Dr May Darwich

Dr May Darwich

Department of Political Science and International Studies
Associate Professor in International Relations of the Middle East

Contact details

School of Government
Muirhead Tower
University of Birmingham
Edgbaston, Birmingham
B15 2TT, United Kingdom

May Darwich is Associate Professor in International Relations of the Middle East at the University of Birmingham. She was Assistant Professor at Durham University (2016-2019) and a Research Fellow at GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies (2014-2015).

Her research attempts to bring Middle East cases to debates within IR theory while surmounting the challenge to the study of state behaviour in the Middle East through theoretical lenses. Her research has appeared in internationally renowned journals, namely Foreign Policy Analysis, the Journal of Global Security Studies, Democratization, Mediterranean Politics, Global Discourse and in volumes on the international relations of the Middle East. She is author of Threats and Alliances in the Middle East: Saudi and Syrian Policies in a Turbulent Region (Cambridge University Press, 2019). She is Principal Investigator of the Carnegie-funded project Port Infrastructures, International Politics, and Everyday Life: From the Arabian Gulf to the Horn of Africa.

She serves on the Steering Committee on the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS), a collaborative network designed to enhance the broader field of Middle East political science. She serves on the Steering Committee of the APSA MENA Workshops, an annual fellowship opportunity for PhD students and early-career political science faculty from the Arab MENA region. She is member of the Committee on Status of Engagement with the Global South of the International Studies Association. She is co-editor of the series ‘Identities and Geopolitics in the Middle East’ at Manchester University Press. Between 2019-2020, she was Director of the Arab Political Science Network (APSN), a scholarly collaborative initiative that seeks to support, enhance and increase scholars’ research and teaching outputs in the study of political science, and its sub and related fields in the Arab world. She also served as Trustee of the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL), a British Academy Institute aimed at enhancing and supporting research in the Levant (2018- 2020).


  • PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Edinburgh, 2015
  • MA in International Politics from SciencePo Bordeaux, 2010
  • BA in Political Science from Cairo University, 2009


  • International Relations of the Middle East
  • Dilemmas in International Relations

Postgraduate supervision

May is interested in supervising PhD students in the following areas:

  • IR of the Middle East
  • Foreign policies of Middle Eastern states
  • Identity politics in the Middle East
  • Security policies in the Middle East


Research Interests

Port Infrastructures, International Politics, and Everyday Life: From the Arabian Gulf to the Horn of Africa 

2020-2023. Carnegie Corporation of New York. Funding: $ 500,000 

PI: May Darwich

This project examines transregional relationships between the Arabian Gulf and the Horn of Africa through the lens of port infrastructures and transport corridors in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It focusses on the way geopolitical contestations materialize in port infrastructures, explores how infrastructural power contestations shape local, national and regional politics, and looks into the impact of infrastructural developments on the everyday lives of people in three port cities in the Horn of Africa—Berbera, Bossaso, and Djibouti. Investments from the Gulf in the Horn, often inextricably tied to international dynamics, shape practices of governance and impact on business-society relations that at times compete with Western norms. However, the nature of these new practices, the norms they transmit, and the way these norms are interpreted and adapted locally are little understood. The project contributes to the understanding of these dynamics, while advancing theoretical knowledge of how international relations intermingle with the politics of infrastructure at national and local levels thereby affecting daily lives. It advances empirical knowledge of South-South transregional relationships, which are often overlooked. Finally, the project strives to build long-lasting relationships across academic communities across three continents—Europe, the Middle East, and the Horn of Africa—that would allow equitable academic collaboration, knowledge exchange, and building capacities. Through extensive fieldwork in four countries—the United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland—the project will generate primary data and knowledge on infrastructural power at the intersection of two regions.  Website: http://portinfrastructure.org

Writing and Publishing about Politics in/on the Arab World 

2020-2023 British Academy Writing Workshops. Funding: £18,340 

These workshops are motivated by the underrepresentation of the Arab world in knowledge production, especially in Political Science. The Middle East is the most studied region beyond the West. Arab scholars are, however, absent from scholarly debates. While research and publishing are marginalised activities in the Arab world, Arab scholars are likely to be equivalent in training to their European and American counterparts. Meanwhile, editors of international journals struggle to increase the representation of Arab-based authors in their publications. These workshops have been designed to meet this two-sided need for both Arab-based scholars and their influence in the scholarly community. These workshops will further Arab countries’ agenda to achieve development through higher education by focusing on enhancing the publishing and grant writing capacities of early career scholars. The workshops will facilitate mutual learning between early career researchers from six Arab countries, UK researchers, and editors of international journals.

Sectarianism in Unlikely Places: The Cases of Jordan and Morocco

2019-2022. British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant. Funding: £9,982

After 2011, sectarian tensions not only spread to societies with pre-existing sectarian social fabrics — such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain— it also spread in the most unlikely places, where hardly any Shiite communities existed, such as Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and other countries in the Muslim World. This project examines the spread of Sunni-Shiite sectarianism in the Middle East following the 2011 Arab Uprisings, with a particular focus on the cases of Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco. It examines the impact of regional conflicts on domestic identity formation in the region. Explaining the puzzling spread of anti-Shiite sentiments in countries almost devoid of Shiites relates to debates on identity politics and othering mechanisms in the physical absence of a sectarian other. Furthermore, it examines how geopolitical dynamics at the regional levels varies in its influence on identity formation in different societies. The project is funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant. 

Theorizing the Foreign Policy of Armed Non-State Actors

Armed non-state actors (ANSAs) have emerged as states failed and have resorted to organised attacks to advance political aims. While many of these actors emerged in the context of protracted civil conflicts, some of these have increasingly developed a foreign policy agenda that transcends the boundaries of their national jurisdiction. While a recently emerging literature within FPA has focused on non-state actors, such as environmental NGOs and multinational corporations in the context of democratic states, FPA research has so far remained state-centric and almost completely ignores ANSAs, especially in non-Western contexts. Based on examples from the Middle East, this project explores how foreign policy analysis (FPA) can take non-state actors beyond the West seriously while conceptualising their motives and the decision-making processes in their ‘foreign’ relations with other actors in the international system. In the meantime, this article explores how ANSAs in the Middle East can take research within FPA into new directions.


Other activities

Jan 2016 – Dec 2018, Co-Editor of APSA (American Political Science Association) MENA Newsletter


Recent publications


Darwich, M 2023, 'Challenges to a Global IR: A View from the Middle East', International Studies Review.

Salloukh, BF & Darwich, M 2023, 'تدريس العلاقات الدولية في العالم العربي: الإشكاليات المعرفية والنظرية', Siyasat Arabiya, pp. 78-93. https://doi.org/10.31430/CIRL1108

Darwich, M 2021, 'Alliance politics in the post-2011 Middle East: advancing theoretical and empirical perspectives ', Mediterranean Politics, vol. 26, no. 5, pp. 635-656. https://doi.org/10.1080/13629395.2021.1889300

Darwich, M 2021, 'Foreign policy analysis and armed non-state actors in world politics: lessons from the Middle East', Foreign Policy Analysis, vol. 17, no. 4, orab030. https://doi.org/10.1093/fpa/orab030

Darwich, M 2020, 'Escalation in failed military interventions: Saudi and Emirati Quagmires in Yemen', Global Policy, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 103-112. https://doi.org/10.1111/1758-5899.12781

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Darwich, M 2024, Foreign policy of armed non-state actors. in J Kaarbo & C Thies (eds), Oxford Handbook of Foreign Policy Analysis. Oxford Handbooks, Oxford University Press. <https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-oxford-handbook-of-foreign-policy-analysis-9780198843061>

Darwich, M 2022, Foreword. in O Topak, M Mekouar & F Cavatorta (eds), New Authoritarian Practices in the Middle East and North Africa. Edinburgh University Press. <https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-new-authoritarian-practices-in-the-middle-east-and-north-africa.html>

Darwich, M, Gause III, FG, Hazbun, W, Ryan, C & Valbjørn, M 2022, International relations and regional (in)security. in M Lynch, J Schwedler & S Yom (eds), The political science of the Middle East: theory and research since the Arab Uprisings. Oxford University Press, pp. 86-107. <https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-political-science-of-the-middle-east-9780197640043>

Darwich, M 2022, The view from Riyadh: A neoclassical realist perspective of Saudi foreign policy toward Iran in the post-2011 Middle East. in E Wastnidge & S Mabon (eds), Saudi Arabia and Iran: : The struggle to shape the Middle East. Manchester University Press. <https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526150837/saudi-arabia-and-iran/>

Darwich, M 2020, Middle Power Theory at the Regional Level: An Analytical Framework for the Middle East. in A Saouli (ed.), Unfulfilled Aspirations: Middle Power Politics in the Middle East. Hurst.

Book/Film/Article review

Darwich, M 2022, 'Wahhabism and the World: Understanding Saudi Arabia’s Global Influence on Islam. Edited by Peter Mandaville. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022. 342p. $99.00 cloth, $29.95 paper.', Perspectives on Politics, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 1515-1517. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537592722002997

Darwich, M 2021, 'War and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa: by Ariel I. Ahram, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2020, 288 pp., £18.99 (paperback), ISBN: 9781509532827', Mediterranean Politics. https://doi.org/10.1080/13629395.2021.1908496

Other chapter contribution

Darwich, M 2023, Alliances in the Post-2011 Middle East. in The 9th edition of the Interuniversity Program Aula Mediterrània. vol. 137, IEMed. <https://www.iemed.org/publication/alliances-in-the-post-2011-middle-east/>

Other contribution

Darwich, M 2023, Threats and alliances in the post-2011 Middle East. IEMed. <https://www.iemed.org/events/threats-and-alliances-in-the-post-2011-middle-east/>

Salloukh, B, Darwich, M & Valbjørn, M 2021, How International Relations, an ‘American’ Discipline, Is Taught in the Arab World. Al-Fanar Media. <https://www.al-fanarmedia.org/2021/03/how-international-relations-an-american-discipline-is-taught-in-the-arab-world/>

View all publications in research portal


Middle East politics; Middle East international relations; Egypt; Saudi Arabia