The ‘Middle East’ is a contested term, arising out of 19th-century Western perspectives on lands that lay between Europe and the theatres – mainly in Asia or Africa – in which the imperial rivalries of states such as Britain, France, and Russia played out.  Another more recent name for the area is West Asia. But ‘Middle East’ remains the standard term not just in English, French (Moyen Orient), or German (Mittelost) but in Arabic (al Sharq al Awsat) and Persian (khavar-e miyane). We therefore retain it here for convenience.

The exact geographical area which the term designates has not always been consistent. Here we use it to describe the easternmost extension of what is often called the Arab world, from Egypt to Lebanon, Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the states of the Gulf and Yemen. They all have distinctive histories but have been united over the last century by a common experience of British and French colonialism, postcolonial development, conflict, American hegemony, and more recently a turn towards the east – to China, Russia, and into Central Asia.

Iran is an essential part of this mosaic, with economic, political, religious, and military ties extending from Jabel Amil to Aden, Beirut to Baghdad, and Manama to Al Hasa.  We also include Turkey because of the widespread influence exercised by the Ottoman Caliphate and Empire both in its heyday and through the consequences of its collapse after WW1. Turkey has reemerged in recent years as a major economic and political actor in the region – and is also involved, like Iran, in many of its conflicts, notably in Syria and Iraq. There continue to be complex ideological interchanges between ruling systems and substate groups across the whole space.

The main programme through which we aim to contribute to the debate about the major policy issues relating to this region is ‘A New Westphalia for the Middle East’.  The Westphalian settlement of 1648, and its subsequent application – and modification – over the next 250 years, provide a prism through which we aim to consider possible solutions to what seems like endemic conflict in the region. The political sociologies of 17th-century Europe and the contemporary Middle East are, of course, different in many ways.  And the understanding of the law of nations in the European and Islamic traditions also varies  Yet there are striking commonalties. By seeking to understand both what is different and what is shared in the two historical trajectories, we hope to shed new light both on how the West has often understood the region and how the region both understands itself and is actively engaged in finding its own answers to the perennial question of conflict resolution. By thinking differently about the nature of the state system, we can think differently about solutions for inter-state conflict.

Subject to funding, we hope to broaden the scope of the current programme to include economic and social matters.  In the future, we might aim also to extend our activities to take in North Africa, a major and – in Britain at least – understudied area of interest.

Latest

Human rights, Risk, Security

Whose security? Balancing humanitarian need during complex crises

In the press

On Geopolitics Episode 47: The Iranian Presidency

Wednesday 5th June, 2024

On Geopolitics Episode 47: The Iranian Presidency

What happens next in Iran? Ali Ansari and Suzanne Raine look at the consequences of the death of President Raisi, and discuss the forthcoming Iranian elections on 28 June.

In the press

The malevolent spirit of Ebrahim Raisi

Thursday 30th May, 2024

The malevolent spirit of Ebrahim Raisi

Following the death in a helicopter crash of Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi, Prof. Ali Ansari looks back at his rise to power and forward to how he will be remembered.

In the press

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi dies in a helicopter crash

Monday 20th May, 2024

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi dies in a helicopter crash

Iran expert and director of our Middle East North Africa programme, Prof. Ali Ansari, shares his insight and analysis following the death of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. He’s introduced at about 28 minutes.

In the press

A New Westphalian Framework for the Middle East

Monday 13th May, 2024

A New Westphalian Framework for the Middle East

Prof. Brendan Simms and Isabelle McRae co-author an article about how the pattern of the historic Westphalian peace process might be useful in the Middle East today

In the press

Are Iran’s leaders losing their grip on reality — and the country?

Sunday 21st April, 2024

Are Iran’s leaders losing their grip on reality — and the country?

Director of our “Westphalia for the Middle East” programme, Prof. Ali Ansari, pens an opinion piece in the Sunday Times about the Iranian people’s reaction to their government’s missile strike on Israel. Note: paywall protected.

In the press

How an ‘uncontrollable’ full-scale conflict sparked by Israel and Iran could look

Wednesday 17th April, 2024

How an ‘uncontrollable’ full-scale conflict sparked by Israel and Iran could look

Our Middle East specialists, Prof. Ali Ansari and Sir John Jenkins, contribute to this article on rising tensions between Iran and Israel, and the dangers of it escalating to war.

In the press

In the United Kingdom, pressure is increasing to strengthen sanctions against Iran

Tuesday 16th April, 2024

In the United Kingdom, pressure is increasing to strengthen sanctions against Iran

Sir John Jenkins, our Middle East joint strand leader, is quoted in this article on the UK debate around naming Iran’s IRGC a ‘terrorist organisation’.

In the press

‘We have been living in a warm war between Israel and Iran for decades’, says Professor of Iranian History

Saturday 13th April, 2024

‘We have been living in a warm war between Israel and Iran for decades’, says Professor of Iranian History

Our Middle East North Africa programme director, Prof. Ali Ansari, speaks to Channel4 News about rising tension between Iran and Israel and the danger of escalation to a full-scale war.

In the press

The spirit of Nowruz is the real Iran

Tuesday 2nd April, 2024

The spirit of Nowruz is the real Iran

Our Middle East programme director, Prof. Ali Ansari, writes that for Iranians, increasingly suffocated by the cultural austerity of the Islamic Republic, the equinoctial celebration of Nowruz is a stubborn reminder of who they really are.

Podcast

Episode 44: Sinjar – an arena for other conflicts?

Tuesday 5th March, 2024

Episode 44: Sinjar – an arena for other conflicts?

Ali and Suzanne are joined by Renad Mansour and Zmkan Ali of Chatham House to discuss their new report on cross-border conflict.

Hamas, Israel and Britain: an interview with Sir John Jenkins.

Thursday 29th February, 2024

Hamas, Israel and Britain: an interview with Sir John Jenkins.

The international impact of the war in Gaza is explored in ‘TheArticle’

In the press

Panorama’s ‘Hamas’ Secret Financial Empire’

Monday 19th February, 2024

Panorama’s ‘Hamas’ Secret Financial Empire’

Sir John Jenkins contributes to and appears in this BBC Panorama documentary on ‘Hamas’ Secret Financial Empire’.

Podcast

Episode 42: Iran’s wars

Tuesday 30th January, 2024

Episode 42: Iran’s wars

Suzanne Raine and Ali Ansari start with Baluchistan, and then widen the lens to look at what is driving Iranian aggression in the Middle East. They examine how the threat of force becomes the use of force, and the extent to which apparent co-ordinated Iranian activity might not be quite as simple as it seems.

In the press

Iran and Pakistan’s shared crisis in Baluchistan

Thursday 18th January, 2024

Iran and Pakistan’s shared crisis in Baluchistan

Suzanne Raine writes about the rising military tension between Iran and Pakistan.

Podcast

Episode 39: Tensions in the Caucasus

Wednesday 18th October, 2023

Episode 39: Tensions in the Caucasus

Dr Charlie Laderman joins Ali and Suzanne to explore the origins of the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the current situation, and the real and increasing risk of renewed violence in the Caucasus.

Peace building

The changing geopolitics of the Middle East and the prospects for peace

Podcast

Episode 29: What is the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

Thursday 11th May, 2023

Episode 29: What is the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

The Centre’s Iran-China expert Bill Figueroa joins Ali and Suzanne to look at the dynamics of the new triumvirate of Iran, Saudi Arabia and China.  

In the press

Middle East Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics

Wednesday 19th April, 2023

Middle East Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics

Dr William Figueroa discusses Middle East Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics with Jacques deLisle of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

In the press

Iran-Saudi Normalization: A Regional Process with Chinese Characteristics

Friday 24th March, 2023

Iran-Saudi Normalization: A Regional Process with Chinese Characteristics

Dr William Figueroa contributes Iran-Saudi Normalization: A Regional Process with Chinese Characteristics to Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Authoritarianism, Military

Boundaries of Expertise: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the professionalisation dilemma

Feminism

Women, peace and security in the Middle East

Thursday 26th January, 2023

Women, peace and security in the Middle East

Podcast

Episode 22: How ‘revolutionary’ are the protests in Iran?

Friday 23rd December, 2022

Episode 22: How ‘revolutionary’ are the protests in Iran?

Suzanne and Ali discuss the current protests with Dr Anahita Arian, from the Centre for Geopolitics.  

Event Review

Women, Life, Freedom: A feminist revolution in Iran and beyond?

Feminism

Women, life, freedom: A feminist revolution in Iran and beyond?

Commentary

Women, peace and security in the Middle East

In the press

Engelsberg Ideas publishes Putin’s propaganda is parroting Al-Qaeda’s anti-Western grievances

Wednesday 5th October, 2022

Engelsberg Ideas publishes Putin’s propaganda is parroting Al-Qaeda’s anti-Western grievances

Engelsberg Ideas publishes Putin’s propaganda is parroting Al-Qaeda’s anti-Western grievances by Suzanne Raine.

In the press

Suzanne Raine writes The shifting fortunes of IS-Khorasan for Engelsberg Ideas.

Friday 5th August, 2022

Suzanne Raine writes The shifting fortunes of IS-Khorasan for Engelsberg Ideas.

Suzanne Raine writes The shifting fortunes of IS-Khorasan for Engelsberg Ideas.

Announcement

A fond farewell to Dr Thomas Peak

Monday 25th October, 2021

A fond farewell to Dr Thomas Peak

In the press

A contested Afghanistan could be even worse

Tuesday 24th August, 2021

A contested Afghanistan could be even worse

Suzanne Raine’s A contested Afghanistan could be even worse is published in Engelsberg Ideas.

Event Review

Israel and the Gulf: a new chapter for the Middle East?

In the press

Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East

Friday 19th June, 2020

Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East

Prof. Brendan Simms explains how a 17th Century peace settlement in Europe could provide a template for exploring peace in the Middle East in the 21st Century.