I am a Non-Resident Fellow at The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. My primary research interests are Gulf politics and the international relations of the Middle East, Asia – Middle East/Africa relations, and Euro-Med relations (as detailed below).
My first book Foreign Policy in Saudi Arabia and Iran: Economics and Diplomacy in the Middle East (I. B. Tauris, 2014) examines the economic, ideological and geo-strategic dimensions of Saudi and Iranian foreign policy. The book utilised field research I undertook in Saudi Arabia as a Visiting Research Fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, supported by an HRH Prince Alwaleed Al Saud Scholarship. I also benefited from a British Institute of Persian Studies grant which supported my research in Iran. My subsequent research has been funded by the London School of Economics Middle East Centre and the European Commission.
I have edited further volumes including: International Politics of the Arab Spring, Muslim Minority – State Relations, Egypt and the Gulf, Order and Disorder in the Middle East, Transnational Security Cooperation in the Mediterranean, a textbook: New Perspectives on Middle East Politics, and The Gulf States and the Horn of Africa for Manchester University Press (forthcoming). My next book Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates: Foreign Policy and Strategy in an Uncertain World is also with Manchester University Press, whilst another volume on Israel and the Gulf is with Lexington Books.
My articles have appeared in Middle East Journal, Middle East Policy, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Third World Quarterly and European Foreign Affairs Review. My research has featured in news and academic outlets including: Financial Times, RUSI Newsbrief, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, The National, The Diplomat, New Turkey, Iran Review, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, The Hill, OpenDemocracy, LSE IDEAS and LSE British Politics and Policy Blog.
I hold a PhD Middle East Politics from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, in 2012 and was awarded Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in 2015. I have held visiting positions at Princeton, NYU New York, Oxford, LSE, and Sciences Po, Paris. From 2016-19 I was an Associate Professor and Director of the Middle East Studies Center at The American University in Cairo where I received a faculty research award for the academic year 2017/18.
I am an at-large member of the International Studies Association Foreign Policy Analysis Section, founding editor of the monograph and edited collection series ‘The Gulf States in International Affairs’ at Lexington Books (an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield), and founding co-editor of the series ‘Political Economy and International Relations’ at AUC Press.
1. International relations and politics of the Gulf
My main interest lies in the international relations (theory), foreign policy analysis and the politics of the Gulf states with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Iran, but with a broader interest including some of the smaller Gulf states such as the UAE, Oman and Qatar.
I am currently writing a new monograph for Manchester University Press provisionally entitled Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates: Foreign Policy and Strategy in an Uncertain World. The blurb reads: ‘The Arab uprisings have afforded Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other, mainly non-Arab states such as Turkey, Israel and Iran, new opportunities to play outsized roles in regional affairs. Oftentimes this has led to deadlock and reinforced divisions. Cognizant of political transitions taking place at the domestic, regional and international levels, Robert Mason synthesizes more than forty years of history and maps key Saudi and UAE bilateral relations in the Middle East, the US, Europe, China, Russia, the Horn of Africa, East and South Asia. He argues that established paradigms such as riyal politik are somewhat redundant in a changing economic climate and amid evidence of uncertain returns. Instead he points to political consolidation, the energy transition, US policy preferences, strategic imports and economic statecraft facilitated by Vision targets as being the new touchstones of Gulf state foreign policy. Foreign Policy and Strategy in an Uncertain World sheds new light on aspects of complex realism such as regime security and leadership, dependency theory, alliance patterns, and regionalism with special reference to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in an era dominated by competition, securitization and hybrid warfare.’
I have written recently on this topic including: “Strategic Depth Through Enclaves: Iran, Syria and Hezbollah” for Middle East Policy (forthcoming); “Pushing the Envelope of National Security and State Influence at the Margins: Saudi and Iranian Competition in the Horn of Africa” in Robert Mason and Simon Mabon (eds.) The Gulf States and the Horn of Africa: Interests, Influence and Instability (Manchester University Press, forthcoming 2021); “The Nexus Between State-Led Economic Reform Programmes, Security and Reputation Damage in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” in Martin Beck and Thomas Richter (eds.) Oil and Political Economy of the Middle East: Adjustment Policies of the Arab Gulf and Beyond Since 2014 (Manchester University Press, 2021) and “Small State Aspirations to Middle Powerhood: The Cases of Qatar and the UAE” in Adham Saouli (ed.) Unfulfilled Aspirations: Middle Power Politics in the Middle East (Hurst/OUP, 2020).
My recent opeds and policy pieces focus on US – Iran relations, Gulf security and nuclear power in the Middle East, including a blog published in August 2020 after the United Arab Emirates’ Barakah plant began to come online. In 2019, I presented my research on the Gulf to audiences in Lebanon, at Princeton University, and at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
2. Asia – Middle East/Africa relations
In 2014-15 I was a Visiting Fellow at the Centre of International Studies at the LSE. I undertook a research project ‘Patterns and Consequences of Economic Engagement across Sub-Sahara Africa: A Comparative analysis of Chinese, British and Turkish Policies’ which is available to download here. I was also funded to present the findings at the European Conference on African Studies held at the Sorbonne University in 2015. I have subsequently written on ‘China’s Impact on the International Relations of Sub-Sahara Africa: Implications for Dependency Theory’ for Third World Quarterly in March 2016.
I have recently finished writing a chapter titled “China and Regional Stability in the Middle East: Economics, Engagement and the Transitional Phase to a Multi-Polar World”, in Yahia Zoubir (ed.) Handbook on China – MENA Relations. (Routledge) in 2021. The abstract reads: ‘This chapter assesses Chinese foreign policy towards the Middle East through the lens of regional stability and security. It draws attention to the multitude of historic, political, ideological, economic, and geo-strategic factors and the complex interplay between global and regional actors, diversity of engagement, and Beijing’s normative trajectory. Focusing on the potential of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the “China Model”, it argues that Beijing’s contribution to economic development and diversification, UN Security Council deadlock, and relations with the US will have some of the greatest impacts on the region.’
I wrote a spin-off article on this topic for the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington in March 2021 titled “Is the Sky the Limit to the China – Gulf Partnership?”
A novel part of my current research agenda looks at Gulf relations with states such as India, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia.
I have been involved in a number of high profile events in this area. In 2017, I co-hosted the 14th Korea – Middle East Cooperation Forum in Seoul, sponsored by the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I have met with ROK ambassadors to Egypt and Jordan to discuss regional affairs. I co-organised an Egypt – Japan symposium in Cairo in conjunction with the Japanese embassy and gave a presentation at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2019. I have given interviews on this theme to the South China Morning Post and Radio France International.
3. Euro-Mediterranean relations
The European Commission funded my academic – policy project which included research, teaching and public outreach components. I have written extensively on Euro-Arab relations in International Politics of the Arab Spring: Popular Unrest and Foreign Policy and Transnational Security Cooperation in the Mediterranean. I have also written about migration issues, EU Common Foreign and Security Policy and European Neighbourhood Policy in European Foreign Affairs Review and Orient. In 2019, I convened an EU – Middle East Policy round table in Cairo, including the participation of a number of European ambassadors and League of Arab States officials. For details see: Research Impact. Prior to this I arranged a two-day post-graduate conference on “The EU, Middle East and Africa in the 21st Century“ which was supported by EUROMESCO. I have also convened a new post-graduate course on Mediterranean Politics at AUC.
In 2018, I was invited by the Instituto per gli studi di politica internazionale (ISPI) to participate in a workshop and give feedback on the role of Russia in the MENA region. I have written extensively on Russia and the MENA region in Middle East Policy and alongside notable Russian analysts. I continue to engage with networks such as EUROMESCO by writing policy briefs such as “Recovering EU – Egypt Relations, But Core Political Issues Remain“.