Research Initiatives

Middle Power Politics in the Middle East

This research initiative explores middle powers in the Middle East by studying the varying levels of material power, behavioral aspects, and ideational characteristics of six regional middle powers, namely Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, as well as other aspiring middle powers, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. It focuses specifically on the conception of middle powers in the context of the Middle East, the causes and consequences of the rise and decline of middle powers in the region, the nexus between domestic politics and foreign policy of middle powers, their self-perceptions as global middle powers and regional superpowers, and shifting alliances and tensions with great powers and with each other. Addressing these and other similar topics will help fill gaps in the burgeoning literature on the international relations of the Middle East, and particularly on middle power politics. This research project addresses an increasingly important but largely understudied topic in Middle Eastern studies.

The "Resource Curse" in the Gulf

This research initiative focuses on the veracity of the resource curse thesis explanation for many of the political, social, and economic dynamics in the region in the context of the current downward price cycle. It aims to examine the relationships between resource revenues and democracy; political and economic arrangements; states’ structural foundations and bureaucracies; policy-making; privatization efforts; occupational specialization, urbanization, and education; national security architecture; economic diversification; labor market demographics; regional and international cooperation; social and cultural changes; gender relations; art production; and identity.

Leading the Faithful: The Role of Religious Authorities in the Middle East

This research initiative investigates the dynamics, position of, and role played by spiritual leaders of different religious communities in the Middle East during and after the Arab uprisings. The research project includes examinations of the leaders of the multiple religions and faiths present in the Middle East, which will include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Bahá’ism, Druze, Yazidism, Alevism, and Zoroastrianism. The project  explores a variety of topics such as religious leadership; traditional authority; sovereignty; state conceptions and management of religions, faiths, and sacred sites; women religious leaders; training and religious qualifications; political economy of the religious establishment; and religios- political movements, sources of power, and resistance. 

Mobility, Displacement, and Forced Migration in the Middle East

Migration on a global scale is an everyday practice. The term itself is used to describe patterns of human mobility that occur internally within a state or region, as well as those taking place internationally and trans-continentally. Migration can be applied to the process of people moving as a result of their own agency, voluntarily and as a choice. It can also be used to describe the process of having to move under duress, and this includes the categories of forced migrants, internally displaced persons, refugees, and asylum seekers.This project recognizes regional migration as a complex, widespread, and persistent phenomenon in the Middle East, and a topic best studied from a multidisciplinary approach. It broadens our understanding of the complex population movements that are seen in the Middle East, and includes the movements of those who may be identified in multiple different ways—migrants, migrant workers, guest workers, temporary migrants, low and highly skilled economic migrants, trafficked persons, forced migrants/forced workers, smuggled persons, refugees, and asylum seekers. Also included will be  other migrants such as unaccompanied minors, environmental refugees, and stranded migrants.

Highly Skilled Migration to the Gulf in Comparative Perspective

This research project revisits some of the fundamental assumptions about the nature, patterns, and processes of labor migration to the GCC states. Given their own relatively small populations in tandem with their oil-derived, wealthy Gulf States have depended on migration to facilitate their rapid industrialization. The cities of the Gulf thus articulate the transnational organizational and social networks of skilled migration, spatially embedded within expatriate social spaces. Notably highly skilled migrants in certain sectors–for example, extraction, construction, banking and financial services–have enabled these states’ relatively swift integration into the global economy.

Pluralism and Community in the Middle East

Scholars and policy makers, struggling to make sense of the ongoing chaos that is the Middle East, have been focusing their attention on the possible causes for the escalation of both inter-state and intra-state conflict. This region bears the legacy of multiple imperial excursions and has traditionally demonstrated pronounced ethno-linguistic richness, religious diversity, and a depth of cultural intermingling. The region has historically hosted multiple populations with distinctive ethnic and linguistic identities, preserved in previous eras under the loosely-structured administrative bodies of different empires that were, as a result of their sprawling geography, multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural. In order to explore some of these areas mentioned above, CIRS’s research initiative “Pluralism and Community in the Middle East” will adopt a multi-disciplinary approach. Over the course of the year, a small number of scholars will be invited to take part in an in-depth, scholarly analysis that will aim to address the critical gaps in the current literature. The final outcome of this project will be in the form of a book publication.

Inside the Arab State

This research initiative is designed to examine some of the central questions facing scholars of Middle Eastern politics concerning the nature of the post-2011 state in the Arab world. These questions revolve around the very conception of the state, its functions and institutions, its sources of legitimacy, and basic notions underlying it such as sovereignty and nationalism.

Geopolitics of Natural Resources in the Middle East

This research initiative explores the geopolitics of natural resources in the Middle East. Hydrocarbons, petroleum and now increasingly natural gas, have long dominated discussions of the Middle East’s natural resources, particularly in terms of their impact on domestic, regional and international politics. Little concerted attention has been paid to the broader environmental parameters of the Middle East. This initiative constitutes an attempt to expand the focus to include the region’s many other natural resources, for example land, air, water, and food, but also study the regional environment as a whole, rather than merely the resources extracted from it. As such it adopts a holistic approach, attempting to integrate the study of the region’s diverse natural resources, its environmental constraints, and their various impacts on geopolitics.

Image still from Suzannah Mirghani short film Hind's Dream taken at Richard Serra sculptures in Qatar

Much of the research on "Art and Cultural Production in the Gulf" tends to focus on the rapidly growing museum culture and the acquisition of foreign art as indicative of several Gulf states' use of oil revenue. Over the past fifteen years, Khaleeji culture has been inundated by rapid demographic, economic, and social changes that continue to challenge the more traditional customs and values. At present, rapid development in the GCC states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) has not only affected social and political institutions underpinning Gulf societies, but also artistic and cultural institutions and their undertakings. In line with this, CIRS has launched a research initiative to provide further insight into the relationships and connections between the Gulf states and the art and cultural industries that exist within these societies. 

China and the Middle East CIRS Working Group

With the disintegration of the region’s traditionally strong states of Iraq and Syria, the constriction of Iran, and the loss of Egypt’s capacity to assert any real influence or project power, there appears to be little capacity within the Middle East and North Africa to address regional conflagrations. China’s engagements and intentions in the Middle East have increasingly become the focus of a range of academic and policy studies. Much of the existing scholarship has viewed Chinese engagements in the Middle East through the lens of security, with particular attention being paid to the implications of China’s interactions for the United States and its allies. However, China’s evolving relationship in the region ought to be principally viewed as an outcome of its own interests in securing its energy needs and developing export markets, as well as the fact that it has become a significant global power and cannot afford to divorce itself from events in the Arab world. In the 2014-2015 academic year CIRS has launched a new research initiative on “China and the Middle East.” The purpose of this project is to examine the unfolding relationship between China and the Middle East using a multi-disciplinary lens. The intention of this project is to provide an analytical study of the relationship between China and the countries of the Middle East, not only through the lenses of international security, energy, economics and investments, but also taking into account China’s broader engagements with the region in the social and cultural spheres as well.