The Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) was established in 1971 by young anti-war activists who sought to push the New Left to engage with the region through the same analytical lenses that it used to challenge US policy in Southeast Asia and Latin America. In this issue, we look back to reflect on MERIP’s 50-year history of speaking truth to power and evaluate its continuing legacy. We are proud that a scrappy monthly newsletter written by and for activists not only endured, but evolved into Middle East Report, a unique source of news and analysis that features essays informed by rigorous scholarship and detailed field research while remaining committed to a progressive political mission.

In its early decades, MERIP provided an important outlet for voices and perspectives marginalized in the academy and mainstream media, including those of scholars, activists and political figures from the region. Launched as MERIP Reports, this first-of-its-kind publication on the Middle East played a critical role in transforming Americans’ knowledge of the region by advancing a critical political economy approach, documenting popular struggles and articulating opposition to the foreign policies of the United States and its regional allies.

For this issue, we solicited pieces from long-time editors and members of the MERIP collective as well as a few whose connection to Middle East Report is as readers. We asked them to survey and reflect on aspects of MERIP coverage across a range of topics including labor, Palestine, the War on Terror, the Lebanese civil war, the Iranian revolution, women and gender, Arab Americans, culture and poetry. (There are clearly many more topics critical to MERIP’s legacy that could have been covered.) These mini essays offer a guided tour across the MERIP landscape, facilitated by links to related articles, the majority of which are housed on MERIP’s open access website: www.merip.org.

The on-the-ground coverage provided by writers with deep knowledge of their subject matter and ability to conduct research in local languages often stood in stark contrast to dominant approaches in most of the academy, to say nothing of the mass media.

Looking back through the MERIP archive, readers will likely be stunned by how much of the reporting and analysis not only documented the complex politics of the past, but now constitutes a valuable historical archive in its own right. The on-the-ground coverage provided by writers with deep knowledge of their subject matter and ability to conduct research in local languages often stood in stark contrast to dominant approaches in most of the academy, to say nothing of the mass media. MERIP always viewed popular struggles through the perspectives and aspirations set by the region’s political actors, not from the interests or concerns of governments and elites. Indeed, as political scientist F. Gregory Gause noted in an essay on how many scholars of the Middle East missed the signs leading up to the 2010–2011 Arab uprisings, “The perspective ‘from below’ represented by the scholars publishing in MERIP…provides an extremely useful set of lenses for understanding the politics of the region. They captured political dynamics … not sufficiently appreciated by those working out of more ‘top-down’ paradigms like the stability of Arab authoritarianism authors. They capture elements of regional politics that others miss.”

Readers perusing MERIP Reports from the 1970s, for example, can trace in detail America’s growing military involvement in the region, propelled by the Carter Doctrine, increasing arms sales and the propping up of authoritarian regimes in the face of popular struggles for social justice, political representation and economic rights. These articles provide context for more recent events, such as the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq, mapping a consistent story of what Toby Jones would call the US strategy of “embracing crisis.” The coverage of the Lebanese civil war helps readers understand the country’s current economic collapse, the popular uprising against the ruling elite and what may be the establishment’s bloody response.

Palestine was also central to MERIP’s mission and we think the magazine’s editors, writers and readers have played a role in shifting the way many progressive-minded Americans view Palestinians and their struggle for self-determination as well as the larger Arab-Israeli conflict. More recently, readers were offered some of the most incisive running commentary on the long, slow death of the so-called peace process and thoughtful consideration of issues such as the comparison of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the system of apartheid, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and the one-state reality.

This 50-year history of MERIP, its achievements in helping to shift the terms of debate about Palestine and the region and its continuing relevance would not be possible without the ongoing work of dedicated editors, authors and staff, as well as the support of our readers who responded to multiple appeals.
This 50-year history of MERIP, its achievements in helping to shift the terms of debate about Palestine and the region and its continuing relevance would not be possible without the ongoing work of dedicated editors, authors and staff, as well as the support of our readers who responded to multiple appeals. Launched as a collective with hubs in Washington, DC and Boston, MERIP’s organizational structure was only formalized a decade later when Joe Stork became executive editor of the magazine and Martha Wenger took on the role of assistant editor. The position of publisher was created shortly thereafter to manage the fundraising and administrative needs for the publication and the organization. Working out of New York, Jim Paul served in this role until 1989. Peggy Hutchison took over as publisher in the 1990s at MERIP’s new Massachusetts Avenue office in Washington, DC with Joe and Martha as well as other staff including assistant editor Maggy Zanger and circulation manager Esther Merves.

Design and layout of the magazine was handled at times by outside organizations, such as the artist Johanna Vogelsang and Art for People. But the most important influence on MERIP’s look came from artist and longtime design editor Kamal Boullata who was involved from the first issue until the mid-1990s. In addition to contributing his own drawings and articles, he designed the logos and established the basic layout of the magazine pages. The MERIP look that he created was maintained, with modifications, until the print edition of the magazine was discontinued in 2019. Geoff Hartman contributed his design skills after Kamal, and Jimmy Bishara was MERIP’s designer and production manager from 1998 until 2019 (and designed all the covers after 2007).

Flipping through paper copies of Middle East Report it is easy to see the importance MERIP gave to visuals in creating an engaging and accessible publication. Early issues of MERIP Reports included original images such as line drawings, woodcuts, cartoons, maps and some photographs, but by the late 1980s photography had become the most common creative contribution to the magazine’s visual style. Two photo essays, one by Marisa Escribano on Egyptian women in 1979 and the other by Eva Cockcroft from Iran one year after the revolution, are examples of a more intimate and immediate perspective on the region that MERIP hoped to continue to provide through photography. A full issue in 1986 was devoted to a traveling photo exhibit about Yemenis in the United States called Sojourners and Settlers. Up until the early 2000s, the type of photography in the magazine ranged from images made by authors during their fieldwork to standard news shots to documentary photography acquired from accomplished professional photographers, such as Hannes Wallrafren, J.C. Tordai, George Azar and the collective Impact Visuals. After 2002, when the position of photo editor was reestablished by Michelle Woodward, the pool of photographers was widened to include more freelancers, many from the region such as Dalia Khamissy and Hossam el-Hamalawy, and a broader range of photo agencies. Throughout MERIP’s history, images have been the subject of discussion and deliberation by editors and staff with the goal that the visuals themselves would convey meaning and tell stories that enhance and add to the text, not simply illustrate it.

Following Joe Stork’s move to Human Rights Watch in 1995, Geoff Hartman and Laurie King served stints as editor. Chris Toensing came on in 2000 and, as funding dwindled, quickly combined the jobs of editor and executive director, which he continued until 2017 with the assistance of dedicated staff including Barbara Neuwirth and Amanda Ufheil-Somers. To further stretch finite resources, MERIP then closed its office and moved operations fully online. MERIP’s next executive director and editor, Steve Niva (2018–2019) and managing editor Michelle Woodward (2020–present) along with executive director Mandy Terc (2019–present), have worked remotely to continue the online publishing of Middle East Report and intervening essays.

Throughout these staff changes, the editorial direction and content of the magazine continued to be governed by a broader editorial committee. It is in this capacity that generations of mostly junior scholars would be integrated, playing essential roles in the organization’s longevity. In reflections collected to mark the fiftieth anniversary of MERIP, past members recall the editorial committee meetings as workshops of debate—sometimes sharply expressed—as well as opportunities to be exposed to new ideas and, for many, to make long-lasting friendships. As a group with common values and politics, it often functioned as a sort of family, “the good kind,” as Zachary Lockman remarked at a 2020 MESA roundtable about the impact of MERIP on Middle East Studies (to be published in a special issue of the Review of Middle East Studies). MERIP sustained a collective-based organization across five decades without the support of research institutions or government funding and with very few foundation grants. The main resources that kept MERIP in operation were always individual donations and volunteer efforts from its unpaid authors and editorial committee members.

It could be argued that the organization endured also because its diverse readers—scholars, students, activists, journalists and the interested public—continued to value what it offered. MERIP’s circulation grew steadily in the 1970s, growing further with the Iranian revolution and increased direct US involvement in regional conflicts with spikes in readership around the 1990–1991 Gulf War and then again around the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some readers might recall the days when Middle East Report could be found at newsstands and in popular bookstores. MERIP was forged in a media ecosystem before the internet and digital publishing and its circulation steadily declined, even as the US occupation in Iraq continued.

Still, for decades, MERIP punched well above its weight. At a 1986 event marking the organization’s fifteenth anniversary, activist and scholar Eqbal Ahmed noted that “MERIP remains a modest and austere outfit, limited in its outreach by the meagerness of its resources.” But he also observed, “It is by far the most used Middle Eastern journal on American campuses. MERIP editors are teaching at institutions of higher learning; they are undoubtedly producing young scholars of humane outlook and radical inclination.”

Fifty years since its founding, it is possible to suggest that MERIP has been so successful that it is no longer needed.
Fifty years since its founding, it is possible to suggest that MERIP has been so successful that it is no longer needed. It has been among the forces that helped change the way issues such as Palestine, the US role in the region and popular struggles are discussed in the United States such that many other outlets are now open to views that had long been marginalized or banished. But nearly 35 years after Ahmed’s comments, toward the end of the 2020 MESA Roundtable, founding editor Joe Stork took stock and reminded us that changing the field of Middle East studies was never the primary goal. Recalling that the original mission, as it was defined in the 1970s, sought to mobilize a movement against imperialist US policies, Stork concluded by noting, “We started MERIP to change US policy and, you know, dammit, US policy changed. But certainly, in very much the wrong direction.” To this we can add the devastation across the region that the United States continues to foster by supporting repressive regimes, funneling deadly weapons, continuing the War on Terror by stealth and refusing to lift economic sanctions against Iran and others even in the midst of economic and health crises. Meanwhile, the fate of popular struggles across the region and the question of Palestine remain dire.

The founding generation of MERIP, coming out the counterculture and anti-war movements, had much hope for change. By its tenth anniversary, however, MERIP editors would accurately note that, “Coming at a time of resurgent US militarism, it portends a period of grave danger for peoples everywhere.” In the same issue, Peter Johnson and Joe Stork remarked that “The decade ahead, we are sure, will be one of great danger and some opportunity. We intend to struggle against the dangers and seize the opportunities.” That MERIP would continue that struggle for another four decades is impressive but also dispiriting. In any case, the very existence of a fiftieth anniversary issue, not to mention MERIP’s 50 years of reporting surveyed in the essays it contains, reflects how all members of the greater MERIP collective, from the founders through today’s editors and authors, can feel confident that MERIP did indeed “struggle against the dangers and seize the opportunities” and can only continue to do so.

 

[The editors of issue 300, “MERIP at 50,” are Waleed Hazbun, Lisa Hajjar, Najib Hourani and Guest Editor Chris Toensing.]

 

 

MERIP Staff, 1981-2021
The tenth anniversary issue of MERIP Reports, issue number 100/101, published a box on “The MERIP Collective, 1970-1981,” that explained how two collectives, based in Boston and Washington, DC, produced the magazine over the course of its first decade and listed the names of founders, editors, associates and contributing editors.

Beginning with issue number 106, MERIP developed a new organizational structure with a full time (executive) editor and publisher (later replaced by executive director), each supported by assistants. This core staff would continue to work with the editorial committee. MERIP would also later form a board of directors and at various times had committees dealing with issues such as outreach and development. The number of people participating in these committees over the past 40 years is overwhelming and are too numerous to list here. For the fiftieth anniversary issue number 300, we have done our best to compile a list of all those who served in staff positions, including assistants and interns.

Editor: Joe Stork, Geoff Hartman, Laurie King, Chris Toensing, Steve Niva
Managing Editor: Michelle Woodward
Associate Editor: Joost Hiltermann, James E. Bishara, Ian Urbina
Assistant Editor: Martha Wenger, Maggy Zanger, Lisa Hajjar, Geoff Hartman, Dan Sisken, Bayann Hamid, Amanda Ufheil-Somers
Photo Editor: Robin Surratt, Michelle Woodward

Current Analysis Editor: Arang Keshavarzian, Nabil al-Tikriti
Book Review Editor: Joel Beinin, Bob Vitalis, Jillian Schwedler, Shiva Balaghi, Rebecca L. Stein
Editorial Assistant: Rania Atalla, Lisa Hajar, Steve Niva, Amanda Ufheil-Somers
Staff Editor: Michael Kaplan, Alyssa Bivins

Design Editor: Kamal Boullata
Design and Layout: Johanna Vogelsang, Dick Anderson, Lori Oxendine
Design and Production: Julie Farrar, Geoff Hartman, James E. Bishara

Publisher: Jim Paul, Robin Madrid, Joe Stork, Peggy Hutchison
Executive Director: Judy Barsalou, Terry Walz, Chris Toensing, Steve Niva, Mandy Terc
Associate Publisher: Esther Merves
Assistant to the Publisher: Robbin Lewis, Shouleh Vatanabadi, Susan McCarn, Ruth Benn, Joan Cullen-Kadhim, Linda G. Jones, Esther Merves, Michaelle Browers

Circulation Manager: Ruth Benn, Omar Dahbour, Joan Cullen-Kadhim, Relda Hill, Marisa Tamari, Barbara Nelson, Esther Merves, Vicki Linton, Raiida Kaldani-Thompson, Brian Sadie, Barbara Neuwirth, Tamara Murdock

Administrative Assistant: Michelle Woodward, Ann Schaub, Kimberly Kahlhamer, Therese Kuhn, Kelly Hattel, Jennifer Derr
Office Manager: Amanda Ufheil-Somers
Business Manager: Beth Golatzki, Pam Stumpo
Consultant:Barbara Neuwirth

Media Outreach Director: Ghassan Bishara
Outreach Editor: Ian Urbina
Media Coordinator:Catherine Cook, Michelle Woodward, Meera Shah, Bayann Hamid
Social Media Coordinator: Pádraigín O’Flynn

Senior Analyst: Catherine Cook, Maren Milligan

Volunteer: Christa Salamandra, Mary Elizabeth Kepferle, Michelle Woodward

Intern: Tom Russell, Mouin Rabbani, Steve Niva, Norbert Scholz, Roger Kenna, Leila Baligh, Julie Denney, Julie Flowers, Andrew Zimmerman, Stacey Walsh, Nurith Aizenman, Pamela Tomski, Kate Browning, Joel Campagna, Sarah Shoenfeld, Jane Arons, Shirin Khanmohamadi, Ann Schaub, Andrea Lueg, Ted Westervelt, Michelle Woodward, Leyla Sharabi, Jill Junnola, Mariam Memarsadeghi, Khader Abusway, Sahar Bazzaz, Sandrine Bretonnière, Rachel Howes, Victor Bongard, Colleen Higgins, Hanan Salah, Christina Zacharia, Meredith Brody, Emma Cherniavsky, Tabassam Naila Shah, Tanya Sleiman, Bryce Giddens, Chris Graham, Elizabeth Hiel, Deevy Holcomb, Amy Schmidt, Julienne Gherardi, Leena Khan, Mentwab Wuhib, Phoebe Simpson, Laura Abrahams, Kristine King, Peter Ogram, Nina Sovich, Sarah Woodside, Barbara Bartsch-Allen, Raiida Kaldani Thompson, Mark Rosenshield, Brian McGrath, Samia El-Mahdi, Mentwab Wuhib, Nehme Abouzeid, Michael Webb, Sarah Brown, Amalia Gossen, Mahasen Nasser-Eldin, Andrew Horne, Tamara Murdock, Juliet Thompson, Jill Keblawi, Nadya Sbaiti, Nadia Zaman, Leila Zwelling, Emily Lawrence, Brett Schor, Jehan Turner, Zaid Alway, David Bloomberg, Patricia Khleif, Newton Nyairo, Sherene Seikaly, Mark LeVine, Katie Pierce, Katayoon Sadre, Jenny Bell, Anja Zückmantel, Michael Hurwitz, David McIvor, Philippa Eastwood, Laila Moustafa, Nirvana Tanoukhi, Karin van der Tak, Rudeyna Babouder, Mariam Javanshir, Keith Feldman, Lara Harb, Teddy Crum, Jennifer Meltzer, Jawad Muaddi, Dan Denvir, Rola Abimourched, Heather Kelsey, Ghada al-Madbouh, Victoria Horrock, Brandong King, Rameez Abbas, Sami Bawalsa, Nir Shafir, Luke Greicius, Kathryn King, Carla Humud, Max Sternberg, Katy Kalemkerian, Elizabeth Nickle, Max Shmookler, Naomi Smith, Hilary Falb, Emily Oppenheimer, Geoffrey King, Andrew Armentano, Helena Zeweri, Alexa Bordner, Umbreen Shaikh, Henry Huttinger, Joseph Tannir, Daniel Koechlein, Katie Elliott, Corbin Fowler, Kinza Elahi, Cortni Kerr, Jasmine Lief, Natasha Murtaza, Beth Warner, Lauren Geiser, Elizabeth Schwab, Haley Slafer, Nilou Mohamedi, Alia Awadallah, Evan Summers, Kevin McGinnis, Faeze Alibeiki, Nicholas K. Sobecki

Reviews Intern: Leyla Sharabi, Rebecca L. Stein, Jennifer Bell, Elisabeth L. Olds, Najib Hourani
Social Media Intern: Pádraigín O’Flynn

Proofreader: Bryce Giddens, Sarah Shoenfeld, Joya Ganguly, Jon van Camp, Riva Eskinazi, Mentwab Wuhib, Ellen Fleischmann, Shira Robinson, Maggy Zanger, Juliet Thompson, Lisa Hajjar, Steve Hubbell, Cathy Sweet, Jennifer Derr, Deena Shehata, Geoff Schad, Geoff Hartman, Cari Salisbury, David McIvor, Justin Hoffman, Sian MacAdam, Keith Feldman, Mitra Brewer, Michelle Woodward, Kathryn King, Robert Blecher, Elizabeth Angell, Max Shmookler, Marjorie Toensing, Hilary Falb, Geoffrey King, Shira Robinson, Sherene Seikaly, Joseph Tannir, Beth Warner, Nancy Gallagher, Amanda Ufheil-Somers, Monica Dreitcer, Karin van der Tak, Paul Silverstein, Jillian Schwedler

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The Editors of Issue #300 "MERIP’s Unfinished Mission," Middle East Report 300 ( ).
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