The Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore, is pleased to announce that Visiting Research Professor Peter Sluglett has been named President-Elect of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). Professor Sluglett will serve a three-year term from 2011 through 2014, first year as President-Elect, second year as President, and third year as Past-President. MESA has more than 3,000 members, and past presidents of the organization include such luminaries in the field as Professors Juan Cole, Rashid Khalidi, and Barbara Freyer Stowasser, as well as MEI's director, Professor Michael C. Hudson.
Professor Sluglett, who arrived at MEI in August 2011, has been Professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City since 1994. He has published widely on Iraq, including Iraq Since 1958: From Revolution to Dictatorship, 3rd edition, (2001, with Marion Farouk-Sluglett), and Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country (2007). He has also edited and contributed to Syria and Bilad al-Sham Under Ottoman Rule: Essays in Honour of Abdul-Karim Rafeq, (2010, with Stefan Weber), and The Urban Social History of the Middle East 1750-1950 (2008). His research at MEI focuses on mapping the decline in political power of the Christians of Lebanon since the Ta'if Accords. Born and educated in England, where he taught at the University of Durham between 1974 and 1993, he has a B.A. from Cambridge (1966) and a D.Phil from Oxford (1972).
Professor Sluglett spoke with MEI about the honor.
MEI: What was your reaction when you found out you had been elected?
I'm tremendously excited. I was on the MESA Board before, in the 1990s, and I enjoyed that very much. I have always thought that MESA has a lot to offer and does a great deal. This largely has to do with the energy and stamina of the MESA staff. They have always been tremendously helpful.
MEI: What will you bring to the MESA presidency?
I hope to bring the capacity to represent MESA's interests in the wider world. Having spent half my career in the United Kingdom and half my career in the United States, I have good contacts in those countries as well as in France, Germany, and to some extent in Beirut and Damascus. I hope to do everything I can to raise MESA's profile in these various places—and, of course, now in Southeast Asia as well.
MEI: You're well known for your research and writings on Iraq and Syria. Tell us about your new research project, on the Maronites of Lebanon.
I first went to Lebanon in 1965, and I went back fairly frequently over the next 10 years. When I was doing my doctorate on Iraq, I spent time there and met people like Hanna Batatu [who was teaching at the American University of Beirut at the time]. And in 1979, Marion [Farouk-Sluglett] and I spent a month or so in Beirut, where we conducted research on the militia group al-Murabitun. So Lebanon has a large place in my affections.
I am interested in the configuration of politics after the Civil War. Not all that much has changed, except that there is a certain recognition that the demographic balance has shifted in favor of the Muslims, and the Shiʿa have gotten more power since the Iranian revolution. I am interested in what has happened to the Maronites, who are now in some sense caught in the interstices between the Sunni and the Shiʿa, and who feel especially exposed by recent events in Syria. How is this actually working out and what does it mean? As a historian, I'm not interested in working on the present per se, but am more concerned with the gradual shift in political power—and that the Maronites must play their cards very differently now. I'd like to spend some months in Lebanon next year and find out more about this. I'll also travel there for 10 days before MESA to do exploratory research.