Dr May Darwich

Dr May Darwich

Department of Political Science and International Studies
Lecturer 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 joined POLSIS as Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East in January 2020. She was Assistant Professor at Durham University (2016-2019) and a Research Fellow at GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, within the IDCAR-Network ‘The International Diffusion and Cooperation of Authoritarian Regimes’(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. She is author of Threats and Alliances in the Middle East: Saudi and Syrian Policies in a Turbulent Region (Cambridge University Press, 2019). Her research also appeared in internationally renowned journals, namely Foreign Policy Analysis, the Journal of Global Security Studies, Democratization, Mediterranean Politics, Global Discourse.

She serves 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. She also 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. Since 2019, she is 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.



  • 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


Dilemmas in International Relations 

May has a wide experience of teaching modules on IR and IR of the Middle East at different institutions. She taught modules such as IR and Security in the Middle East, Global Regions in the International System, International Organisations, Introduction to Middle East Politics, and Research Projects.

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


Current Research

Sectarianism in Unlikely Places: The Cases of Jordan and Morocco

2019-2021. 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.

Meditation in the 21st Century: Connecting the Local and the Global 

2019. This project being is led by Dr. Catherine Turner (Durham University) and Dr. May Darwich and it is funded by the Institute of Advanced Study (Durham University).


Other activities

2018-2022, Trustee, Member in the Committee of Management and Member of the Research Committee, the Council for British Research in the Levant (British Academy Institute).

2019-2024, Member of the Steering Committee, Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS), George Washington University.

2019-2021, Director of the Arab Political Science Network (APSN).

2018-2019, Visiting Research Fellow, Center for International Studies, London School of Economics, UK.

April-July 2018, Guest Researcher, GIGA German Institute for Global and Area Studies, Germany.

February-March 2018 & April-September 2019, Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Bari Aldo Mora, Italy.

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



Darwich, M. (2019), Threats and Alliances in the Middle East: Saudi and Syrian Policies in a Turbulent Region, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Journal Articles

Darwich, M. (2020), Escalation in Failed Military Interventions: Saudi and Emirati Quagmires in Yemen, Global Policy

Darwich, M., & Kaarbo, J. (2019), IR in the Middle East: Foreign policy analysis in theoretical approachesInternational Relations, First View. 

Darwich, M. (2018), Review Article: The International Politics of Authoritarian Resilience and Breakdown in the Middle East. Mediterranean Politics 23(3): 418-426. 

Darwich, M. (2018), The Saudi Intervention in Yemen: Struggling for StatusTurkey Insight 20(2): 125-141.

Darwich, M. (2017), Creating the Enemy, Constructing the Threat: The Diffusion of Repression against the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle EastDemocratization 24(7): 1289-1306.

Darwich, M. & Fakhoury, T. (2016), Casting the Other as an Existential Threat: The Securitisation of Sectarianism in the International Relations of the Syria CrisisGlobal Discourse 6(4): 712-732.

Darwich, M. (2016), Ideational and Material Forces in Threat Perception: The Divergent Cases of Syria and Saudi Arabia During the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988)Journal of Global Security Studies 1(2): 142-156.

Darwich, M. (2016), The Ontological (In)security of Similarity: Wahhabism versus Islamism in Saudi Foreign PolicyForeign Policy Analysis 12(3): 469-488.

Book Chapters

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

Darwich, M. (2019), “Saudi Policies toward the Syria Crisis”, in Saouli, A. and Hinnebusch, R. (eds.) The Syrian Uprising: Regional and International Dimensions, London: Routledge.

Darwich, M. (2016), “Organization of Islamic Cooperation”, in Martin, R. C. (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, Macmillan Reference USA, pp. 824-825.

Book Reviews

Darwich, M. (2018), Book Review of ‘We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlmean’. Global Policy, https://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/15/06/2018/book-review-we-crossed-bridge-and-it-trembled-voices-syria

Darwich, M. (2017), Book review of ‘Muted Modernists: The Struggle over Divine Politics in Saudi Arabia, by Madawi Al-Rasheed’, Global Discourse, 7(2-3): 396-399.

Darwich (2016), Book review of ‘The International Dimensions of Democratization in Egypt, by Gamal Selim’. Journal of Middle East Studies, 70 (2): 333-334.

Darwich (2016),Book review of ‘Democracy Promotion and Foreign Policy: Identity and Interests in US, EU and Non-Western Democracies, by Daniela Huber’. Democratization, 23 (4): 772-774.

Other Publications

Darwich, M. (2019), ‘Great and Regional Powers in the Middle East: The Evolution of Role Conceptions’. POMEPS Studies 34. Shifting Global Politics in the Middle East, ed. Marc Lynch and Amaney Jamal.

Darwich, M. (2018), ‘The Concept of Escalation in IR’, Mafaheem Series [in Arabic]. Future Centre for Advanced Research and Studies.

Darwich, M. (2018), ‘The Yemen War: A Proxy Sectarian War?’, in Saudi Arabia and Iran: The Struggle to Shape the Middle East, edited by Simon Mabon. The Foreign Policy Centre.

Darwich, M. (2018), ‘Saudi Arabia’s Dark Role in the Syria Crisis’ [in German], FriedensForum Magazine, 4/18. 

Darwich, M. (2018), Analytical Eclecticism: Appraising the Study of Middle East International Relations’, International History and Politics APSA Newsletter, 3(2): 6-8.

Darwich, M. (2017), ‘The Concept of Offshore Balancing’, Mafaheem Series [in Arabic]. Future Centre for Advanced Research and Studies.

Darwich, M. (2016), ‘To Intervene or Not to Intervene? The Use of Military Force as Coercive Mechanism of Autocratic Diffusion’. POMEPS Studies 21. Transnational Diffusion and Cooperation in the Middle East, ed. Marc Lynch.

Darwich, M. (2015), ‘Machtprestige als Motiv des Saudi Krieges im Jemen’ [Power Prestige and the Saudi Intervention in Yemen], GIGA Focus Nahost, 6/2015.

Darwich, M. (2015), ‘The Challenge of Bridging IR and Area Studies in Middle East International Relations Teaching’, LSE Middle East Center Blog.

Darwich, M. (2014), ‘The Ontological (In)security of Similarity: Wahhabism versus Islamism in Saudi Foreign Policy’, GIGA Working Paper, No. 263, December.

View all publications in research portal