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General Sir Peter de la Billière Scholars

This al-Sabah doctoral fellowship is named in honour of General Sir Peter de la Billière.

Abdullah al-Khonaini

Abdullah al-Khonaini joined the School of Government and International Affairs in October 2022 as General Sir Peter de la Billière doctoral fellow of the al-Sabah Programme. He completed his M.A. in "Power, Participation, and Social Change" from the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex University in October 2019. He co-founded 'Raqib50', an online parliament watch that holds Kuwaiti parliamentarians accountable by making their voting records accessible to the public.

His research project investigates legislation processes in the Kuwait National Assembly (KNA). The project aims to understand the politics of legislation and the evolution of parliamentary committees' formation in the National Assembly. Generally, the project examines the political and power dynamics of the KNA.

Abdullah has published in both Arabic and English languages in the Washington Post, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut, Gulf International Forum in DC, Gulf Centre for Development Policies in Kuwait, and others. His writings have covered topics on citizenship, gender, and participation. More about his work, research projects, and publications can be found here.

Jia Liu

Jia Liu joined the School of Government & International Affairs in January 2021 as General Sir Peter de la Jia LiuBillière doctoral fellow of H.H. Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah Programme. Before embarking on her doctoral research at Durham University, Jia completed an MA in Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University and an MA in Research Methods (International Relations) at Durham University. She also acquired a BA in Persian and a BL in Foreign Affairs at Beijing Foreign Studies University. Furthermore, Jia has studied in Iran and Jordan and worked in the UAE. She speaks Chinese, English, Farsi, and Arabic.

In her doctoral research, Jia investigates China’s conflict management in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen between 2013 and 2023. Jia’s previous research included qualitative research on a Hazara social movement in Afghanistan and quantitative analysis of China’s economic relations with the Middle East. 


Liu, Jia. 2023. “China in Afghanistan: The BRI as a Vehicle for Influence.” In Anoushiravan Ehteshami, Benjamin Houghton, and Jia Liu (editors) China Moves West: The Evolving Strategies of the Belt and Road Initiative. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Ehteshami, Anoushiravan., Houghton, Benjamin., and Liu, Jia. 2023. China Moves West: The Evolving Strategies of the Belt and Road Initiative. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.


SGIA2311-Middle East in the International System

Conference Presentation

“China in Iran-Saudi Normalization - Deconstructing the Notion of ‘Responsible Chinese Power’” at Gulf Studies Symposium. Georgetown University, Washington DC, US. 4-5 March 2024.

“China’s Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Iran” at Workshop titled Comparing Energy Transition in the European Union and China. NIAS Lorentz Center. Leiden, the Netherland. 11-14 December 2023. 

“China’s Interaction with the Taliban” at the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies 2023 Conference. Exeter University, Exeter, UK. 3-5 July 2023.

“China’s Historical Self and Chinese Approaches to Middle Eastern Security Issues” at the Annual Conference of the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. Durham University, Durham, UK. 14 June 2022.

“Motives and Approaches of Jonbesh-e Roshanayi – Analysis of Four Insiders’ Views” at Workshop on Afghanistan (Panel 1: Security Issues in Afghanistan: Its Neighbours and the Future of the Country), organised by Swedish South Asian Studies Network. Lund University, Lund, Sweden. 10 Oct 2019.

Research Interests

  • China’s Conflict Management in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen
  • Chinese-Iranian Relations
  • Role Theory
  • Research Design
  • Ethnic Relations in Afghanistan

Mr Irfan Azeez Azeez

Mr Irfan Azeez Azeez joined the School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA) in January 2018. Mr Irfan Azeez Azeez investigates how IS has shaped Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI)-Turkey relations and KRI-Iran relations. More broadly, the research aims to deepen the understanding of the role of non-state actors in the Middle Eastern region.

View Mr Ifran Azeez Azeez’s profile

Mr Jacopo Scita

Mr Jacopo Scita joined the School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA) in October 2018.  Jacopo investigates the historical evolution of the role bore by China within Sino-Iranian relations, with a specific focus on Beijing involvement in the negotiations that led to the approval of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), better known as the Iran Deal. The project aims to shed light on the partnership between China and Iran, one of the most intriguing and complex ramifications of the growing Chinese presence in the Middle East.

View Mr Jacopo's profile