Research Initiatives

Supporting Social Science Research in a Turbulent Middle East

Over the past several years some countries in the region are increasingly encountering a resurgence of authoritarianism while others are experiencing heightened civil conflict. In addition, in our immediate neighborhood, the geopolitics of the GCC are in a process of reconfiguration, and the current rupture between the six monarchies are creating serious difficulties for scholars, doctoral students, and academics. In light of its commitment to study regional and international issues through dialogue and exchange of ideas, research and scholarship, and engagement with national and international scholars, opinion-makers, practitioners, and activists, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) launched a project that explores issues around how the research community can address the multiple challenges encountered when carrying out studies on the Middle East.

Citizenship, Class, and Inequality in the Middle East

Much of the existing literature on the region, when it comes to citizenship, has been fixed on the limitation of rights afforded to citizens in authoritarian states, and on the inherent imbalance between citizens’ access to rights versus the power of autocratic regimes that govern them. There has been less of a focus on the linkages between citizenship, class, and persistent inequality in the Middle East. In line with this, Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) launched a new research project to examine some of the central questions around issues of citizenship, identity, nationalism, class, marginalization, and inequality. Through this project, CIRS hoped to broaden and deepen academic understanding of the conception of citizenship within the context of the Middle East.

Nation-Building in Central Asia: Legacies, Identities, and Institutions

As part of a wider strategy to expand its research boundaries to areas east of the Middle East, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) launched a new research project to examine some of the central questions relating to nation-building processes as they have unfolded in Central Asia. A foundational underpinning to this research effort is an interest in examining how the Central Asian states have navigated their early dilemmas, what their path towards nation building over the past thirty years has been like, and what the consequences for particular strategies adopted for the different states have been. Among other things, through this project CIRS hoped to broaden and deepen academic understanding of how these young states launched efforts to build their unified, modern nations, in what ways they have managed to establish political and social cohesion, and how they have engaged in the processes of administrative and institutional consolidation.


The issue of water scarcity continues to be one of the critical challenges that the Middle East faces. The region is arguably the most water-impoverished in the world, and the effects of changes in climate, consumption and agricultural practices, as well as poor governance over water allocation have exacerbated concerns regarding the future of water resources in the Middle East. The United Nations estimates that 18 out of the 30 nations that will be water-scarce by 2025 are located in the Middle East and North Africa. These bleak projections are especially troublesome considering the foundational role that water serves for socio-economic needs such as food, energy, sanitation, and industry.

Sports, Society, and the State in the Middle East

In the Middle East, sports have, for decades, been of pivotal importance to players (both professional and amateur), to impassioned fans and supporters, to industry and business stakeholders, to journalists and the media, to physicians and health professionals, to educators and policymakers, and to societies at large. In various shapes and forms, sports have served as vehicles and venues for political expression and engagement, economic development, national identity creation and assertion, as well as regional and international relations. And yet despite this flowing field of potential sites of research inquiry, there has been a limited amount of scholarly interest in the role that sports have played in the contemporary socio-economic, cultural, and political milieus of the region.

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 Persian 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 religious-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.