Dr May Darwich

Dr May Darwich

Department of Political Science and International Studies
Senior 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 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 is co-editor of the series ‘Identities and Geopolitics in the Middle East’ at Manchester University Press. In the past, she served as co-editor of the APSA (American Political Science Association) MENA Newsletter, Director of the Arab Political Science Network (APSN), and Trustee of the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL), a British Academy Institute.


Threats and Alliances in the Middle East


  • 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


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

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

2020-2022. Carnegie Corporation of New York. Funding: $ 500,000 

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. 

PI: Dr May Darwich, University of Birmingham (UK)
Co-I: Prof. Jutta Bakonyi, Durham University (UK)
Co-I: Dr Amina Chire, The Institut de Recherche indépendant de la Corne de l’Afrique (IRICA) (Djibouti)
Co-I: Mr Ahmed Shire, Puntland State University (Somalia)
Co-I: Dr Nasir Ali, University of Hargeisa (Somaliland)

Writing and Publishing about Politics in/on the Arab World 

2020-2021 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

2019-2021. 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

Co-editor of the book series ‘Identities and Geopolitics in the Middle East, Manchester University Press. 

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

2019-2020, Director of the Arab Political Science Network (APSN).

Jan 2018- Dec 2020, Trustee, Member in the Committee of Management and Member of the Research Committee, the Council for British Research in the Levant (British Academy Institute).

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


Recent publications


Darwich, M 2019, Threats and Alliances in the Middle East: Saudi and Syrian Policies in a Turbulent Region. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108656689


Salloukh, BF & Darwich, M 2022, 'تدريس العلاقات الدولية في العالم العربي: الإشكاليات المعرفية والنظرية', Siyasat Arabiya.

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

Darwich, M, Valbjørn, M, Salloukh, BF, Hazbun, W, Samra, AA, Saddiki, S, Saouli, A, Albloshi, HH & Makdisi, K 2020, 'The politics of teaching international relations in the Arab world: reading Walt in Beirut, Wendt in Doha, and Abul-Fadl in Cairo', International Studies Perspectives. https://doi.org/10.1093/isp/ekaa020

Darwich, M & Kaarbo, J 2019, 'IR in the Middle East: foreign policy analysis in theoretical approaches', International Relations. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047117819870238

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Darwich, M 2022, Foreign policy of armed non-state actors. in J Kaarbo & C Thies (eds), Oxford Handbook of Foreign Policy Analysis. Oxford University Press.

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 2021, 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.

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

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

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