Academic with longstanding research interests in the comparative politics of the Middle East, with much of his work having focused on statecraft and authority structures in the Gulf states. He has also published on (Middle East and Gulf-related) international political economy issues; the politics of revolutions and counter-revolutions; the origins and modi operandi of intelligence organizations; the history of education in traditional societies; the internationalization of higher education; and the impact of electronic learning.
He holds degrees from the University of Cambridge (BA, MA) and the University of St. Andrews (M.Litt, PhD), and is a member of the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA). He previously taught for twelve years at Durham University (as a lecturer, senior lecturer, then reader) and, prior to that, for three years at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates (as an assistant professor, on both the Abu Dhabi and Dubai campuses). He has held visiting positions at Leiden University College in the Hague (as a fellow) and Kyoto University in Japan (as an associate professor); and in 2017 he was the Daoud Family Lecturer in Middle Eastern studies at Albion College, Michigan.
He is presently a fellow of the European Centre for International Affairs and an associate fellow of the Henry Jackson Society. He is also an editorial board member for the Journal of Labor and Society and New Middle Eastern Studies, and edits the book series Power and Politics in the Gulf, co-published by Hurst & Co. and Oxford University Press USA. He has previously been an associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a UN Alliance of Civilizations global expert (UNAOC).
He has published seven single-authored books, two edited books, and a number of peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapter contributions. Among these, his 2008 book, Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success (London: Hurst & Co. / New York: Columbia University Press), was a book of the year for both the London Evening Standard and the New Statesman. It was reviewed by the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous scholarly journals. His 2013 book, After the Sheikhs (London: Hurst & Co. / New York: Oxford University Press), was translated into both Arabic and Farsi, was one of the Foreign Policy Association’s ‘most significant books of the year‘, and was reviewed by the Guardian, the Independent, and the Economist. His 2016 general audience book, Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East (London: Oneworld / New York: Simon & Schuster), was selected for both the Cambridge Literary Festival and the FT Weekend’s Oxford Literary Festival, and was reviewed by Al-Akhbar, the Christian Science Monitor, and CHOICE magazine. His latest book, From Sheikhs to Sultanism: Statecraft and Authority in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, (London: Hurst & Co. / New York: Oxford University Press) was published in 2021 and, thus far, has been reviewed by Middle East Policy and the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.
At Durham University, he was the principal investigator on a three year-long funded project investigating the politics of sectarianism in the Gulf states and the broader region (employing a full-time postdoctoral researcher). In 2010 his research on dynastic politics and judicial systems in the Gulf states played a role in determining the outcome of Britain’s longest running extradition case (which reached the High Court of Justice), and in 2014 his findings formed the basis of a UK Research Excellence Framework impact case study. Since then, his research and testimonies have been feeding into a range of high-profile extradition, immigration, family law, terrorism, and (in the United States) foreign agency cases.
As primary supervisor he has supervised thirteen doctorates to completion, with his advisees having taken up positions at Georgetown University (Qatar); the University of Tubingen; Exeter University; Durham University; Kings College London; Qatar University; Hamad bin Khalifa University; the Emirates Diplomatic Academy; the American University of Beirut; Lebanese American University; and Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He has externally examined a number of doctorates internationally across a range of universities including Australian National University; Tel Aviv University; Oxford University; the University of St. Andrews; Leeds University; Exeter University; the London School of Economics; Nottingham Trent University; and Queens University Belfast. He has also externally examined undergraduate and masters-level programmes, including (previously) Edinburgh University’s former BA in Middle Eastern Studies and (currently) the Aga Khan Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations’ MA in Muslim Cultures.
He has fifteen years of full-time teaching experience in higher education. At Durham University he created and taught the long-running research-led module Politics of the Middle East Oil Monarchies (evaluations) and the survey module Middle East in the International System. At Durham he also convened or taught on a number of other modules including History of the Middle East in the Twentieth Century and Introduction to Middle East Politics. At Zayed University he taught on modules including Global Studies, State and Society, Comparative Politics, Development and Underdevelopment, and The Power of the Social Sciences (research methods). In 2014 he was runner-up for the Durham Student Union teacher of the year award (for the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law). At Durham he held a number of departmental management portfolios, inter alia: acting deputy head of school; director of undergraduate studies; director of postgraduate studies (both taught and research); and lead admissions tutor with responsibility for widening participation.
He has delivered a number of invited public lectures at universities around the world, including: Stanford University, Yale University, George Washington University, Australian National University, Sciences-Po (in Paris), Leiden University College (in the Hague) , Kyoto University, Otago University, Amsterdam University, the American University of Beirut, Oxford University, the London School of Economics, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Bristol University, the University of St. Andrews, Exeter University, Leeds University, Bath University, and Aberdeen University. As a debating panellist he has appeared at the Oxford Union, the Durham Union Society, Asia House, the Doha Debates (in Qatar), and (with the late Fred Halliday) El Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona.
Beyond academia, he has contributed to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and has written policy-focused pieces for the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Times Higher Education, BBC Online, Arab Digest, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Middle East Institute. He has appeared on most major television and radio current affairs shows, including BBC Newsnight, BBC Radio 4’s Today and PM, CNN’s Connect the World, ABC’s Nightline, CNBC’s Capital Connection, and NPR’s All Things Considered. In Arabic, his articles have been published by a number of leading newspapers, with his September 2009 Al-Akhbar article, ‘The Great Dubai Crash / انهيار دبي الكبير’, known for presaging the November 2009 Dubai economic crisis.
He has delivered (academic) briefings or reports for a range of organizations and institutions including the US Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the US Department of State’s Foreign Services Institute; the US Department of Justice (Office of the Attorney General); the US National Intelligence Council; the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); NATO Intelligence (‘Fusion’), British Intelligence (GCHQ); Britain’s Cabinet Office; Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (policy unit, ambassadorial briefings, etc.); the London Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command (SO15); the Royal College of Defence Studies; the New Zealand and Canadian intelligence services; the New Zealand, Canadian, Swedish, and Netherlands foreign ministries; the Swedish Institute for International Affairs (Utrikespolitiska Institutet); British Petroleum; Royal Dutch Shell; the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project; the Dubai Knowledge and Human Development Authority; and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2016 he gave oral evidence on Britain’s Middle East policy to the House of Lords International Relations Committee and in 2017 his work was cited in a UK Parliament Select Committee’s inquiry report entitled ‘The Middle East: Time for New Realism’.