PhD Projects

Information for students interested in a PhD project

Please consider the following conditions/requirements:

General conditions: A master degree in political science or in an intersection between political science and Middle Eastern studies is required (final grade at least 2,0 – German grading scale; i.e. “excellent”).

Potential topics: You should make sure that the topic of your dissertation matches the research interests of the chair.

Preparation of a proposal: You should hand in a proposal of approximately 10 pages that captures your research question and its scientific relevance, an overview of the methodology you are planning to adapt as well as possible outcomes of your research.

As a doctoral candidate, you are expected to submit a formal application of your dissertation project at the FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, sign a supervision agreement, and participate in the research colloquium (weekly event during the semester). Once every semester, doctoral candidates should present the state of their research in the colloquium.

Current PhD projects

Miriam Bohn, M.A.

The Uninvited Guest? Linking Decentralization      Efforts and Elite Networks in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Encouraged by western donors including the IMF and World Bank, highly centralized Arab regimes introduced decentralization reforms as a means to enhance local autonomy, increase political participation and improve their economic situation ever since the 1990s. The widespread protests in the Arab world in 2011, which mostly originated from the socio-politically neglected local periphery, pushed these reform projects even further. However, the outcome of decentralization efforts in the Arab world is subject to strong clientelist networks on all levels of government – central, regional, and local. Yet, in turn, decentralization reforms are also breaking up patterns of authoritarian rule by providing new opportunities for local elites and other political stakeholders to evolve. This research project builds on an interplay between top-down decisions and contentious politics in Jordan by asking the following questions: Are decentralization efforts reinforcing authoritarian structures by enhancing central control in the periphery? Does decentralization develop its own momentum by opening up new spaces for contentious politics and thus, give way to unpredictable bottom-up dynamics?

Manar Rachwani, M.A.

Legitimacy and Sectarianism in the Arab World: The Cases of Syria, Bahrain and Egypt

For decades, the Arab world, in general, has stood as a startling global example of the survival of authoritarian and autocratic regimes. While the eruption of the so-called ‘The Arab Spring’ in 2011 was hoped to bring to an end the ‘Arab Exceptionalism’, it, in reality, has only coincided with the surge of sectarian strife in the region as a whole, and prompted some politicians and researchers to argue in favor of Arab non-democratic regimes as the only ‘safety valve’ against sectarian conflicts.
Nevertheless, the sudden rise of sectarianism is, obviously, not limited to the countries where regimes have collapsed, but it rather seems a regional phenomenon that encompasses almost all of the Arab countries, including the relatively stable ones. This, in short, suggests some kind of correlation between sectarian strife in the Arab World, either violent or non-violent (yet), and the policies/strategies that are employed by the regimes; namely the survival strategies.
Accordingly, through the cases of Syria, Bahrain and Egypt, this study seeks to examine the correlation between the persistence and rise of sectarian tension in the region since the creation/independence of the new Arab states, and the survival strategies implemented by the Arab regimes, especially the legitimation strategies that constitute the core of the former strategies. In other words, this study is attempting to answer the question: How legitimation strategies implemented by Arab non-democratic regimes feed into the rise (or the ebb) of sectarianism in the Arab world?

Katharina Nicolai, M.A.

Green Temptations: Environmental Sustainability as a Catch-All Policy Field in Morocco

The Kingdom of Morocco is frequently considered a frontrunner in clean energy transition and a promoter of environmental sustainability. However, much indicates that this policy field has concurrently become a playground for the authoritarian regime to pursue ulterior motives and goals. Using the ‘environmental lens’, this thesis examines how an autocratic regime instrumentalizes soft power to pursue hard issues. The implementation of cooptation and legitimation strategies are investigated at a domestic, regional and international level in the field of environmental sustainability. The project advances research on autocratic stability, sheds (green) light on Morocco’s foreign policy ambitions, and contributes to understanding the hurdles and pitfalls that undermine effective realization of environmental sustainability.

Aline de Oliveira Alencar, M.A.

Ennahda from within: from Political Islam to Muslim Democracy

This project aims to conduct an analysis of the ideological strategic changes carried out by the Ennahda Party in the post-revolutionary Tunisian context. During its 10th General Assembly, on May 2016, the party re-branded itself from an “Islamist” to a “Muslim Democrat” party and split the movement into separate religious and political wings, ending a 40-year history of Islamist identity. Considering these developments, the present project aims to answer to the following question: why has Ennahda carried out such a strategy change? The research will be guided by two preliminary hypotheses, drawn from the observation of both the domestic and international contexts: 1) domestically, we see taking place the so called “moderation by inclusion” hypothesis, which states the movement opted to change strategy to face the constraints inherent to inclusion in the political process; 2) internationally, we see the occurrence of cross-border sharing of ideas and emulation of patterns of behavior among Islamist parties in the region, bringing to Ennahda the influence of similar trends of moderation from other Islamist groups in the region.

Nina Nowar, M.A.

“Lost in Transition“- The struggle over culture and identity in the local space of Tunis

Rather than drawing the picture of a linear transition to democracy, this research project offers an alternative reading of the Tunisian uprisings and the current developments since 2011.
In contrast with the general tendency of the social sciences, it deliberately focuses on the multitude of social struggles on the local level and the redefinition of the Tunisian society.
The research goal is to provide insides to the construction of identities and the enforcement of moral norms in public spaces, which were translated into an issue of national contestation after the Arab Spring.
They now constitute the crucial factor for the understanding of the struggles over the Tunisian political system as well as its constitutional order.

Tobias Zumbrägel, M.A.

The delusion of being eco-friendly: Environmental policymaking and the quest of legitimation in the oil-rich Arab Gulf monarchies 

In contrast to the already existing vast amount of explanations for the resilience of Gulf monarchies during the Arab upheavals since 2011, the project aims at investigating the legitimizing effect of environmental policymaking in the fossil fuel-rich countries of the Arabian Peninsula. The comparative analysis includes efforts of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi towards more sustainability as a means to garner legitimation and secure the regimes’ hold on power. A multi-method research design combining rational as well as constructivist arguments is applied for exploring this form of ‘eco regime resilience’ under authoritarian rule.


Completed PhDs

Matthias Sailer, M.Sc.

Survival, Money and Power: Gulf Foreign Policies towards Egypt since 2011

Since the uprisings of 2010/2011 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have supported very different political actors in Egypt. By applying an agency-focused approach the project evaluates the role of regime survival, geostrategy and personal business interests as drivers behind the foreign policies implemented by the Arab Gulf States’ core elites in order to explain these heterogenous policy patterns.

Dr. Ziad Koussa Ziad Koussa

The Arab Revolutionary Uprisings in Egypt: An Analysis of David Harvey’s Framework of Accumulation by Dispossession (2018)

This thesis critiques mainstream theoretical frameworks that explain the origins of the Arab Revolutionary Uprisings in Egypt. It offers David Harvey’s perspective, as an alternative theoretical model, to explore the uprisings from the conceptual frame of „Accumulation by dispossession.” Our work will focus on the underlying development of privatization, commodification, and financialization that became tools of dispossession and redistribution of public wealth, from the lower to upper classes. Specifically, these processes will be studied in the domains of public lands and housing. Moreover,  we will argue through an analysis of available empirical data that these processes progressively induced massive discontent and resistance that culminated in the 2011 revolutionary uprising.

Dr. Mahmoud Jaraba

Moderation or Transformation: Explaining the Different Ideological Trajectories of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Turkish Justice and Development Party (2013)

This dissertation provides a comparative analysis of processes of ideological transformation by ISMs using the cases of the Turkish Justice and Development Party (JDP) and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The research traces the transformation of power networks that have occurred in recent decades in Turkey and Egypt. It employs an analytical approach focusing on the concept of the “regime” as an interrelated system of power networks: political, economic, ideological and military. The dissertation explains the divergent processes of ideological formation and reformulation in which the JDP and the Egyptian MB operate and attempt to reshape their respective regimes in order to gain access to and transform the social and political spheres in their respective countries. The central question in this analysis asks: How do changes in the power networks of regimes facilitate or restrict the trajectory of Islamic movements’ development in terms of their ideology, goals and political strategy?


Dr. Meltem Kulaçatan

Gender Discourses in Media: Turkish-German Press in Europe (2012)

Meltem Kulaçatan stellt das Geschlechterverhältnis in der medialen Öffentlichkeit in den Fokus, das sie auf der Grundlage des Pressediskurses der Europaausgaben der türkischen Tageszeitungen Hürriyet und Zaman untersucht. Basierend auf der deutschsprachigen Mehrheitsöffentlichkeit, der Öffentlichkeit in der Türkei und der türkischsprachigen Teilöffentlichkeit in Deutschland analysiert die Autorin die räumlichen und inhaltlichen diskursiven Verschränkungen anhand des Geschlechterdiskurses. Dabei lassen sich im Geschlechterverhältnis der türkischsprachigen Tageszeitungen Diskursverschränkungen feststellen, die eng mit der Politik in der Türkei verwoben sind. Gleichzeitig ist der Pressediskurs über die verhandelten Geschlechterbeziehungen sowohl mit dem Integrationsdiskurs als auch mit dem Politikdiskurs in Deutschland verschränkt, was sich in der Berichterstattung über Frauen aus dem türkischen und islamischen Kontext widerspiegelt.


Dr. Christian WolffChristian Wolff

Freiheit, Bürger und Staat: Die Entwicklung libaralen Denkens in der ägyptischen Muslimbruderschaft (2015)

Grundlage der Arbeit ist die These, dass sich die ägyptische Muslimbruderschaft liberale Prinzipien moderner Staatlichkeit, wie beispielsweise Rechtsstaatlichkeit, demokratische Prozeduren, Eigentums- und Bürgerrechtsschutz sowie der Kontrolle von Herrschaft, bereits in früher Zeit angeeignet hat. Die Übernahme liberaler Begrifflichkeiten, das zeigt diese Arbeit, ist eng verbunden mit dem individuellen und dem kollektiven Erfahrungshintergrund der Muslimbruderschaft und ihrer führenden Mitglieder. So ist die Erfahrung der Repression durch autoritäre Regime prägend für das Verständnis von Freiheits- und Schutzrechten des Bürgers. Das Konzept des zivilen islamischen Staates, welches die Muslimbruderschaft nach ihrem Wahlerfolg von 2005 vorgelegt hat, kann deshalb als eine Art Blaupause der Annäherung des Islamismus an demokratische und liberale Staatlichkeit verstanden werden. Vor diesem Hintergrund sind zahlreiche führende Mitglieder der Bruderschaft in den Jahren 2007, 2009 und 2010 zu persönlichen Erfahrungen, aber auch zu ihren Einstellungen bestimmten Kernbegriffen liberalen Denkens gegenüber befragt worden.