“When I woke up the next morning, clouds of smoke billowed as Saudi armored personnel carriers rolled in to clear the Pearl Roundabout.”
Against the advice of his peers, Professor Michael Hudson, Director of the Middle East Institute (MEI) at NUS, decided to visit Bahrain at the height of its uprising last year only to watch Saudi troops crush the revolt.
Hudson has visited numerous Middle Eastern as well as Asian states since his appointment at MEI in the fall of 2010. From experiencing the demonstrations at Tahrir Square to establishing relationships with Emirati and Chinese institutions, Hudson has gone to great lengths to build connections between Singapore, the Middle East, and the rest of Asia.
Before moving to Singapore, Professor Hudson was the director of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown for many years. Even before then, he avidly roamed the Middle East. “My most memorable trip was to Lebanon,” Hudson says. “I spent a lot of time there and conducted my doctoral research there in the 1960s.” He notes the confluences of ideas and people from neighboring states in the country, calling Lebanon the “Hyde Park” of the Arab world—a “free zone” for political expression and activity. “This is why many resistance movements move to Lebanon to organize and plan activities,” he explains.
Having been in Singapore for almost two years, Hudson finds the city-state more vibrant and lively than expected. “Singapore is much more interesting than the way it is often portrayed overseas,” he says. An admirer of the fine arts, Hudson particularly enjoys performances at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and various Singaporean renditions of Shakespeare’s plays.
Looking ahead, Hudson has ideas about how MEI could develop. “Ideally, I would like to see MEI establishing a branch office somewhere in the Middle East, offering Middle East courses, dramatically expanding our library, and reaching out to secondary and primary schools,” he says. With MEI’s five-year anniversary just around the corner, Hudson is committed to ensuring the continued progress of the institute.
MEI’s Conversations Series features informal interviews with prominent individuals about current events and/or their experience and work relating to the Middle East, Asia, and the Institute.
Interview by MEI intern David Wong De-Wei.