SOAS has been the leading institution for the study of the Middle East for decades, and the Department of Politics is world-renowned for its scholars’ combination of regional and disciplinary expertise. The MSc Politics of the Middle East is further distinguished by its tutors’ critical perspectives and the cutting-edge modules on offer. The content balances historical and theoretical rigour with coverage of up-to-the-minute regional and global developments. Students choose from modules covering the politics of resistance, religion, and solidarity, alongside urban politics, infrastructure, migration, artificial intelligence and human security. The programme trains students in disciplinary approaches – political sociology, political economy, and international relations – while encouraging them to think and write across these disciplinary boundaries.
Learning and teaching on the MSc combine lectures, seminars, presentations, and independent study. Students are expected to read extensively and to engage actively in class discussions. They study research methods, and submit independently written assignments, with the guidance of their course tutors. The MSc ends with a dissertation, whose topic and approach are developed with the support of a specialist supervisor.
On this MSc, students’ learning and research are enhanced by access to the world-leading specialist SOAS Library, the opportunity to take a language module, and the vibrant programme of academic and student-run events on the Middle East at SOAS.
Start of programme: September intake only
Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time
Who is this programme for?:
The MSc Politics of the Middle East is one of the Politics Department’s longest running and most popular programmes. It attracts students who wish to build on their academic or professional connections with the Middle East, and to develop transferable skills for employment in a variety of fields. These include media and broadcasting, political consultancy, diplomacy, civil service, and party politics, human rights, development, and international organisations. In an age when the Middle East remains central to global political and economic trends, the training gained on this Masters programme continues to be precious.
- We will consider all applications with 2:ii (or international equivalent) or higher. In addition to degree classification we take into account other elements of the application including supporting statement and references.
- One calendar year (full-time)
Two or three years (part-time, daytime only)
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 three taught modules (corresponding to three 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 taking place in two-hour sessions. 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.
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
Located at the centre of Europe, SOAS offers a great course for students who want to study International Relations from a non-Eurocentric perspective. All the staff and students are passionate about what they are doing, the class is always full of energy and fun. If you want to learn about the world from a non-Western aspect, SOAS is definitely the best choice.