Engaging and influencing public policy debates on areas of their expertise is a core part of the mission of academics. The last decade has in many ways been the golden age of academic policy engagement. Social media, the proliferation of online publishing platforms, and a generational change in disciplinary norms and practices has unleashed an impressive wave of writing by academics aimed at an informed public sphere.
President Donald Trump’s administration poses a sharp challenge to this model of policy engagement on the Middle East. Trump himself has shown little interest in policy issues, and his White House is stocked with individuals whose careers and rhetoric speak to a fundamental disrespect for academic expertise. Cornerstone policies such as the executive orders restricting immigration from Muslim-majority countries demonstrate a profound disregard for academic arguments or data-driven analysis. The White House seems to prefer right wing media outlets as a source of information to America’s own professional intelligence agencies, to say nothing of outside academics.
Is it still possible to effectively engage with public policy debates in such an environment? The answer largely depends on the conception of the purpose and process of policy engagement. There continue to be ample opportunities to support and engage with the residual bastions of professional policymakers within the federal bureaucracy. The need to provide rational, reasoned, fact-based analysis to the broader public sphere has taken on profound urgency. And rapidly evolving social movements and civil society initiatives offer ways for academics to engage well beyond traditional policy environments.
This public engagement includes working across diverse communities and engaging with the many new social movements and civil society initiatives working on issues relevant to Middle East Studies. The response to Trump’s January 27 executive order on immigration offers a powerful model for such effective action. Academic analysis played a critical role in supporting the social movements and judicial action that forced Trump to back away from the initial order. They worked within their universities to help administrations craft responses, within professional associations such as the Middle East Studies Association, and with civil society organizations coordinating the response. Academic public engagement at this social level should be sustained and expanded.
This POMEPS Studies collection brings together analysis of these new challenges facing Middle East political science as an open access PDF. We hope that this special edition helps to inform a new era of academic engagement in the public realm.