The Making of the Modern Middle East: From Postcolonialism to the Arab Spring
The last decade has seen revolutionary movements take place throughout the Middle East and North Africa. From Tunisia and Egypt to Sudan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, people have banded together (with mixed results) in attempts to overturn long-standing dictators and authoritarian regimes. Yet many of the regimes in question were themselves the heirs to an earlier moment of revolutionary upheaval, which swept the region in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and which gave rise to a spate of anti-monarchic, left-leaning governments, often led by members of the military. These movements attacked the last vestiges of colonial rule and deposed the monarchs who were often allied with Western powers, making leaders like Egypt’s Gamal Abd al-Nasser, Syria’s Abd al-Karim Qasim, and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi heroes of the age of decolonization. Why, given this history, were people back in the streets a half century later demanding democratic freedoms? How should we understand this first revolutionary moment and to what can we attribute its shortcomings?
This course will grapple with these questions by surveying the revolutionary moments that have shaped the contemporary Middle East, from the age of decolonization to the Arab Spring. We will begin with the wave of revolutions that brought independence to Egypt (1952), Sudan (1956), Tunisia (1957), Iraq (1958), Algeria (1962), Yemen (1962), Syria (1963), and Libya (1969), and that introduced a series of profound challenges to existing hierarchies—from land reform measures and tentative advances in women’s rights to attempts to sideline (or co-opt) religious structures of authority. Yet the failure of these revolutions to deliver the hoped-for freedom and prosperity also led to disillusionment with secular political models, helping to fuel Islamist movements throughout the region. How should we understand the rise of Islamist alternatives in the context of Cold War politics, numerous regional wars, and international pressure to abandon socialist-developmentalist models in favor of economic liberalization? Finally, students will examine the latest revolutionary rupture, the Arab Spring, which brought down longstanding regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, launched an extended civil war in Syria, and inspired demonstrations to several other countries. How should we understand this revolutionary moment, and the factors which hampered its full realization? Readings will feature primary source texts alongside classic and contemporary works by figures including Franz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Hanna Batatu, Samir Amin, Sayyid Qutb, Asef Bayat, Roger Owen, Samira Haj, Patrick Cockburn, Bassam Tibi, Malcolm Kerr, and Marc Lynch.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
March 02 — March 23, 2021