“I was looking for a place that would allow me the freedom to focus on research, and I found the emphasis on understanding the relationship between Asia and the Middle East interesting.” With that, and with a recommendation from a friend who attended the Middle East Institute’s annual conference on the Gulf in 2011, Dr. Fahed Al-Sumait began his relationship with MEI. He applied to the Institute and was accepted as a post-doctoral fellow for the 2011-2012 academic year.
Al-Sumait came to Singapore with his family in August 2011, and he quickly found it to be a friendly, convenient, and enjoyable city. “Singapore is a family destination. There are a lot of fun things to do here with the kids like zoos and waterparks,” he says. In his free time, Al-Sumait enjoys street, landscape, and travel photography. He keeps an online portfolio of his pictures and recently took part in the nationwide NUS Photo Society competition, in which he placed as a finalist. (His selected photograph, “Into the Great Expanse,” can be found above. Two other photos, “New Sisters” [of Dr. Al-Sumait's two daughters] and “Arabic” [an architectural detail of the Qutb Minar of New Delhi] are also shown here.)
A scholar on political communication with a focus on discourses about Arab democratization, Al-Sumait considers satellite television and the ubiquity of the cell phone as two key technological advancements that were indispensible during the Arab revolutions. “Satellite television has a much greater penetration in the Middle East than social media. You don’t have to be literate, and it has a powerful emotive element to it,” he explains. “And cell phones are in everyone’s hands, enabling them to not only communicate quickly, but also document events using cameras and videos. We will continue to see both technologies shaping our collective understanding of these events moving forward.”
On relations between Asia and the Middle East, Al-Sumait feels that most interactions are currently strongest at a government-to-government level. “Neither side has established many public relations initiatives to reach out to the other, with the exception of China,” he says. Overall, Al-Sumait feels that there is still a lot of room for better understanding between Asia and the Middle East.
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.
The photo accompanying this piece on our home page, “Coke,” is also by Dr. Al-Sumait.