Economics, Politics and Ideas in the Middle East and North Africa

Course Description: 

Political Science 142A

Economics, Politics and Ideas in the Middle East and North Africa

Fall 2012

Kiren Aziz Chaudhry

The events of September 11, 2001 confirmed the conventional wisdom that the Middle East is a violent, mysterious and dangerous area racked by “ancient” primordial hatreds, held together by authoritarian regimes. The “Arab Spring” appears to challenge the second part of this wisdom: regimes in place since the 1960s, or earlier, have been toppled by popular protest. However, it is a truism that those who make the revolution do not always control its course. The politically diverse forces that made the “Arab Spring” are being consolidated by “moderate” religious parties in Tunisia and Egypt. Libya has descended into a nebulous and localized civil war and both Iraq and Syria are caught in the sectarian cross-fire between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with an uncertain future. The region has moved from stable authoritarianism to unstable “democracy.” But is the “Spring” really about “democracy?”

The aim of this course is to identify and understand the local, domestic and international factors through historical analysis of the political economy and politics of the region. We will trace the collective history of the region since WWI, when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, through the rise and fall of Pan-Arabism, the Arab Cold War, the political stasis of the boom-time years of 1973-1983 and the subsequent division of the region between Suni and Shi’a following the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The “Arab Spring” is but one of the more dramatic examples of region-wide transformations. Within the broader narrative, we will discuss several countries in depth.

Although the Arab-Israeli conflict has been, and remains an extremely important factor in shaping events, this course will focus on this issue only to the extent that it has effected developments in the region and in particular countries. *If you are interested primarily in the minutia of the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim-Israeli conflict do not take this course.* We will also not directly study the issue of gender inequality. There are several courses in other departments that are dedicated to these subjects.

This is an extremely challenging course that requires an inordinate amount of energy, hard work and engagement. Lecture will not summarize readings, it will supplement them. Those with a background in Middle East studies will have to learn political economy and vice versa. It is expected that students will complete assigned reading before lecture, attend lecture and discussion section and actively participate in both fora. In addition, students should be prepared to answer impromptu questions posed to them in class. This form of teaching is known as the “Socratic method,” which involves active and public dialogue. Some students do not feel comfortable with this pedagogical strategy.


Requirements: There will be a take-home essay in the mid-term, and an in-class examination during finals week. There will be three quizzes, one announced (the map quiz) two unannounced. Students who have difficulty with expository writing will be asked to take a tutorial on how to write an essay. If they avail themselves of this opportunity, they will be allowed to re-submit their mid-term essays for a second review.