Middle East Studies

Middle East Studies Program
Middle East Studies Program
Middle East Studies Program

The Middle East Studies program has a comprehensive curriculum with course topics ranging from the economies of petrostates to ethno-religious conflict.

The Middle East Studies program has a comprehensive curriculum with course topics ranging from the economies of petrostates to ethno-religious conflict.

The Middle East Studies program has a comprehensive curriculum with course topics ranging from the economies of petrostates to ethno-religious conflict.

Program Activities
Events Calendar

Program Description

The Middle East Studies (MES) program offers a comprehensive approach to study of the region. It covers topics such as failing states, petrostates, political transitions, economic development, state-to-state conflict and nuclear proliferation, as well as religions, ethnicity and tribalism. Middle East Studies courses take a historical and theoretical approach to study of regional issues and topics. A few courses focus on particular countries, such as Iran and Egypt, but a majority explore broad regional or topical questions. The geographic range spans from Morocco to Iran to Turkey to Somalia.

To learn more view our latest program newsletter:


Why Middle East Studies

HOLISTIC. The Middle East Studies (MES) concentration is designed to integrate with the other components of a Johns Hopkins SAIS education: language, economics, and a functional minor or double concentration. We offer “bridge courses” that enable students to minor or dual concentrate in other concentrations including Conflict Management, Global Theory and History, and Energy Resources and the Environment. Students can complete proficiency in Arabic, Farsi, or Hindi/Urdu.

PROFESSIONAL. The MA degree with a concentration in Middle East Studies for many is a terminal degree, meaning that by graduation you will be prepared to enter a career in international relations and/or international economics, and specialize in the Middle East region. Students’ career choices after graduating vary considerably, with positions spanning from public sector, to international multilaterals, consulting, and program management for NGOs. 

COMMUNITY. The Middle East program is, by design, a space where everyone can socially interact with everyone else. First, that means a relatively small program of 30 to 40 students. We take great pride in that our students, while very diverse in origins and sometimes divided on policy preferences, are first and foremost engaged in our intellectual community, civil and respectful of each other, focused on facts, thoughtful analysis and scholarship. 

WASHINGTONIAN. Johns Hopkins SAIS' Washington location is in one of the epicenters (if not ‘the’ epicenter) of international relations and policymaking. Think-tanks, adjuncts, and countless events are all at your fingertips. The school is located in Dupont Circle, and our next door neighbors on 'think-tank row' are the Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

BOLOGNESE. SAIS Europe in Bologna, Italy enables students to learn about the Middle East through the lens of European scholars. Its location allows students to participate in affordable study trips to the Middle East- North Africa region over winter and spring break intercessions. The Middle East Studies program has faculty based in Bologna that teach and advise students in the Middle East Studies program.

SPECIALIZED. Students have the ability to subspecialize with the introduction of program tracks. Students have the option of pursuing the Core Middle East (CME) track which will create ‘Arabists’ with an in-depth focus on the Arab world and Arabic. Students may alternatively choose the Broader Middle East (BME) track, which allows candidates to have a broader regional perspective and discuss crosscutting issues like Islamist politics, and extremism.
RIGOROUS. The standards and expectations for the Middle East Studies program are set very high. As one of the best Middle East Studies programs in the nation, we enroll top students and graduate Middle East experts; this “expertise” takes thoughtful preparation. Our demanding curriculum ensures that each student we graduate is well versed in not only the “trending” current events of the region, but also their historical underpinnings.

SCHOLARLY. Students are encouraged to enroll in the Middle East Research Seminar class, a four-credit course which funds students to pursue original thesis research in the MENA region. Students work closely with the director to develop a research project and undergo rigorous qualitative and quantitative research on a topic of their choosing. Over the course of their second year, students work closely with the director to create an original work of publishable quality.

The Life and Work of Fouad Ajami
MES concentrators Kimya, Sierra and Mathilde visiting the UAE Ministry of Energy (March 2016)
SAIS Europe Students with Israeli Ambassador to Italy, Naor Gilon
Persian New Year Celebrations in Bologna, Italy
MES students playing Middle East themed Taboo at Annual MES Retreat
Mai Al-Nakib at her presentation "The Hidden Light of the Middle East", February 2015
Hassan Hassan at his presentation "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror", March 2015
The Life and Work of Fouad Ajami Lecture, November 2014
Article written in Saudi newspaper about student study trip, May 2014
Middle East Studies Students at MES Alumni Happy Hour, May 2014
Middle East Studies Students at MES Alumni Happy Hour, May 2013
MES Students and Alumni at Annual MES Alumni Happy Hour, May 2014
Middle East Studies Study trip to Malaysia, Intersession 2012
Middle East Studies Study trip to Malaysia, Intersession 2012
Middle East Studies Study trip to Malaysia, Intersession 2012
Middle East Studies Students at MES Alumni Happy Hour, May 2013
Middle East Studies Study Tour to Saudi Arabia, June 2012
Middle East Studies Study Tour to Saudi Arabia, June 2012
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Program Activities


Language and Thesis Research Stipends

First-year students concentrating in Middle East Studies (MES) are encouraged to spend their summer break studying Arabic or Farsi somewhere in the Middle East- North Africa region and conducting research for their thesis. Traveling in the region also presents the opportunity to make contacts through local internships. Students in the program can apply for summer stipends to study language and conduct research in the region.


Middle East Studies Lecture Series

The MES program complements its academic courses with a series of brown bag lectures, bringing in a wide variety of  Arab and Israeli scholars, politicians and journalists to discuss and debate a broad range of issues which enlighten students on Middle East issues.


International Study Trips

The MES program has a history of running student-led trips to the region each year over winter intersession or spring break. Past trips have been sponsored and funded by the governments of the countries that students visit, and on occasion from the MES program itself.

In March of 2016, twelve MES concentrators travelled to the UAE. Read about their experiences here.


Student Activities

The program's student social chair coordinates events for students to get to know one another better and build stronger networks. Activities vary and have included culturally themed dinners, alumni happy hours, movie nights, and student-led presentations on research and travels in the region.



Middle East Studies | MA Requirements

Middle East Studies Program Learning Goals and Objectives

Entering Class 2017-2018
MA students must take the equivalent of 16 non-language courses (64 credits) in order to graduate. Those students who are approved for dual degree or advanced standing may only need to take 12 (48 credits) or 14 (56 credits) courses as approved by Academic Affairs.



Students concentrating in Middle East Studies (MES) must take at least 24 credits within this program. In some cases, a course outside of MES that requires a substantive research paper in the Arab World/Broader Middle East may count toward an MES requirement if approved by the director. All MES students must also pass the Middle East History Exam (MEHE) within the first year of the program.
Students must select one of the following Middle East Studies tracks:

  • Core Middle East (CME): The CME track is designed to train Arabists with a focus on language skills. Students must take 6 courses (24 credits) from the CME listing. Students are highly encouraged to take additional Arabic language courses beyond the minimum graduation requirements.
  • Broader Middle East (BME): The BME track is designed to help students acquire a broader regional perspective and training in comparative politics. Students must take 6 courses (24 credits) within CME and BME. A minimum of 2 courses (8 credits) must be taken from each. BME courses include offerings from African, European and Eurasian and South Asia Studies.

Summer Funding/Thesis Option:
Middle East Studies concentrators who receive summer funding from the MES program must produce an MA thesis that involves primary research under the supervision of the Middle East Studies faculty. The paper is written over the two-year period, with an outline and research program due in March of the first year and a working draft of the final thesis to be presented in March/April of the second year. These students must also enroll each semester as auditors in the Middle East Studies Research Seminar and for credit during their final semester. Four credits are received for completion of the "Middle East Studies Research Seminar: Thesis" in a student's final semester. For those whose final semester is fall, consult the Program Director for the due date.



Students must complete 16 credits. The four required courses are:

  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics (prerequisite or concurrent: Microeconomics)
  • International Trade Theory (prerequisite: Microeconomics)
  • International Monetary Theory (prerequisite: Macroeconomics)

If a student passes a waiver exam in one of these areas, the student must take a replacement International Economics program course(s) to fulfill the concentration requirement.

Starting with the entering class of Fall 2017, students who pass Microeconomics in Pre-Term will have the concentration reduced to 12 credits, but still must complete Macroeconomics, International Trade Theory, and International Monetary Theory (or a replacement course(s) if waiver exam(s) passed). The Pre-Term Microeconomics course is not for credit and is not factored into the GPA.

Beyond the requirements, many students choose to pursue an International Economics Specialization in one of four areas of economics. Students may also choose to specialize in Emerging Markets.

Concentration GPA Requirement
Students must achieve a combined GPA of at least 2.67 in four (or three if Microeconomics is passed in Pre-Term) required International Economics program courses or they must retake the course(s) until a 2.67 concentration GPA is achieved. In the standard case, the concentration GPA will be the average of the grades of Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, International Trade Theory, and International Monetary Theory.

If one or more of the four standard courses is waived, the school will use the highest grade(s) from any eligible replacement International Economics program course(s) to compute the International Economics concentration GPA.



Students must complete one course from the list below.

  • Statistical Methods for Business & Economics 
  • Econometrics (prerequisite Statistical Methods for Business & Economics)
  • Applied Econometrics (prerequisite Econometrics)
  • Macro Econometrics (prerequisite Econometrics)
  • Risk Analysis and Modeling
  • Quantitative Global Economics (prerequisite International Monetary Theory)
  • Credit Markets & Credit Risk (prerequisite Corporate Finance)

Students may not double-count the same course toward the Quantitative Reasoning requirement and as an International Economics concentration course and vice-versa.

If a student passes the statistics waiver exam, the student must take an alternate course from the list above to fulfill the Quantitative Reasoning requirement.

Starting with the entering class of Fall 2017, students who pass Statistical Methods for Business & Economics in Pre-Term will have fulfilled the Quantitative Reasoning requirement. The Pre-Term course is not for credit and is not factored into the GPA.



All students must pass 2 core courses and/or exams from the subjects below. If the core courses/exams are not completed by the start of the final semester, the student no longer has the option of completing the exam and must enroll in the core course(s) for credit.

  • American Foreign Policy Since World War II
  • Comparative Politics
  • Evolution of the International Systems
  • Theories of International Relations


Middle East Studies concentrators in the CME Track must pass exams to demonstrate proficiency in Arabic. Students pursuing the BME track may use Arabic, Hindi-Urdu or Persian (Farsi) to meet this requirement. All non-native English speakers are required to pass an English placement exam upon entering the school. Native Arabic, Hindi-Urdu or Persian (Farsi) speakers must pass proficiency in a second language which can include English.



Students must pass the Middle East Contemporary History Exam with a 70% or higher grade.



Entering Class 2016-2017
Entering Class 2015-2016
Entering Class 2014-2015
Entering Class 2013-2014
Entering Class 2012-2013
Entering Class 2011-2012
Entering Class 2010-2011
Entering Class 2009-2010


Middle East Studies Minor Requirements:

  • 3 Middle East courses (12 credits) including:
    • 2 courses with the prefix SA.860.XXX (8 credits)
    • 1 additional Middle East Studies (or cross-listed) course (4 credits)

Student pursuing a minor in Middle East Studies are not eligible to receive the summer language and thesis research stipends.

General Minor Requirements:

  • MA students may pursue an optional minor in a policy or regional program. A student cannot pursue a minor in General IR or International Economics, but can pursue a Specialization in International Economics
  • A student can have only one minor and can declare a minor at any time prior to graduation.
  • Students do not receive bidding priority for a minor.
  • All minors require three courses. Some minors require a specific course(s) and/or language proficiency.
  • A student may use a maximum of one applicable cross-listed course (4 credits) toward both a minor AND concentration requirements. In the IR or Asia concentrations, the cross-listed course must be from the primary concentration area and not from the 2 additional required courses in the other IR or Asia areas.

To add or change a minor, please click HERE.


The Middle East Studies Program has several fellowship opportunities that are available to incoming and continuing students. Selected students may receive full-tuition fellowships for the first year.

Fouad Ajami Fellowship

This newly created fellowship will provide two graduate students with summer stipends to conduct research and/or study Arabic in the Middle East each year and was established to honor the accomplishments and legacy of the late Dr. Fouad Ajami. Dr.  Ajami served as the director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins SAIS from 1980 to 2011 and was the recipient of a MacArthur Prize Fellowship, among many other awards of distinction. He also authored The Arab Predicament, Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey, and  other landmark books that shaped the field of Middle East Studies. 

Students apply for this fellowship in the spring of their first year at the school.

2015 Fouad Ajami Fellows:
Lena Abdin  will study the Syrian refugee crises in Lebanon.
Geoffrey King will explore the entrepreneurship and investment landscape in the Levant and the Gulf, while studying Arabic.

Origin: A small group of Professor Fouad Ajami’s former students gathered in July of 2014 to share their memories of their beloved professor. They decided to create an endowment in his honor, and an agreement was made with Johns Hopkins SAIS to serve as the home of the Fouad Ajami Fellowship. The Fouad Ajami Fellowship will honor and continue the work of Professor Fouad Ajami by providing the next generation of government officials, practitioners of international development, journalists, and academics with the education and language tools to support positive change in the Middle East.
The Fouad Ajami Fellowship: The fellowship will support students in four important ways:

  • Enable all interested and qualified students to study Arabic in the Middle East in the summer after their first year
  • Provide students and scholars with grants for field research in the Middle East
  • Offer need and merit-based financial aid to Middle East Studies students in the form of full or partial tuition assistance
  • Offer full or partial tuition assistance to students from the region interested in studying any concentration of their choosing in the full two-year Masters program.

Funding Goal: Over the course of his career, Fouad Ajami raised funds to extend these opportunities to hundreds of his students. To honor his support of his students and to preserve his legacy, our goal is to raise a $1 million endowment by January 2016. A $1M endowment will provide $50,000 annually to students. The Fouad Ajami Fellowship will be announced in 2015 at a special event marking the one-year anniversary of Professor Ajami’s passing where donors will be recognized.
Giving Opportunities: There are opportunities to support the endowment of the Fouad Ajami Fellowship at Johns Hopkins SAIS at the giving levels below.  Donations are 100% tax-deductible and checks should be made payable to:Johns Hopkins University – SAISSAIS Development Office, Attention Ms. Kenna Barrett, 1717 Mass. Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036.
Donations may also be made securely online at https://secure.jhu.edu/form/sais. indicating the Fouad Ajami Fellowship.

To read more about the inaugural Fouad Ajami Fellows, Geoffrey King and Lena Abdin, click here.
Contact Us: This effort is organized by a group of Professor Ajami’s students and supported by his family and Johns Hopkins University. To speak with one of the organizers of this initiative about how you can contribute to this campaign, please contact Professor Sanam Vakil at svakil1@jhu.edu +447460099009 or Megan Ring at 1-415-990-2349

The Broze Family Fellowship 
In May 2015, the Broze family made a gift to Johns Hopkins SAIS. The gift will be used to benefit the school as an endowed graduate student (tuition) fellowship to be held in perpetuity, with a preference for students with a Middle East Studies concentration, and bearing the name of the Broze Family Fellowship. The Broze Family established this fellowship in memory of Vincent Jay Broze ’71 and in honor of his appreciation for the school and the Middle East Studies program. Students are automatically considered for this fellowship when they apply to the MES program.

The David A. Kagan Fellowship 
The David M. Kagan Fellowship Fund was created in 1986 in memory of David Kagan, a former Johns Hopkins SAIS student who passed away in 1986. The funding for this fellowship was raised by David's classmates and the Kagan family, and provides income support to Middle East Studies MA candidates studying in the Middle East between their first and second years at the school. Students applying for summer funding from Middle East Studies will automatically be considered for this fellowship. Applicants are requested to submit a proposal for a project designed to promote the cause of peace in that Region - a dream envisioned by David who said "he wasn't sure he could change the world, but at least he had to try."

Timothy C. Childs Fellowship
Mr. Child's bequeathed this gift in his will to be used to fund summer thesis and language study for the Middle East Studies program. Students pursuing thesis research in the region are automatically considered for this fellowship.

Yarmouk Middle East Studies Fellowship
This gift funds fellowships for MA students including participation in summer language exchange programs. Students pursuing thesis research in the region are automatically considered for this fellowship.

To learn more about the Middle East Studies program fellowships please contact our Program Manager, Rebecca Aman to schedule a call or campus visit.



2014 (ongoing)


Pecastaing, Camille. France's Bloody Friday: The Asthetics of Violence in Paris. Foreign Affairs. November 2015.

Pecastaing, Camille. More than Killing Charlie Hebdo. World Affairs. January 2015.

Pecastaing, Camille. Overhyping ISIS. Hoover Institution. December 16, 2014.

Del Sarto, Raffaella. Defining Borders and People in the Borderlands: EU Policies, Israeli Prerogatives and the Palestinians. Journal of Common Market Studies. March 2014

Fouad Ajami Fellows


King, Geoffrey. Lebanon's Accelerating Start Up Ecosystem. SAIS Observer. October 2015.

Abdin, Lena. Antenatal Care for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon. SAIS Magazine. Winter 2016.



The Fouad Ajami Fellowship will provide the next generation of Middle East scholars with funds for summer Arabic language study and research. This Fellowship will honor Professor Ajami’s work by promoting the highest levels of scholarship and supporting the development of the next generation of intellectuals and practitioners.

ELIGIBILITY: Middle East Studies MA students in good standing, at both the Washington, DC and Bologna campuses, can apply for The Fouad Ajami Fellowship.

APPLICATION PROCESS: The application is the same as for the regular summer stipend, with the additional requirement of submitting their CV, and a 2-page proposal to Allison Janos (ajanos2@jhu.edu) by April 15. Candidates for the Fouad Ajami Fellowship should indicate their desire to be considered for that distinction and make sure to emphasize the following information in their proposal:

1) Their achievements at Johns Hopkins SAIS so far (MES courses taken, grades obtained, exams passed), their level in the Arabic or regional language, and a brief statement about their professional interests following graduation from the school.
2) A brief abstract of their research project, along with a detailed description of their plans for conducting field research in the Middle East during the summer: where they plan to travel, anticipated length of stay, contacts they may have, sources they want to explore, methodology, etc. This may include plans to study Arabic or another language in the region, if any.

SELECTION PROCESS: On the basis of academic standing at the school, and of the most promising proposal for research and study in the region, the Fellowship selection committee will choose two students to be the Fouad Ajami Fellows.

AWARD: Fellowship recipients will be awarded a stipend of $5000.00. Fellows will be notified by May 15, and the award disbursed in one payment during June.

COMMITMENTS: Fouad Ajami Fellows will be required to attend and possibly deliver a presentation at the school during their second year. Fellows are also expected to submit for publication an article or essay about their research or experience studying in the Middle East.

ABOUT: The Fouad Ajami Fellowship honors the life, legacy, and vision of Professor Ajami, who passed away on June 22, 2014. It is a fellowship that has been endowed by his friends and former students to support current young scholars who embody the values and beliefs of positive change that Professor Ajami held dear.

Contact Us

Camille Pecastaing
Academic Director & Senior Associate Professor, Middle East Studies
Rome Building, 7th floor

Allison Janos
Academic Program Coordinator
202 663 5676
BOB 716

Address & Phone

Middle East Studies
Rome Building
1619 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC