Politics and international relations in the Middle East display many of the characteristic features of the modern world. Contentious legacies of imperial map-making fuel frontier disputes and throw into question the legitimacy of the territorial nation state. Governments have been repeatedly challenged by populations tired of the old rationales for authoritarian rule and angered by its repressive effects. The politics of national identity, sometimes bound up with ideas of religious identity, have been given new urgency by class conflict, by military occupation and by the growth of the security state. Meanwhile, the long history of external intervention in the states of the region has heightened domestic and regional tensions.
The degree offers students an opportunity to study politics in the region through a number of disciplinary approaches, such as political sociology (class, gender, ethnicity and sect), comparative politics (state power, political economy of development, democratic openings and nationalism), and international politics (war, international political economy, regionalism and dependency). At the same time, it provides thematic courses that encourage students to look at political processes in the region from distinct perspectives, such as the study of political violence, the examination of the politics of resistance and the understanding of Islamic political ideologies and political movements.
At Masters level there is particular emphasis on seminar work. Students are expected to read extensively, to make a number of presentations and to engage actively in seminar discussions. They are also expected to write substantial papers, guided by their course tutors, but requiring significant independent work.
Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings
Start of programme: September intake only
Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time
- The qualification for entry is normally a first or upper-second class honours degree (or equivalent) in Politics or International Relations, or a related social science discipline. Applicants without such a background may be considered for admission depending on their academic training and undergraduate performance.
- One calendar year (full-time)
Two or three years (part-time, daytime only)
- UK/EU fees:
- Overseas fees:
Fees for 2020/21 entrants. This is a Band 3 fee. The fees are per academic year. Please note that fees go up each year. Further details can be found in the Fees and Funding tab on this page or in the Registry Postgraduate Tuition Fees page
Introducing Middle East Politics
From international interventions and conflict to mass migration and uprisings, Middle East affairs influence the lives of millions around the world. Reem Abou-El-Fadl is Senior Lecturer in the Comparative Politics of the Middle East at SOAS, and co-convenor of the MSc Politics of the Middle East. She explains here how the programme helps students get to grips with these themes and connections.
What does this degree cover and what is special about it?
Our programme is unique in the UK and Europe for its rigour, depth, and cutting-edge content. First, it guarantees particularly thorough core training, offering two compulsory modules not one: these survey the politics of state and society in the region, and cover crucial research methods. Second, students enjoy a rich selection of optional modules, designed by scholars drawing on their own specialised research agendas. This ensures substantial engagement with the latest critical work in the field. Indeed SOAS Politics is home to the Cambridge Global Middle East series, founded by Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam. Finally, many of the MSc modules engage contemporary issues that are set to dominate Middle East politics for the foreseeable future. We teach well-established courses on the political sociology of Islam, political violence, and the politics of resistance, alongside popular new modules on urban politics, and the politics of infrastructure, transnational solidarity, prisons and borders, human security and artificial intelligence.
Students get to read widely in Middle East scholarship, and write presentations and extended essays of their own that improve their communication, research, and analytical skills. The dissertation is the assignment where this all comes together: as a deep engagement with a topic of personal interest, completing it is often particularly rewarding for our students. For a detailed look at the MSc programme’s aims, learning outcomes, and methods of assessment, you can check out the Programme Specification.
We have the great advantage to be based in Bloomsbury, London, a short walk from the British Library and British Museum, and within a hub of arts centres and galleries celebrating the Middle East through regular programmes of events. Many of us collaborate with such venues on their panels and exhibitions. We are of course also well aware of our setting in a former colonial metropolis and major world capital: our staff and students are often the first to comment on global and Middle East affairs, whether in the news and social media, or on campus.
What resources are available?
As an MSc student, you will have access to SOAS Library, one of the world's leading academic libraries for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It has books and journals in every language of the region, including electronic resources, and an exciting archive of manuscripts and rare books which you can consult. One of my students this year used the SOAS Special Collections to write a fantastic online piece on Cuban-Arab political solidarity.
Alongside your Politics modules, you will be able to select a Middle East language, or Middle East related options from other SOAS departments. Such interdisciplinarity helps improve your grasp of the politics of the region, and in time, can allow you to use primary sources in your research.
Last but not least, you will be plugged into an almost dizzying network of political, cultural, and social events centred on the Middle East at SOAS, often coordinated by the SOAS Middle East Institute, and its Centres for Iranian and Palestine Studies, and by the Students Union. These are enhanced by and connected with the wider Middle East events scene in London. I can guarantee that you will be spoilt for choice!
What kind of students will this programme appeal to?
If you are intellectually curious and keen to be challenged, you will find yourself at home on the course. We welcome students with a variety of backgrounds – academically, most have studied the social sciences or humanities, and many have studied the languages of the region before joining us, but these are not prerequisites. Our students may also have professional backgrounds connected to the region through business or diplomacy for example. SOAS has a particularly high intake of students from the Middle East itself, and they enrich the programme with their insights and experiences.
Can you recommend good readings on Middle East Politics?
The region is so complex, and the scholarship on it in the English language alone so sophisticated, that it is hard to produce definite list. However, a great place to start are two online platforms for Middle East current affairs analysis, as they are run and written by academics, with first-hand cultural and linguistic knowledge of the region: Middle East Report and Jadaliyya e-zine. They feature historically informed and critical commentary on regional politics, with short pieces that are a perfect introduction to the wider research of their authors. I would also encourage you to take a look at the latest publications of our academic staff! This will give you a flavour of the research that informs our teaching, and the kinds of questions we will be asking together.
What do students do after graduating?
Our graduates excel in an array of fields and venues: media and publishing, political parties and national government, human rights and development NGOs, political consultancy for think-tanks, and regional and international organisations. Of course many also stay on for PhDs, often at SOAS, and we are always excited at the opportunity to keep working with them.
If you would like to find out more, or to ask a current student about their experience of studying at SOAS, please get in touch!
Teaching & Learning
Modules are taught by a combination of methods, principally lectures, tutorial classes, seminars and supervised individual study projects.
The MSc programme consists of four taught modules (corresponding to four examination papers) and a dissertation.
Most modules involve a 50-minute lecture as a key component with linked tutorial classes.
At Masters level there is particular emphasis on seminar work. Students make full-scale presentations for each unit that they take, and are expected to write papers that often require significant independent work.
A quarter of the work for the degree is given over to the writing of an adequately researched 10,000-word dissertation. Students are encouraged to take up topics which relate the study of a particular region to a body of theory.
SOAS Library is one of the world's most important academic libraries for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, attracting scholars from all over the world.
The Library houses over 1.2 million volumes, together with significant archival holdings, special collections and a growing network of electronic resources.
Full details of postgraduate tuition fees can be found on the Registry's Postgraduate Tuition Fees page.
This is a Band 3 tuition fee.
Fees for 2020/21 entrants. The fees below are per academic year. Fees go up each year, therefore, your tuition fee in your second & subsequent years of study will be higher. Our continuing students, on the same degree programme, are protected from annual increases higher than 5%.
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For further details and information on external scholarships visit the Scholarships section
SOAS MSc Middle East Politics students leave SOAS not only with a knowledge and understanding of the complex political and cultural issues of international politics, but also with a portfolio of widely transferable skills which employers seek in many professional and management careers, both in business and in the public sector.
For more information about Graduate Destinations from this department, please visit the Careers Service website.
A Student's Perspective
The MSc in Middle East Politics allowed me to take both Politics courses and a language option, all of which I enjoyed. The lecturers were fantastic! My favourite class was Politics of Resistance in the Middle East which was clearly helpful for understanding contemporary politics of the region.