MECACS was founded in 2003 to bring together scholars in the different Schools of the University with the aim of promoting cross-disciplinary education and research on the historical and contemporary Middle East, Central Asia and Caucasus. It is housed and managed in the School of International Relations and seeks to collaborate with staff and students working on the regions in the School of History, including those in the Institute for Iranian Studies, the School of Modern Languages (housing Arabic, Persian and Russian language teaching), the Schools of Economics and Divinity and the Departments of Social Anthropology and Film Studies.

Why study the Middle East/North Africa, Caucasus and Central Asia as a unit?

MECACS is composed of three separate geographical regions, yet with similar historical, cultural, and political backgrounds. The historical experience of Islamic empires left behind a shared political culture, religion and governance practices; yet under subsequent European empires (British and French) in the Middle East; Russian and Soviet in Central Asia and Caucasus, the regions took different trajectories. There are numerous areas where comparison can be made. The regions share both Islam as the religion of the majority which has had a huge impact on their history, culture and traditions as well as a concentration of hydrocarbons which has also shaped the political and economic environments. Thus, these regions offer interesting contexts for research and teaching on contemporary international relations issues such as the role of Islam/religion in politics, state-formation and deformation, empires, post-colonial politics, the politics of oil, social movements, democratization, and foreign policy. In a first effort to make systematic comparisons of similarities and differences in the experiences of these regions, MECACS scholars collaborated in 2012 to produce a comparative publication entitled Sovereignty After Empire: Comparing the Middle East and Central Asia.

Research Themes and Activities

MECACS scholars explore a wide range of themes including:

  • Conflict, political violence and conflict resolution.
  • State formation, colonial legacies and external interactions.
  • International society and regionalism.
  • Domestic and foreign policies of MECACS states.
  • Authoritarianism, civil society and democratization.
  • Religion, politics and society.

MECACS scholars have led projects on civil society, Islam, Middle Eastern Christians, sectarianism, and the Arab uprisings. They have been awarded grants from Horizon 2020, European Framework Seven, Humanities in the Research Area (HERA), the British Academy, Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Global Challenges Research Fund.


MECACS works closely with other Institutes and Centres including the Institute for Iranian Studies as well as other centres based in the School of International Relations. The Centre for Syrian Studies was founded in 2008 and is an autonomous part of the Institute. Since 2011, its research has focused on the conflict in Syria. Its non-partisan scholarly expertise on Syria has been enlisted by governments and international organizations including writing reports for the UN Secretariat, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Southwest Asia (ESCWA) and the World Bank.

Collaborations amongst MECACS members have led to numerous projects and publications including:

Currently, several MECACS staff and former students are collaborating on editing a Research Handbook on the Politics of the Levant, including Jasmine Gani, Fiona McCallum Guiney, Omar Imady, Adham Saouli, Raymond Hinnebusch and Francesco Belcastro. The Handbook will contain twenty five chapters looking at the historical, geographical and cultural context of the Levant and assessing patterns of conflict, war and alliance formation in the region.


MECACS runs a regular seminar series, staff work-in-progress presentations and hosts conferences and workshops. MECACS scholars regularly provide expert consultation and media commentary.