Political Science 375: Middle East Politics

Fall 2009

Northern Illinois University

Dusable Hall Room # 246


Class Meetings: Tuesday, Thursday 12:30-1:45pm

Instructor: Mazen Nagi

Office: Academic Advising Center, 100H (Between Parking Deck and Library)

Phone: 753-2546

Email: mazen@niu.edu

Office Hours: Thursday, 2-4, Academic Advising Center Satellite Office, Grant South B-Tower, Basement OR by appointment in my main office



The Middle East is and important and often deeply misunderstood region of the world. Its significance emanates from a number of sources. For instance, it is the cradle of Western civilization. At various points in ancient times, Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires all flourished in this part of the world. Also, the Middle East is the birthplace of three major religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - as well as home to a variety of cultures and peoples including, but certainly not limited to, Arabs, Berbers, Armenians, Jews, Iranians, Turks and Kurds. This diversity has and will continue to serve as a source of conflict. Further, outside intervention has been a constant theme throughout Middle East history. While the region is not in danger of being overrun by Romans, Mongols, or Turks, it will continue to be of vital interest to the United States and other major powers. The Middle East is the world’s largest source of petroleum, a major recipient of foreign aid, and of vital strategic importance. And now in the absence of a major communist threat, many Western states regard militant Islamic fundamentalism and certain Middle Eastern countries among their greatest threats. This perception has only been reinforced by the events of September 11, 2001, the religious justifications of some of the more extreme groups involved in insurgency/resistance in Iraq, and recently initiated open repression of the Iranian reform movement.


            Despite its significance, the Middle East is often confusing and, at times, inexplicable to the average American. Much of this mystery or complexity stems from the diversity of the region. Many individuals, for example, are unfamiliar with the various sects of Islam and the divisions within other regional faiths. In addition, the greater Middle East comprises of no less than twenty states, each with its own character and history. Moreover, these countries embrace a variety of political systems: authoritarian regimes, monarchies, parliamentary democracies, presidential democracies, theocracies and so forth. Last, there are significant distinctions among states in terms of wealth, population and territorial size, education levels, minority groups, internal politics, domestic policies and foreign relations.


            The primary purpose of this course is to make sense of this significant but often confusing region of the world. While this investigation cannot ignore religion, culture, and social life, it is important to remember this is a political science course and these topics will not be the major emphasis. Rather, the vast majority of our time will be devoted to studying the politics, governments and foreign relations of several Middle Eastern states. This country-by-country examination will be preceded by background information, including political history since World War I. The first portion of the course will focus on the major conflicts that have shaped the region. Additionally, time permitting; various theories on leadership and legitimacy in the Middle East will be surveyed.


            It is important to note that this course is intended for students with little or no knowledge of the Middle East. While it will be taught in a way that corresponds to its 300-level classification, it is not likely to appeal to students who have studied or lived in the region for several years.


            This course has three specific objectives, and one more general objective. The first is to facilitate a basic understanding of the leaders, events, and issues that have shaped Middle East history and politics since the First World War. The second aim is to help students develop a sound and realistic familiarity with the government, politics and foreign relations of specific nations and states. While we cannot study the entire region in 15 weeks, we will explore a number of countries at the core of the region. Both the country selection and the lecture format are designed to illustrate the true diversity of the region. Thus, the third objective is to help students truly appreciate this important reality. As the semester develops, the hope is that students will be able to see and draw comparisons between the countries under study. To assist in this effort, we will examine and discuss individual countries through a common framework or set of factors. Finally, while not a formal objective, it is hoped that this course will instill or ignite an intellectual curiosity that will lead students to continue to seek information and knowledge about this most important region.


Class Format

As mentioned, the presumption is that students have little or no background in the subject matter. For that reason, each class will have a lecture component. However, questions and comments about the material are encouraged and always welcome. Also, members of the class should be prepared to respond to questions the instructor might ask about a lecture topic, assigned readings, or contemporary events. We will spend a good portion of our time discussing and dissecting Middle East politics as a group. Regular participation is expected. It is very important to remember that all opinions and interpretations are welcome, however they must be presented in a calm and respectful manner. This point is particularly important because certain Middle East issues are closely intertwined with some individuals’ political and religious beliefs.


Current Events

To maintain a contemporary focus and facilitate a more interactive class setting, we will track and discuss events throughout the semester. Each Thursday, at the beginning of class, students will be asked to introduce new stories related to Middle East politics. Besides briefly summarizing the news report, it will be necessary to do one of two things: offer an opinion on the article being discussed and/or draw a connection between the facts of the report and the course material (e.g., a theory, concept, reading, previous news article, etc.) Again, all opinions and interpretations are welcome as long as they are presented in a calm and respectful manner. Articles should come from a recognized major news source (a list of potential sources will be provided, although it is not all-inclusive). Students will not be required to subscribe to the publication, but will be required to submit an article and a typed summary of the article in class each Thursday beginning the second week of classes (see Graded Requirements section).


Assigned Readings

The textbook (see below) and readings used for this course were selected to provide the most up-to-date material as possible as well as maintain a high quality of academic intellectualism. For those students faced with limited budgets, a copy of the textbook will be placed on two-hour reserve in the library. If possible, however, I would encourage students to have a personal copy of the book not only for use during the semester, but for future reference as well. Any other readings assigned will be placed on Blackboard where students can retrieve them at will.



Monte Palmer. 2007. The Politics of the Middle East, 2nd Edition. Itasca, IL: Thompson-Wadsworth.


Grade Requirements

There are five basic requirements. The first is written examinations. The midterm exam will be given on Tuesday October 6. The final exam will be administered on Tuesday December 8 from 12:00-1:50pm. Both the midterm and the final will each account for 20% of the final course grade. A study guide will be distributed before each exam. In order to pass this class, all exams and tests must be completed.


            The second requirement is the submission of 14 neatly clipped or photocopied articles with an accompanying well-written, seven to eight sentence paragraph that reacts thoughtfully to a news story that bears a clear relationship with Middle East politics. For instance, the type paragraph can tie a selected article to a course reading, draw a connection to a theory or concept discussed in class, relate its significance to present or future policy, or convey how a policy-maker should address the issue. Regardless of the approach, the paragraph must be well constructed and thought out. Beginning on Thursday of the second week of classes, one submission will be required each Thursday after our current events discussion in class; no late submissions will be accepted. This component of the grade is worth 15% of the final grade. Each submission will be worth one point, while the instructor, out of the goodness of his heart, will give everyone an automatic 1% to begin with.


            The third requirements will involve a short but important test. A geography test, which will be given Tuesday October 20, will examine students’ basic knowledge of Middle East region. This quiz will be 15% of the final grade. More details will be provided in class.


The fourth requirement is a short essay paper of 5-7 pages. This paper will be due at the beginning of class on Thursday November 19 (and will be returned the day of the final exam). The essay paper will account for 20% of the final grade. Requirements for the paper will be discussed in class in class.


Lastly, class participation will contribute 10% to the final course grade. Components of this grade include: (a) regular attendance (no more than three absences to secure full marks in this category; more than seven unexcused absences will result in automatic failure of this class without exception), (b) regular and thoughtful participation during lectures and discussions, (c) introducing and discussing materials during current events discussions, and (d) completing any additional tasks that may be assigned.


            Attendance will generally be taken at the beginning of each class session. Moreover, being tardy will be treated the same as being absent. This is done in order to keep classroom disruptions to a minimum and provide a better teaching and learning environment. Essentially, each missed class after the first two will result in a 2% deduction from the final grade. Missing no more than two classes will result in full points for the participation grade. As previously mentioned above, more than seven unexcused absences will result in automatic failure of this class without exception.


Components of the Final Grade

a. Midterm Exam         =20%

b. Final Exam              =20%

c. Current Events         =15%

d. Geography Test       =15%

e. Essay                       =20%

f. Participation             =10%


Odds & Ends

1) Make-up Exams: Make-up exams will only be given in extraordinary circumstances. If such circumstances arise, please contact the instructor as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam. To keep the process fair for everyone in the course, students may be asked to support requests for make-up exams with documentation. A missed examination without prior notification and a documented excuse will result in a zero and a grade of “F” for the course, as opposed to an incomplete.


2) Students with Disabilities: The instructor recognizes that some students require special testing environments because of documented physical and learning disabilities. If such arrangements are necessary, the instructor should be informed early in the semester. Please do not wait until exam time.


3) Late Assignments: The only out-of-class assignments other than readings are the current events requirements, which, as mentioned, must be turned in at the time due; there will be no exceptions unless the student has an excused absence.


4) Submitting Materials: Assignments should be handed in to me personally, or given to a department secretary to be time-stamped. Assignments placed under my office door or sent with a friend tend to disappear at times. If a student selects one of these modes of delivery, he or she does so at their own risk.


5) Extra Credit: Extra credit assignments will not be given on an individual basis to raise final course grades. Like make-up exams, such assignments raise major questions of equity. If the need arises to provide some sort of extra-credit assignment, the entire class will be given the opportunity to complete it.


6) Handouts: Handouts, including study guides, are a privilege for those students who attend class on a regular basis. No student is entitled to supplemental materials simply because they are registered for the course.


7) Incomplete Requests: Such petitions will be granted in extraordinary circumstances. The instructor reserves the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines. If the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the instructor’s discretion.


8) Academic Dishonesty: Please refer to the NIU Undergraduate Catalog (p.52) section entitled “Academic Integrity” for details. In general the point is that students should do their own work and learn the proper rules of citation and paraphrasing.


9) Class Participation: It is recognized that class discussion comes more easily for some than others. By temperament or habit some people are “talkers” and others “listeners.” While the preference is that students volunteer to participate, I may at times call upon individuals if that is the only way to bring them into the discussion. If you are particularly uneasy about speaking in class, please see me. There are some things I can suggest that may help to make participation easier.


10) Unannounced Quizzes: The instructor reserves the right to conduct “pop quizzes” if during the course of the semester it becomes apparent that students are not completing the reading assignments in time for discussion in class.


Important Dates

News Article Submissions:      Thursdays at the beginning of class

Midterm Examination:             October 6

Geography Test:                      October 20

Essay Paper Due:                     November 19

Final Examination:                   December 8


Course Schedule and Reading Assignments

Week 1

August 25:                            Course Introduction-Syllabus

                                                Lecture-Knowledge, Media Bias

                                                                No Readings


August 27:                            Regional Background-Regional Characteristics

                                                                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 1, pp. 1-15

Week 2

September 1 and 3:             Regional Background-The Rise of Islam

                                                                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 1, pp. 15-33


Week 3

September 8 and 10:          Regional Background-Colonialism thru Independence

                                                                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 1, pp. 34-42

Week 4

September 15-17:                Egypt

                                                Political History & Contemporary Politics

                                                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 2 (pp. 43-89)

Week 5

September 22-24:                Egypt-continued

                                                The Political Environment

                                                                Readings: Palmer Chapter 2 (pp. 89-102)

Begin Israel

                                                Political History

                                                                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 3 (pp. 103-151)

Week 6

Sept. 29-October 1:             Israel-continued

                                                Contemporary Politics & The Political Environment

                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 3 (pp. 151-172)

Week 7

October 6:                             **Midterm Exam

Readings: No assigned readings


October 8:                             Begin Syria

                                                Political History & Contemporary Politics

                                                                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 4 (pp. 173-212)

Week 8

October 13:                           **Midterm will be returned


Political History & Contemporary Politics

                                                                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 4 (pp. 173-212)

October 15:                           Syria

Political History & Contemporary Politics

                                                                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 4 (pp. 173-212)

Week 9

October 20:                           Finish Syria

                                                Political History & Contemporary Politics

                                                                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 4 (pp. 173-212)

                                                **Geography Test

October 22:                           Begin Saudi Arabia

                                                Political History, Contemporary Politics

                                                                Readings: Palmer Chapter 5

Week 10

October 27-29:                     Saudi Arabia

                                                Political History, Contemporary Politics                                                                                                                                         Readings: Palmer Chapter 5

Week 11

November 3-5:                     Iraq

                                                Political History, Contemporary Politics

                                                                Readings: Palmer Chapter 6


Week 12

November 10-12:                                Iraq

                                                Political History, Contemporary Politics

                                                                Readings: Palmer Chapter 6

Week 13

November 17-19:                                Iran

                                                Political History, Contemporary Politics

                                Readings: Palmer-Chapter 7

November 19-**Term Papers Due

Week 14

November 24:                      The Palestinian Authority/HAMAS (time permitting)

                                                                Readings: TBA

November 26:                      THANKSGIVING


Week 15

December 1-3:                     The Palestinian Authority/HAMAS (time permitting)

                                                                Readings: TBA


December 8:                         Final Exam 12:00-1:50

**Term papers will be returned