Monshipouri - IR324 Middle East and North Africa in International Relations: Focus: The Arab Spring

Syllabus for Guidance – IR324 Middle East and North Africa in International Relations: Focus: The Arab Spring (Fall 2012)

Prof. Mahmood Monshipouri


Course Description

This course is designed to analyze the wave of protests now spreading across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Recent revolts and revolutions have opened the door for a fundamental rethinking of the paradigms used to understand the MENA region. Since Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution and the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, protest movements across the Arab world have triggered a renewed interest in the literature of social unrest, social movements, and the role of information technology in shaping new identities and norm diffusion in the region.

This class begins with a brief historical review of the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the anti-colonialist revolt, the emergence of Israel, secular nationalism, and the rise of Islamism in all its populist, revolutionary, conservative, and revivalist forms. We then shift our focus to new modes of thinking about the region—grounded in both political economy and discourse analysis—by devoting considerable attention to examining a wide variety of reasons behind social protests and movements in the region. We adopt both a case study approach—focusing primarily on Iran’s Green Movement (since 2009) and the new Arab revolts since 2011—focusing on Tunisia and Egypt—and a comparative study of revolts in the region. We also take a thematic approach to the causes of social unrest and identity formation in the region.

What these movements have in common is that they all are non-violent, non-ideological, and rooted largely in economic and political grievances. In the context of the Arab awakening, we take a closer look at the way new identities have been constructed and influenced by the demographic youth bulge, electronic and social media, failed neoliberal policies, and U.S. intervention in the region post-9/11, and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Finally, we investigate the region’s evolving geopolitics and geo-economics in the hope of providing students with analytical insights necessary for a comprehensive understanding of region’s politics, society, and culture.

Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • Understand the contemporary forces shaping/influencing the MENA region, including states, power relations, politics, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), social media, and the struggles for human rights in the making of the modern MENA region.
  • Comprehend the dynamics of the 2011 Arab Spring and lingering tensions in the MENA region.
  • Understand the role of the youth, modern technology (e.g., social media), and democratic uprisings in the MENA region, as well as the role played by regional and external powers.
  • Apply the knowledge acquired in this course to explore issues such as peaceful democratic change, technology diffusion and social change, social media and change in the Arab world, Iran’s Green Movement, and the search for stability and development.
  • Comprehend difficult moral and strategic choices that leaders of the MENA region have to make given the geopolitical realities that influence the region.
  • Use tools of critical analysis to address, identify, and analyze the sources of social change and uprisings in the MENA region, while also offering policy recommendations to policymakers in this regard.

Required Texts

We use several textbooks about social unrest, revolts, and revolutions in the MENA region. The following books provide historical and contemporary perspectives on the events and developments leading to the creation of modern nation-states in the region in the early twentieth century, as well as events leading up to the 2011 Arab uprisings. Some of these texts examine these uprisings with a particular emphasis on their future implications for the region and beyond.

  • Marwan Bishara, The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolution, New York: Nation Books, 2012.
  • William L. Cleveland and Martin Bunton, Fourth Edition, A History of the Modern Middle East, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2009.
  • Wael Ghonim, Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People is Greater than the People in Power, A Memoir, Boston, MASS: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.
  • Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future, Brooklyn, NY: Melville, 2010.
  • Kenneth M. Pollack, et. al., The Arab Awakening: America and the Transformation of the Middle East, Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 2011.
  • Jeannie Sowers and Chris Toensing, eds., The Journey to Tahrir: Revolution, Protest, and Social Change in Egypt, NY: Verso Books, 2012.

Additionally, students are required to subscribe to the Christian Science Monitor for the duration of the semester to stay informed on the events as they unfold and using them for their portfolios.


The following sources examine the leading causes of the 2011 Arab revolts in the MENA region from different angles:

  • James Petras, The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack, London: Clarity Press, 2011.
  • Mahmood Monshipouri, Democratic Uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa: Youth, Technology, and Human Rights (Paradigm Publishers, forthcoming).
  • Philip N. Howard, The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Robin Wright, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011, pp. 291 plus Index.
  • Anthony Tirado Chase, Human Rights, Revolution, and Reform in the Muslim World, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012.
  • Ashraf Khalil, Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.
  • Marc Lynch, Susan B. Glasser, and Blake Hounshell, eds., Revolution in the Arab World: Tunisia, Egypt, and the Unmaking of an Era, Washington, D.C.: Foreign Policy, 2011. E-book.
  • Middle East Report, North Africa, Vol. 41, No. 259, Summer 2011.

For further insights on the construction of new identities in the MENA region more specifically and the Muslim world more generally, the following source is helpful:

Mahmood Monshipouri, Muslims in Global Politics: Identities, Interests, and Human Rights, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

The additional items under further readings list offer students an opportunity to study a subject of their choice in more depth:

The Council on Foreign Relations, The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What It Means, and What Comes Next, New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2011.

David W. Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Ellen Lust-Okar and Saloua Zerhouni, eds., Political Participation in the Middle East, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008.

Marina Ottaway and Julia Choucair-Vizoso, eds., Beyond the Façade: Political Reform in the Arab World, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, D.C.: 2008.

Thomas R. Mattair, Global Security Watch: Iran, A Reference Handbook, Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2008.

David W. Lesch, ed., The Middle East and the United States, Fourth Edition, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2007.

Louise Fawcett, International Relations of the Middle East, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Fred Holliday, The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics, and Ideology, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Roger Owen, State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East, 2nd ed., New York: Routledge, 2000.

Mir Zohair Husain, Global Islamic Politics, 2nd ed., New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc. 2003.

Manochehr Dorraj. ed., Middle East at the Crossroads: The Changing Political Dynamics and the Foreign Policy Challenges, Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1999.

Alan Richards and John Waterbury, A Political Economy of the Middle East, 2nd ed., Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996.

John L. Esposito and John O. Voll, Islam and Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Class Meetings

Lectures and discussions occur on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Attendance is strongly recommended and class participation is valued highly. The instructor certainly reserves the right to adjust a student’s grade based on his or her participation (or lack thereof) in class.


You will be evaluated on the basis of the mid-term exam and the final exam, class participation, a presentation, and a 15-page term paper, a portfolio, and participation in two workshops. The details regarding the term paper assignment and its structure, as well as other assignments including portfolio, will be discussed thoroughly in the first meeting of the term. Here is the breakdown:

Mid-term exam(20%)100 points

Final exam(20%)100 points

Term paper(20%)100 points

Portfolio(10%) 50 points

Workshops(10%) 50 points

Class presentation/simulation(10%) 50 points

Class participation(10%) 50 points

Total(100%) 500 points

The grading scale will be as follows:

A= 475 or aboveB-=415-424D+=335-364



B=425-434C-=365-374F=314-and below

Students are expected to attend all class sessions, to read all assignments before the dates they are discussed in class, to contribute to class discussions, and to prepare summary reports on the day of in-class presentations.

Course Requirements

Research Paper:

Students are required to write a two-page research proposal. Details of this proposal and date of its submission will be discussed no later than the second week. Students are required to submit a word processed, hard copy, paginated, and double-spaced, 12-point font paper. The paper should be approximately 15 pages and contain sufficient APA or Chicago style citations. The research paper is due on December 11, 2012. The details regarding the research paper will be thoroughly discussed on the first session of the semester. You may write a thematic paper, choose a case study, or a comparative analysis that focuses on similarities and differences between two, three, or even more states.


The paper should start with (1) a brief introduction, which is followed by your central research questions and core argument (also known as a thesis statement), a statement of the significance of your project and a brief description of the project’s organization. In the next section (2) your analysis and findings are presented in an organized manner with distinct sub-headings or sub-titles. Finally (3) comes your conclusion, which is a brief summarization and critical analysis of the topic at hand that brings the project full circle and relates back to the research question and introduction. Please meet the deadline for the submission of the paper. Late papers are not accepted.


Both the mid-term and final exams will be a combination of conceptual and factual questions, short essays, and at least two long essays, asking students to analyze and critically examine a topic.

In Class

Please avoid using texting, cell phones, surfing the web, or reading newspapers once class starts. Likewise, avoid disruptive behavior that detracts from the conduciveness of the learning environment. Do not repeatedly arrive late and interrupt others. Your regular class attendance is required. Please make every possible effort to attend class consistently. Your regular class attendance on Mondays/Wednesdays is required. Please make every possible effort to attend class consistently. There is an attendance policy outlined below:

Missed sessionsThe Percentage to be taken off the final exam grade





7Failure in the grade or the maximum grade will be D.

Course Rules:

The following rules govern the requirements for this course:

1.Make-up exams are given only under extraordinary circumstances. The nature & timing of exam will be determined by the instructor. Students are strongly urged to avoid make-up tests by taking regular exams.

2.Failure to take any one of the exams results in a failing grade for the course.

3.Failure to turn in your paper by the date assigned will result in a failing grade for that assignment.

4.Instructor reserves the right to use his discretion in instances of extreme emergency or serious illness. Appropriate documentation must be provided by students in either event.

Attention: Academic dishonesty will be penalized by taking appropriate action including, but not limited to, adjusting the final grade for the course. If you have any questions regarding this situation, please feel free to talk to the instructor. Also students with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations are encouraged to contact the instructor early in the semester. The Disability Programs and Resource Center (DPRC) is available to facilitate the reasonable accommodations process. The DPRC, at San Francisco State University, located in SSB 110, can be reached by telephone at 338-2472 (voice/TTY) or by email at