean Foley
Professor of History
Middle Tennessee State University
–Full Biography–

Professor Sean Foley discusses The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the 21st century and the cultural and social changes that have occurred. This lecture focuses on the growing art culture in Saudi Arabia after September 11, 2001. Professor Foley also provides an interactive look into the “Saudi approach” to art across different mediums.

Food and Water Security in the MENA Region

Dr. Martin Keulertz
Assistant Professor
American University of Beirut 
–Full Biography–

In this lecture, Professor Keulertz explains the key threats to food and water security. Other topics discussed included agricultural suitability and water allocation plans in the region. At the end of the lecture, Professor Keulertz stresses the importance of support to help combat food insecurity in the era of COVID-19.

The Structure and Future of Energy Markets

Jaafar Altaie
Founder and Managing Director
Manaar Energy
–Full Biography–

In this lecture, Jaafar Altaie, founder of Manaar Energy, discusses the structure and future of energy markets in the Arabian Gulf and the entire MENA region. This open-ended lecture breaks down the geopolitical and socioeconomic impact of the oil industry in Gulf states. Mr. Altaie also talks about the challenges of diversifying economies faced in the MENA region, mainly in countries like Iraq. Mr. Altaie closes his lecture with a discussion about the future of Iraq’s energy market. 

Armed Militias and Non-State Actors

ariel Ahram
Dr. Ariel Ahram
Associate Professor
Virginia Tech 
–Full Biography–

In this lecture Dr. Ariel Ahram examines the impact and structure of armed groups, militias, and non-state actors. Dr. Ahram breaks down the early history of state vs non-state actors in MENA countries during their respective colonial periods. This talk also takes a comparative view of the state and non-state actor structure in Iraq and Iran. At the end of his lecture Dr. Ahram answers student questions regarding specific non-state actors around the world.

History and Politics of Sudan

Dr. Khidir Ahmed
Associate Professor
International University of Africa

Dr. Khidir Ahmed,  the former Sudanese Ambassador to the United States, leads a lecture on the complex history and politics of Sudan. Dr. Ahmed focuses a majority of his lecture discussing the history and impact of Sudanese nationalism and Islamic politics. At the end of his lecture Dr. Ahmed answers student questions about the future of Sudan, religious politics and its effect on the region, and much more. 


Gulf Merchant Families

Dr James Onley photo
Dr. James Onley
Director of Historical Research, Qatar National Library
Editor, Journal of Arabian Studies  
–Full Biography–

In this lecture, Dr. James Onley discusses his knowledge and experience in the Gulf region. He shares information and detailed history on merchant families in the region and the challenges they face. Dr. Onley also explains his role as the director of historical research at the Qatar National Library, the largest digital archive in the Middle East Region. Other topics include his work with other scholars in his capacity of director of historical research and his collaborative efforts therein.