Open Letter on the Hostility of Middle Eastern Governments and Media to Foreign Researchers and Journalists


The undersigned individuals have all worked or lived in the Middle East, as scholars, academics, journalists, or members of non-governmental organizations. We are American citizens. Our work is a testimony to our deep appreciation for the rich history, culture, and politics of the modern   Middle East. We believe in the need to study the governments and peoples of this pivotal region and their complex relations with the United States objectively and unapologetically. Many of us have spent most of our careers trying to foster better understanding between the two worlds in which we live and work.

This is why we find the recent case of Henri J. Barkey, an American scholar of modern Turkey, particularly alarming. Turkish media outlets have alleged that Barkey, who is the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, worked with the CIA in launching the plot to overthrow the Turkish government by force. The failed coup was a shocking, traumatic, and violent event that took the lives of 240 Turks.  The authorities in Ankara have the responsibility to bring those involved in the plot to justice. At the time of the coup, Barkey was leading an academic seminar in Istanbul. In the aftermath, the pro-government media singled him out as a foreign bogeyman. His picture was splashed across the front pages of Turkey’s newspapers along with banner headlines alleging a connection between Barkey, the CIA, and the failed coup. The slander and outrageous charges grew more ominous with each passing day, in a clear and dangerous campaign of incitement that led to direct threats against Barkey’s life. No member of the Turkish media has been held accountable for these lies.

Of course, Turkey is not the only such wrongdoer in the region. Both Iran and Egypt also come to mind. Nine years ago, Haleh Esfandiari, an American scholar and Barkey’s predecessor at the Wilson Center was arrested in Tehran and placed in solitary confinement in Evin Prison for 105 days. Esfandiari, who was in her late 60s when she was arrested, is a dual citizen of the United States and Iran. The Iranian government accused her — along with two other academics with dual American and Iranian nationality — of attempting to stage a “soft revolution” by organizing and participating in seminars and conferences. Although Barkey was able to leave Turkey shortly after the coup, he fears a fate similar to Esfandiari’s should he return to the country of his birth.

Two years ago, Egyptian authorities denied American scholar and former U.S. government official Michele Dunne entry to the country to participate in a conference organized by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, a group that is sympathetic to Abdel Fattah el Sisi’s government. Egyptian officials offered the bogus excuse that Dunne, did not have a “proper visa.” The real reason was that Dunne, who is an accomplished scholar and former diplomat, has criticized Egypt’s deteriorating human rights conditions, particularly since President Sisi came to power in a 2013 military coup.

Younger, less well-known scholars are also at risk. Among the most disturbing of recent cases is that of Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old-Italian graduate student who was conducting dissertation field research in Egypt. Regeni’s family, the Italian government, and a wide range of journalists from a variety of countries believe that Egyptian security agencies tortured and killed him last February.

The official American reaction to these abuses in the past has been much too timid. As American citizens, we have often found it embarrassing. We are expressing our collective indignation, because we are certain that these abuses will continue unless they are challenged publicly. The perpetrators must be held to account. We are urging other scholars, academics, and journalists interested in the Middle East to join us in sending a powerful message to the autocrats of the region and to our own government that enough is enough. Those who first came for Haleh, and imprisoned her, then tried to intimidate Michele and Henri, could come for any one of us when visiting the region.

This protest is about all of us. Even more importantly, it is about our belief that the interests of the United States and these countries are served by the open exchange of people and ideas. Fundamentally important to that exchange are academic and political freedoms for all participants in these dialogues, whether they be local citizens, dual nationals, or U.S. citizens. The recent actions of the pro-government press in Turkey place the exchange of genuine ideas at risk, replacing them with political theater in which we have little interest.

We find the Turkish media’s campaign against Henri Barkey, the latest in a series of outrages against academic and political freedom, offensive and personally threatening. We hope that Turkey’s leaders and the press that serves them will reverse course otherwise we will find it difficult to engage in any way with the Turkish government, its media outlets, or nominally independent organizations in Washington that work on behalf of Turkey’s leadership.

The below are signatories only in their personal capacities. Institutional affiliations are provided for identification purposes only.


Elliott Abrams
Council on Foreign Relations

Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies

Shaul Bakhash
George Mason University

Rachel Bronson
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Daniel M Brumberg
Georgetown University

Daniel Byman
The Brookings Institution

Eugene Chudnovsky
City University of New York

Steven A. Cook
Council on Foreign Relations

Nicholas Danforth
Bipartisan Policy Center

Michele Dunne
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Eric S. Edelman
Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University

Lee Feinstein
Indiana University

Douglas J. Feith
Hudson Institute

Robert S. Ford
Former U.S. Ambassador to Algeria and Syria, Middle East Institute

F. Gregory Gause
Texas A&M University

Alexander Greer
City University of New York

Michael Wahid Hanna
Century Foundation

Bernard Haykel
Princeton University

Amy Hawthorne
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

Steven Heydemann
Smith College

Max Hoffman
Center for American Progress

Feisal Istrabadi
Indiana University

Michael Koplow
Israel Policy Forum (IPF)

Daniel C. Kurtzer
Former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, Princeton University

Joel L. Lebowitz
Rutgers University

Alan Makovsky
Center for American Progress

Firas Maksad
Global Policy Associates

Hisham Melhem
Annhar Daily, Lebanon

Aaron David Miller
Former U.S. diplomat, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Jack Minker
University of Maryland, Committee of Concerned Scientists

Afshin Molavi
New America

Danielle Pletka
American Enterprise Institute (AEI)

Paul H. Plotz
Committee of Concerned Scientists

Kenneth M. Pollack
Brookings Institution

Walter Reich
George Washington University

Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute (AEI)

William Rugh
Northeastern University

Daniel Serwer
Johns Hopkins University

Alex Vatanka
Middle East Institute

Michael Werz
Center for American Progress

Tamara Cofman Wittes
Brookings Institution

Robert F. Worth
New York Times Magazine

Those interested in becoming signatories should contact Steven Cook.