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June 14, 2019
10:00 am - 11:30 am


Middle East Institute
1319 18th St NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20036 (Map)

The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host a book talk with Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Sam Dagher. In his book, Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria, Dagher traces the Assad family’s calculus in Syria, from crushing the Hama rebellion in 1982, to the construction of a brutal police state and the outbreak of civil conflict and ensuing regional destabilization. Dagher explains the current crisis by investigating the relationship between two prominent Syrian families, the Assads and the Tlasses, and delves deeply into the decision-making behind the escalation of violence and war crimes by the Assad regime.

A panel of experts will discuss the ways in which the Assad regime has maintained its grip on power, even in the face of a popular uprising, international condemnation, and an 8-year regional war. Dagher will be joined in conversation by MEI senior fellow Wa'el Alzayat and Rafif Jouejati, co-founder of the Free Syria Foundation, both of whom will lend their perspectives to explain how the United States and the international community have failed to protect Syrians from the Assad family’s entrenchment of power. 

MEI senior fellow and director of the Countering Terrorism & Extremism program Charles Lister will moderate the conversation.


Speakers biographies:

Sam Dagher
Author, Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family’s Lust for Power Destroyed Syria
Sam Dagher has reported in the Middle East for more than fifteen years, most recently for The Atlantic. He was the only non-Syrian reporter for a major Western media outlet based in Damascus from 2012 to 2014, a period during which he was arrested by a pro-Assad militia and briefly held in an underground mukhabarat prison. He was later expelled from Syria for reporting deemed unfavorable to the regime. He has worked for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and Agence France Presse, and has covered the conflict in Iraq, the Arab Spring uprisings, and Libya. The Wall Street Journal nominated Dagher's work from Syria for the Pulitzer Prize and other journalism awards.

Rafif Jouejati
Co-founder and director, Free Syria Foundation
Rafif Jouejati is the co-founder and director of the Free Syria Foundation. She has worked with a variety of Syrian groups – political, civil society, and humanitarian – to achieve common goals: expose human rights abuses, prosecute the perpetrators, bring about democratic change, and ensure equality for all in a secular Syria. She has served as a spokesperson for multiple organizations, including the Local Coordination Committees in Syria and the SOC during the Geneva II peace process. Jouejati is the director of the Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria, an organization dedicated to women’s empowerment through education. She is also a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Network. She serves as a member of the board of The Day After Association in Istanbul, and as the head of the board of Baytna-Syria in Gaziantep.

Wa'el Alzayat
CEO, Emgage Foundation; senior fellow, MEI
Wa'el Alzayat is CEO of Emgage Foundation, a national civic education and engagement grassroots organization for Muslim Americans. Alzayat previously served with distinction as a U.S. Middle East policy expert at the U.S. Department of State for ten years, including as senior policy advisor to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, Syria outreach coordinator with Ambassador Robert Ford, and special assistant to U.S. Ambassador to the Iraq, James Jeffrey. Alzayat has long been a passionate advocate for protecting fundamental American values and freedoms, and increasing the civic engagement of minority communities. Alzayat was recently named Top 10 Inspiring Arab Americans Leaders by the Huffington Post

Charles Lister (moderator)
Senior fellow and director, Countering Terrorism & Extremism program, MEI
Charles Lister is a senior fellow and director of the Countering Terrorism and Extremism program at the Middle East Institute. His work focuses primarily on the conflict in Syria, including as a member of the MEI-convened Syria Study Group; and on issues of terrorism and insurgency across the Levant. Prior to this, Lister was a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Qatar and a senior consultant to the multinationally-backed Syria Track II Dialogue Initiative, where he managed nearly three years of intensive face-to-face engagement with the leaderships of over 100 Syrian armed opposition groups. Lister is a frequent source of briefings on the Syrian insurgency to political, military and intelligence leaderships in the United States and across Europe and the Middle East.