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A New Diplomatic Tool: Special Economic Zones and Regionalism in the Middle East

  • School: School of Social Sciences
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2023

Project ID: S3 26

The Middle East is one of the least economically integrated and politically turbulent regions in the world (Stein, 2021). Debates have thus far proved inconclusive as to whether Middle Eastern states’ limited economic interactions are due to their political rivalries and general lack of trust in each other, or vice versa (Coskun, 2016). Different features of regionalism in the Middle East have received significant attention (Legrenzi, 2016), yet our current understanding of what causes and hinders regional integration is largely limited to high politics (for example, alliances, official diplomatic relations, international treaties, wars and rivalries) (Fawcett, 2016). Even when alternative or critical studies emerge the hard and soft aspects (for example, transport infrastructure (El-Anis, 2021) and the status of borders (Saddiki, 2020), and commercial institutions (El-Anis, 2018) and financial regulation (Wahba and Mohieldin, 1998), respectively) of regionalism are treated separately. Nonetheless, it is clear that the region is currently undergoing a significant realignment/transformation with former adversaries (e.g., the UAE and Israel) normalising relations, and belligerents making overtures towards ending on-going conflicts (e.g., Turkey and Syria) or to cool tense relations (e.g. Saudi Arabia and Iran). Underpinning these changes is a complex set of political and economic phenomena, the least understood of which is the rise of Special Economic Zones (SEZs). There are now 97 SEZs in eight states in the Middle East with plans for additional SEZs over the coming decade.

These commercial entities are used to facilitate trade and investment regionally and globally and play a major role in today’s global political and economic landscape. However, they often fly under the radar even though they are key features of existing strategic partnerships and seem to be fostering new ones. SEZs have been left out of debates on regionalism in the Middle East and as a result one of the most important emerging forces shaping the region is not understood. Therefore, this project will ask: what are the current geographical, economic, political and social characteristics of SEZs in the region? How do they interact with each other to create a region-wide network of economic, political and social relationships? And in what ways are SEZs used to further the foreign policy goals of states in the Middle East? We encourage proposals that will use a mixed method approach and specific SEZ case studies to form recommendations on how SEZs can be utilised for peaceful integration in the region.

Supervisory Team:

Director of Studies: Imad El-Anis

Co-supervisor: Sahra Joharchi

Co-supervisor: Lesley Masters

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

To make an application, please visit our studentship application page.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2023 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Application guidance can be found on our studentship application page.

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