JCU Logo


COURSE NAME: "Politics of the Middle East"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2018

INSTRUCTOR: Michael Driessen
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 10:00-11:15 AM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: PL 223; Recommended: PL 209

After an examination of the historical evolution of the region from the decline of the Ottoman Empire to the establishment of modern nations, the course will examine the place of Middle Eastern states in the world system, the legacy of nationalism, pan-Arabism, the birth of Israel, the Iranian Revolution, authoritarianism and democracy. The role of Islam in both international and domestic politics will be considered, with special attention given to the historical tradition of Islam as a political movement and an identity expression.

The course is divided into historical, thematic and case sections. It begins by briefly revisiting the early modern period of Middle East history and the critical years stretching between the end of the Ottoman Empire, decolonization and the establishment of new nation-states in the Middle East. The course then examines the mix of religious, social, political, and international forces which have evolved in various guises to shape politics over the last fifty years. In order to illustrate and understand these forces, students will systematically explore (and eventually apply them to) the political profiles of Algeria, Qatar, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. The course ends by reflecting on how these forces have exploded in the recent Arab Uprisings and the battle for Syria and what that means for the new Middle East to come.

With this course, it is my hope that students will be able to master and name the basic political and social dynamics of contemporary Middle East politics and, as a result, be able to reflectively read, comprehend and evaluate the dramatic events unfolding in the region today.



In a course on contemporary regional politics, it is essential to familiarize oneself with the unfolding political events of the time, especially if the student is not acquainted with the region. Read one of the following newspapers or otherwise online media daily. We will be talking (and trying to come to terms with) these headline events throughout the course. Two quizzes, one geographical and one on current events and persons, in addition to the Midterm, will require this familiarization:


Al Jazeera: http://aljazeera.com/

Al Arabiya: http://english.alarabiya.net/

Al Ahram: http://english.ahram.org.eg/

Haaretz: http://www.haaretz.com/

BBC Middle East: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world/middle_east/

Jaddaliya (blog) : http://www.jadaliyya.com/#


One of the best ways, of course, to familiarize oneself with the politics of the Middle East is to actually visit the Middle East. The next best thing is watch Middle Eastern movies (and eat lots of humus). During class we will view and analyze part of an important film about Arab liberation movements and Arab nationalism, i.e. The Battle of Algiers. In addition, I have put six contemporary Middle Eastern films on reserve for the class at the library. For Assignment 3, you have the option of writing a critical film review of one of these movies. The films on reserve for this class are as follows:


The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)

The Yacoubian Building (Marwan Hamed, 2005)

Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad, 2005)

Ahlaam (Mohamed al-Daradji, 2005)

Budrus (Just Vision, 2010)

Al-Midan/The Square (Jehane Noujaim, 2013)

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
The Middle East (14th Edition)Ellen LustCQ Press978-1452241494  
Life as PoliticsAsef BayatStanford University Press978-0-8047-6924-2 please send for order at Almost Corner bookstore

Reading Reflections (6)1. Map Quiz 2. Reflection on Arab Nationalism & Battle of Algiers 3. Reflection on Paradise Now & Middle East Peace Process 4. Presidents, Prime Ministers, Parties, Kings and Current Events Quiz 5. Reflection on “Life as Politics” & the Yacoubian Building 6. Reflection on Arab spring 35%
Case Study Paper8-10 page country profile 30%
Mid-Term5-7 page take home exam25%
Attendance and Presence of Mind 10%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

Participation, Attendance and Presence of Mind are mandatory for this class. The goal here is to advance towards the art of asking good questions. Quality, not quantity of participation is what counts, although some quantity is better than no quality. Students will be allowed 2 unexcused absences. Each unexcused absence thereafter will result in the lowering of the attendance grade by 1/3rd a letter grade. More than 12 unexcused absences may result in a failure to pass the course.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Course Outline:

Part I. History, States, Structures, Ideas

1. Towards the Nation-state in the Modern Middle East

            Countries: Turkey & Algeria

2. State Formation and Institutions

            Countries: Syria & Iraq

3. The Regional and International Politics of the Middle East

            Countries: Israel & Palestine

4. The Political Economics of the Middle East

            Countries: Saudi Arabia & Persian Gulf States

Part II. Religion, Society, Culture, Politics

5. State-Society Relations

            Country: Morocco

6. Religion and Politics

            Countries: Iran and Lebanon

7. What the People Say

            Country: Jordan

8. Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East

            Country: Egypt

Part III. New Directions:

9. Arab Spring, War and the Islamic State

            Countries: Tunisia & Libya & Syria again

Course Calendar

January 15

Class 1

Course Introduction

Part I: History, States, Structures, Ideas

1. Towards the Nation-state in the Modern Middle East

January 17

Class 2

What is the Middle East? Where did it come from?

Michael Gasper, “The Making of the Modern Middle East,” in Middle East, (Chapter 1), pp.s 1-26.

William Dalrymple, “The Truth about Muslims,” New York Review of Books (2004).

January 22

Class 3

Empires, Colonialism and Modernization

Assignment 1: Map Quiz

Michael Gasper, “The Making of the Modern Middle East,” in Middle East, (Chapter 1), pp.s 26-53.

Mine Eder, “Turkey,” in Middle East, (Chapter 25), pp.s 854-867.

Recommended: Economist, “Sykes Picot 100 years on,” 2016

Kemal H. Karpat, “The Transformation of the Ottoman State, 1789-1908,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 3 (1972).

January 24

Class 4

Liberation and Arab Nationalism

Read Lahouari Addi, “Algeria,” Middle East (Chapter 9), pp.s 403-414.

Fouad Ajami, “The End of Pan-Arabism,” Foreign Affairs 57 (1978).

Film: Battle of Algiers

Recommended: Read the rest of Lahouari Addi’s chapter, “Algeria,” Middle East (Chapter 9).

2. State Formation and Institutions

January 29

Class 5

Institutions and States

Assignment 2 Due: Reflection on Arab Nationalism & Battle of Algiers

Ellen Lust, “Institutions and Governance,” in Middle East, (Chapter 4).

Recommended: Adeed Dawisha, “Requiem for Arab Nationalism,” Middle East Quarterly Winter (2003).

January 31

Class 6


Eva Bellin, “The Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East,” Comparative Politics (2004).

Steven Heydemann, “Upgrading Arab Authoritarianism,” Brookings Institute (2007).

Recommended:  Raymond Hinnebusch, “Syria,” in Middle East, (Chapter 23) & Julia Choucair-Vizoso, “Iraq,” in Middle East, (Chapter 12).

3. The Regional and International Politics of the Middle East

February 5

Class 7

Israel, Palestine, Wars

Read, Mark Tessler,“The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” (Chapter 7), pp.s 288-343.

Recommended: Lihi Ben Shitrit,“Israel,” in Middle East, & Alaa Tartir & Benoit Challand, “Palestine” (Chapters 13 & 20).

February 7

Class 8

Regional Alliance Formations

Read, Mark Tessler,“The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” (Chapter 7), pp.s 343-369.

Michael Gasper, “The Making of the Modern Middle East,” in Middle East, (Chapter 1), pp.s 53-70.

Recommended: Stephen Walt, The Origins of Alliances, Cornell University Press, chapters 3 & 4 [on reserve]

February 12

Class 9

Iran-Iraq War

Read, Marc Lynch, “International Relations,” in Middle East, (Chapter 8)

Recommended: Gary Sick, “Trial by Error: Reflections on the Iran-Iraq War,” Middle East Journal 43 (1989).

Martyr Burials and Election Politics in Iran,” Middle East Research and Information Project, 2009

February 14

Class 10

International Politics


Fred Halliday, Middle East and International Politics, (2005)  pp.s 21-41 [on reserve].


4. The Political Economics of the Middle East

February 16

Class 11

Political Development

Assignment 3 Due : Reflection on Middle East Peace & Wars

(Make up for April 25 Holiday)

Melanie Cammett and Ishac Diwan,“The Political Economy of Development in the Middle East” in Middle East, (Chapter 3).

February 19

Class 12

Oil States and Rentierism

Mid-Term Exam Distributed

Pascal Menoret, “Saudi Arabia,” and Michael Herb, “The Lower Gulf States,”  in Middle East, in Middle East, (Chapters 21 & 18).

Recommended:   Michael Ross, “Does Oil Hinder Democracy,” World Politics 53 (2001)

Michael Herb, “A Nation of Bureaucrats: Political Participation and Economic Diversification in Kuwait and the UAE”, International Journal of Middle East Studies 41(3) 2009.

Part II: Religion, Society, Culture, Politics

5. State-Society Relations

February 21

Class 13

Social Transformations

Read Valentine M. Moghadam and Tabitha Decker, “Social Change in the Middle East” in Middle East, (Chapter 2).

February 26

Class 14

New Demographies

Olivier Roy, “The Transformation of the Arab World,” Journal of Democracy,” (2012).

Driss Maghraoui and Saloua Zerhouni, “Morocco” in Middle East, (Chapter 19).

6. Religion and Politics

March 12

Class 16

Post-Islam and Politics

Read Robert Lee and Lihi Ben Shitrit, “Religion, Society, and Politics in the Middle East”in Middle East, (Chapter 5).

Read Mehrzad Boroujerdi, “Iran”  in Middle East, (Chapter 11)

Recommended: Sebnem Gumuscu, “Class, Status and Party: The Changing Face of Political Islam in Turkey and Egypt,” Comparative Political Studies (2010)

Ates Altinordu “Occupy Gezi: Beyond the Religious-Secular Cleavage,” The Immanent Frame (2013).

Paul Salem, “Lebanon,”  in Middle East, (Chapter 16).

Mona el-Ghobashy “The Metamorphosis of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers,International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 37 (2005)

Carrie Wickham, “The Path to Moderation: Strategy and Learning in the Formation of Egypt’s Wasat Party,” Comparative Politics (2004).

7.What the People Say

March 14

Class 18

Democracy Attitudes & Muslim Pluralism

Mark Tessler, Amaney Jamal and Michael Robbins. 2012. “New Findings on Arabs and Democracy,Journal of Democracy 23(4) 89-103

Recommended: Laurie A. Brand, “Jordan” in Middle East, (Chapter14).

Charles Kurzman and Didem Turkoglu, “Do Muslims Vote Islamic Now?” Journal of Democracy 26 (2015).

Read Janine Clark and Lina Khatib, “Actors, Public Opinion, and Participation,” in Middle East (Chapter 6).

8. Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East

March 16

Class 19

The Poor and the Perpetual Pursuit of Life Chances

(Make up for cancelled class for conference)

Read Bayat, chapters 1, 3 & 4

Recommended: Tarek Masoud, “Egypt,” in Middle East (Chapter 10).

Bayat, chapter 6

March 19

Class 21

Everyday Cosmopolitanism

Read Bayat chapters 10 & 11

Recommended:  Rock the Mullahs & Heavy Metal Islam,” Interview with Mark Levine on Slate

III. New Horizons

9.Arab Spring, War and the Islamic State

March 21

Class 22

F. Gregory Gause, “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring: The Myth of Authoritarian Stability,” Foreign Affairs (81) 2011.

Laryssa Chomiak and Bobby Parks, “Tunisia,” in Middle East (Chapter 24), pp.s 820-848.

Timeline: link

Map: link


Pomeps Report, “Reflections 5 years after the Uprisings,”

Economist, “Has the Arab Spring Failed?” Special Report (2013)

March 26

Class 23

Assignment 4: Presidents, Prime Ministers, Parties, Kings and Current Events Quiz

Egypt vs the Maghrebi Springs


Khalil Al-Anani, “The Rise and Fall of the Muslim Brotherhood,” The Middle East Journal 69, 4(2015)


The Economist, “The Ruining of Egypt,” August (2016)

Jacob Mundy, “Libya” in Middle East, (Chapter 17).

Michael Driessen, “Algerian Elections: Everybody Loses Again” (2012)

Ahmed Benchemsi, “Morocco: Outfoxing the Opposition,” Journal of Democracy (2012).

March 28

Class 24

Refo-lutions? Islam and the Arab Spring

Read Bayat chapters 12, 13, 14 & 15



Pomep’s Report,Turkey’s Coup Attempt,” (2016)

April 9

Class 25

Assignment 5 Due: Reflection on Life as Politics

Syria and the rise of ISIS

Geneive Abdo, “The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of the Shi’a-Sunni Divide,” Brookings March/April (2013)

BBC “The Arise of the Islamic State,”


Lynch “The War for the Arab World,Foreign Policy March (2013) [response to Abdo] & Human Rights Watch: Syria Government Likely Culprit in Chemical Attack

April 11

Class 26

The Islamic State and its Aftermath

Pomep’s Report, “Islam and International Order,” (2015), section 1

Shadi Hamid, “The End of Pluralism,” The Atlantic (2014)


Wendy Pearlman, (2017) We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled excerpts in Harper’s Magazine

April 16

Class 27

New Convulsions I

Shadi Hamid, Peter Mandaville and William McCants, “How the United States Changed its Approach to Political Islam,Atlantic (2017)

Scott Anderson, “Trump’s Jersualem Policy is more Ambivalent than it seems,” Foreign Policy (2017)


Putin and Erdogan warn move risks escalating tensions,” Al Jazeera (December 2017)

April 18

Class 28

New Convulsions II

Krishnadev Calumur, “The Lessons of Iran’s Protests,” Atlantic (2018)

I will Return Saudi Arabia to Moderate Islam,” Interview with Muhammad bin Salman, The Guardian, October (2017)

Recommended: “How and why to win the war in Yemen,” the Economist, November (2017) & Anne Barnard and Maria Abi-Habib, “Why Saad Hariri had that strange sojourn in Saudi Arabia,” New York Times, December (2017)


April 23

Class X

Conclusions and Review Session

Final Exam

Hand in papers