Since March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 virus a global pandemic, countries around the world have adopted various measures in order to limit the spread of the contagion on their territories and to protect their populations. The Middle East is no exception. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the first country in the region to report a positive case of COVID-19 at the end of January, followed closely by Egypt, Iran, and Oman. Governments across the region responded swiftly by instituting a variety of measures to contain the spread of infectious disease. In addition to expanding their health systems’ capacity for detecting and treating the disease, Middle Eastern states instituted containment measures such as, restrictions on international travel, domestic limitations on movement, sterilization and hygiene campaigns, closures of schools, and transitioning much of their non-essential workforce to remote working, to implement social distancing.
Middle Eastern states vary in terms of their demography, material resources, and capacity, all of which impact their abilities to manage and mitigate the impact of a rapidly spreading, highly infectious virus. As part of Georgetown University Qatar, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) has built its scholarship on the region and is ideally placed to undertake The COVID Project. Our aim is to provide a focused understanding of how a subset of Middle Eastern countries, Iraq and the six Gulf Cooperation Council monarchies, are being affected by and responding to the ongoing global crisis. Realizing that the pandemic continues to unfold and that as a result, state responses and policies are in a state of flux, our primary goal is to provide updated information on how things are unfolding in these seven states. CIRS has so far collected aggregated data on each of these countries’ health systems so as to build a profile of their health capacity. In addition, we have collated the various policy measures states’ are undertaking to limit the spread of COVID-19 and are providing a means of viewing these from a comparative perspective. Through this special project web page, we aim to provide updated information regularly.
In addition, through a series of short analytical articles, panel discussions, and podcasts by our network of international and regional scholars and experts, we are also providing insight into broader social, cultural, and economic dimensions of the region’s COVID response. We hope to present a timely and thought-provoking discussion on a variety of topics, such as: preventative health measures and chronic health conditions in light of COVID-19; the challenges for Gulf migrants in the midst of COVID; religious ceremonies and practices according to Islamic ethics; the impact on family life, marriage, birth, and death; and national development plans, social contracts, subsidy reforms, and the Gulf.
To study the challenges and opportunities of skilled immigration flows to the United States, in 2020, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University Qatar launched a new project to explore the dynamics of “Economic Migration to the United States.” The aim was to bring together a group of scholars and experts to identify core areas of research that need to be undertaken to deepen our knowledge of the phenomenon. Some of the areas of focus that we aimed to include in this research effort, along with additional areas: the fluidity and challenges of migration categories, skilled migration and the changing spectrum of U.S. immigration policy, migrants’ and employment in the U.S., the H-1B visa program, international student mobility and migration, gender and migration in the U.S. The project also aimed to include particular areas of focus from different geographic lenses – including cases studies of economic migrants from East Asia, South Asia, Middle East, and Latin America.
Big data is tied to the growth in computing power and is better understood by the four Vs: the volume, velocity, variety, and veracity. Big data and the interconnection of data offer numerous opportunities to governments and the private sectors to formulate strategies for development, enhance decision-making, improve service delivery, and support the growth of business and industries. In the Middle East, the government and the business sector were the early adopters of big data analytics, and though this is a new field, its value is being harnessed in various areas in the region. Big data integration is central to the development of infrastructure, relevant knowledge economy, and market orientations, in the Middle East.
To study the dynamics and applications of big data in the Middle East, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University Qatar, convened a roundtable on “Big Data in the Middle East.” This meeting brought together scholars, experts, and business practitioners to examine the topic through the political and socio-economic lens and study the unique technological opportunities it provides to various sectors of the economy. The research roundtable explored a wide range of topics, including social media, smart cities, refugees, healthcare, and museums.
Nearly a decade after the outbreak of the uprisings that toppled iconic figures of Arab authoritarianism, the Middle East and North Africa region continues to experience turbulent developments. Hopes for social and political change that fueled the initial uprisings have not materialized and turmoil continues across the region. Although Tunisia has charted a different path which put it on a promising course, it remains mired in a difficult transition politically, socially, and economically. A decade after its revolution, Tunisia emerges as a liminal state that is characterized by perpetual fragility. To better understand these complex and evolving dynamics, CIRS launched a research initiative entitled "Tunisia in the Aftermath of the Arab Uprisings."
In 2019, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) launched a new research initiative on “Football in the Middle East.” The aim of this research effort is to provide original academic insight on the political, economic, and social dynamics of football within the region. The project will adopt a multidisciplinary approach, examining a broad range of political, social, and cultural dimensions of the sport. It aims to explore a wide range of topics, including the relationship between the sport and international relations and issues related to gender, tourism, social mobility, media broadcasting rights, the 2022 World Cup, and sports infrastructure.
On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar. The quartet also imposed a land, maritime, and airspace blockade on Qatar, and restrictions on travels of their nationals to Qatar and Qatari nationals to their countries. The Maldives, Mauritania, Senegal, Djibouti, the Comoros, Jordan, the Tobruk-based Libyan government, and the Hadi-led Yemeni government soon joined the quartet, and severed their ties with Qatar as well. The aforementioned countries claimed that the severing of ties is a reaction to Qatar’s unceasing destabilizing endeavors in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region, and failure to abide by international commitments and agreements. Such allegations were contested by Qatar claiming that they are “absolute fabrications.” To better understand the causes and consequences of the dynamics at work, the Center for International and Regional Studies launched a multi-year research initiative that examines the social, political, and economic consequences of the ongoing GCC crisis.
The CIRS research initiative on “The Political Economy of the Contemporary Middle East” adopts a multidisciplinary approach, examining a broad range of political, economic, social, and geographic dynamics in the region. It aims to explore a variety of topics, including prospects of globalization in the post-2011 Middle East; neoliberal policies in the post-uprisings period; military-private sector relations; state-business relations; development policies; the shifting boundaries of economic integration; state bureaucracy; mechanisms and instruments of informal economies; and the dilemma of foreign direct investments. The CIRS initiative addresses these increasingly important, but largely understudied, topics in Middle Eastern studies, and invites a number of experts to take part in in-depth, critical analysis of these pertinent issues.
In late 2018, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University’s Qatar campus launched a multi-year research initiative to study Russia’s increasingly proactive and consequential strategic involvement in the Middle East region. While diplomatic, economic, and military relations between Russia and the Middle East have considerable historical roots, Russia’s current, deepening strategic engagement with the region, particularly since the eruption of the Syrian civil war in 2011, appear to signify more fundamental shifts in global and regional realignments. In exploring these shifts and realignments, this research initiative aims to study a variety of related topics, among which: the driver’s behind the mutual interest of partnership between Russia and the Middle East; Russian-Middle Eastern economic cooperation; the prospects of a Russian “sovereign democracy” in the Middle East; Islamic extremism and Russian foreign policy towards the Middle East; contemporary migration patterns between Russia and the Middle East; Russia “responsibility” to protect; and Russia’s relations with Iran, Syria, Israel, the Maghreb, Yemen, and Turkey. A small number of scholars will be invited to take part in in-depth, critical analysis of the nature of the Russian-Middle Eastern relations post the 2011 Arab-uprisings.
In 2018 CIRS launched a new research initiative on Science and Scientific Production in the Middle East. Through this research initiative, CIRS aims to, among other things, examine: Islamic ethics and the legitimacy of scientific innovation; science and social inequality in the Middle East; the military-industrial complex and technological advancement; economic policies, consumerism, and scientific innovation in the Middle East; the social impact of scientific research in the Middle East; the role of women and science in the Arab World; and sanctions and scientific production in the region.
The multiple sites of public protest and resistance seen during the Arab Spring were a result of the coalescing of different social forces and the spontaneous display of citizens’ activism not seen for decades. The mobilization of those different sets of informal actors that has been rooted in previous activism within the informal sector of society revitalized the significance of looking beyond the state in order to understand social and political forces and dynamics. Since the Arab Spring there has been an increasing academic and policy interest in studying the role and influence of informal spaces where networks of activism and resistance might develop and grow. CIRS launched this new research project on "Informal Politics in the Middle East" to, among other things, expand our understanding of the historical roots of informal networks in the Middle East, their capacity to engage as an alternate setting for political engagement, and to study the continuities and discontinuities in the state-informal actors relationship in the region.