The Crown Center for Middle East Studies is committed to conducting balanced and dispassionate research of the modern Middle East that meets the highest academic standards.

The Center seeks to help make decision- and opinion-makers better informed about the region. The scope of the Center’s research includes the 22 members of the Arab League as well as Turkey, Iran, and Israel. The Crown Center’s approach is multi-disciplinary in its study of the politics, economics, history, security, sociology, and anthropology of the region’s states and societies. 

Upcoming Events

September 20, 11:00am-12:15pm EDT
Glenn Robinson
"Global Jihad: A Brief History"

October 6, 11:00am-12:15pm EDT
Zahra Ali
"Uprising: Iraq and the Political Imagination"

November 3, 11:00am-12:15pm EDT
Paraska Tolan-Szkilnik
"The Maghreb Generation: The New Pan-Africanists of North Africa (1950-1980)"

December 1, 11:00am-12:15pm EST
Simon Wolfgang Fuchs, Raphaël Lefèvre, and Laurence Louër
A panel discussion on "Reassessing the Impacts of the Iranian Revolution Elsewhere"

Catch up on our past seminars over at our new YouTube channel

Recent News and Publications

July 21, 2021

Middle East Brief 143 (Summary) — Several Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states recently announced independent plans to abolish what is often called the "kafala system," regulations that require noncitizen residents to be sponsored by a citizen or citizen-owned business. Sponsorship is widely blamed for the exploitation of and poor conditions faced by noncitizen workers, and the reform announcements followed increased international attention on the issue. In this Brief, Alex Boodrookas unpacks three widely-held misunderstandings about labor and migration in the Persian Gulf. He argues that sponsorship legislation does not reflect long-standing regional tradition. Instead, it dates from the imperial period and reflects the shared economic interests of elites and multinational companies. And “kafala” is not a single system; it is a diffuse set of coercive mechanisms and practices controlled by different actors. Dismantling sponsorship alone, therefore, will not bring an end to the systemic exploitation of noncitizen workers. Finally, Boodrookas details a long history in the Gulf of citizen workers allying with noncitizen workers to improve labor conditions and rights for all. The divide over sponsorship, he argues, is better understood as one of class interests and racial hierarchy than one that pits citizens versus noncitizens, which has implications for the prospects of further and deeper reform in the future.

May 27, 2021

Middle East Brief 142 (Summary) — During Tunisia's post-revolutionary transition, the traditionally Islamist party Ennahda explicitly rebranded itself as a "Muslim Democratic" party, committed to consensual democracy and a pluralist political order. Some analysts view this as a strategic move driven by political necessity and claim it masks a long-term aim to Islamize the state and society. Others see the change as a genuine reconciliation of the party's ideological commitments with a political system based on a democratic and civil state. In this Brief, Andrew March argues that two connected but distinct conceptions of politics have been evident for decades in the political thought and speech of Ennahda's co-founder and intellectual leader, Rached Ghannouchi. He examines how Ghannouchi and Ennahda have long proclaimed both a pragmatic willingness to engage in "politics" any time that political freedoms could be secured but also a more comprehensive vision of why Islam actually calls for a deeper form of democracy. Ennahda's commitment to "Muslim Democracy," therefore, predates the 2010-11 Tunisian Revolution and has coexisted ambiguously with a commitment to a more comprehensive "Islamic Democracy."

May 6, 2021

Middle East Brief 141 (summary) — The Islamic Republic of Iran is allied with a number of non-state actors throughout the Middle East, such as Hizbollah in Lebanon and several militias in Iraq. Iranian leaders describe their support for such groups in religious and revolutionary terms, and this aspect of Iran’s foreign policy is widely understood to be a product of the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution and motivated, in large part, by ideology. In contrast, Mohammad Ataie argues in this Brief that Iran’s pattern of support for non-state actors after 1979 is in fact a continuation of a regional policy that dates back to the late 1950s. Both Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the leaders of the Islamic Republic pursued a similar strategy of backing extraterritorial groups and utilizing historical and religious ties to Shiʿi communities in the region to counter perceived threats and contain regional adversaries. The shah enmeshed Pahlavi Iran in Iraqi and Lebanese domestic politics by supporting anti-Nasser and anti-left non-state actors, and the Islamic Republic continued this involvement after the revolution as part of their anti-imperial "Axis of Resistance." Ataie asserts that the revolution, therefore, did not usher in Iran’s support for non-state actors and that support cannot be understood primarily in ideological terms.

April 28, 2021

Crown Conversations 8 (Summary) — In late March, Iran and China signed a 25-year strategic accord that calls for China to invest a reported US$400 billion in various sectors in Iran in exchange for a regular, and presumably discounted, supply of Iranian oil. The partnership also envisions increased bilateral trade and deepening military cooperation between the two countries. In this Crown Conversation, we spoke with two experts on Iran at the Crown Center—Nader Habibi and Hadi Kahalzadeh—about factors that led to the agreement, opposition to it inside Iran, and what it means for the region.

April 26, 2021

In the News (Summary) — Although forty years have now passed since the downfall of the Shah, Iran’s 1979 Revolution continues to be the subject of much scholarly discussion. The global impact of the Islamic Revolution has generated much academic and policy attention, especially with respect to how it spurred the growth of militant Shi‘a Islamist groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Yet this focus on the relationship between the Islamic Republic and Shi‘a across the world obscures not only the complex dynamics which typify transnational Shi‘a politics, but also the impact which the revolution had on many Sunnis in the Middle East. Indeed, even as this may appear surprising in a contemporary context marked by Sunni-Shi‘a sectarian tensions, the Iranian Revolution inspired, and sometimes even empowered, Sunni Islamist clerics and groups who viewed it as an Islamic—rather than narrowly Shi‘a—achievement.