Political Science 2377W


Fall 2013


Comparative Politics of

the Middle East

Instructor:  Nathan J. Brown

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs


Monday, Wednesday 2:20-3:35

Corcoran 106

Teaching Assistant:   Dorothy Smith Ohl

Ph. D. Student, Department of Political Science


This course offers an overview of Middle East politics, focusing on issues of regime type, the politics of religion, and political economy.  The first unit of the course probes the historical development of politics in the region.  The second unit concerns religion and politics.  Subsequent units focus on particular political systems: Egypt, the Arab states of the Gulf, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, and Israel.  In the country studies, students will be invited to consider the historical evolution of the political system largely in terms of the broader themes of the course.


After completing the course, students should have an understanding of the basic political institutions and dynamics of major states in the region, an ability to follow regional debates about the role of religion in politics, an understanding of the relationship between economics and politics in the Middle East, an improved capacity to critically assess information about regional politics, and a greater ability to write analytically about politics in the Middle East.



The following books are all available in the GW Bookstore for purchase:

o   Michele Angrist, Politics and Society in the Contemporary Middle East  (second edition)

o   L. Carl Brown, Religion and State

o   Marc Lynch, The Arab Uprising

o   Said Arjomand, After Khomeini

o   Charles Tripp, History of Iraq

Many other readings will be made available on line through Blackboard.



The course grade will be based on the following components:


The analytical paper (40%): 

o   We will hold a class session on October 3 to discuss how to make and substantiate a written argument within the discipline of political science.

o   Students will select one of two paper topics as the basis for an eight-ten page essay. The first draft will be due at the beginning of a class discussion, as indicated on the syllabus. Students will revise the paper in light of the class discussion and the instructor’s comments. The second draft will be due one week after the papers are returned. Both drafts will count equally toward the final grade. The second draft will be graded with the expectation of improvement. There will be a significant penalty for late papers.

o   Note: I will grade and comment on the first draft of the paper. The second draft will be graded by the teaching assistant.

o   Students must sign up for one of the two paper topics in advance. No more than twenty-five students may select any topic. Beginning September 10 (and not sooner), I will accept e-mail requests (to nbrown@gwu.edu) to sign up for paper topics. I will assign topics on a first-come, first-served basis.

o   Please note: I expect the papers to be clearly written attempts to answer the assigned questions. No outside research is necessary. In fact, it is strongly discouraged.

o   Further instructions on the papers will be given in class.


The comparison paper (20%):

o   Specialists in comparative politics analyze politics by comparing cases, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly. The goal is generally to understand causation: what explains political outcomes.  Comparison is a critical tool to help us narrow in on particular factors. For this paper, you will be presented with two or three cases. You will then be asked to deploy your knowledge of these Middle East cases to shed light on a general debate in political science.

o   For instance, you may be asked to compare Iran in 1979 to Iran in 2009, in order to explain what causes revolution—why it occurs at some times and not others. Or, you may be asked to compare Egypt, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia in 2011, in order to assess the relationship between regime type and political stability. The teaching assistant and I will provide guidance on writing a comparison paper in political science. 

o   The paper will be 8-10 pages.

o   You will be able to choose between at least two prompts, but will be required to write on countries NOT covered in your analytical paper. 

o   Material supporting your paper's argument will be drawn from course readings, lectures, and limited outside of class research.

o   There will be a peer-review process; details will be given in class. A session devoted to this peer review will be held November 6.


The midterm examination (20%) October 23


The final examination (20%) 


o   Both the midterm and the final will be short essay, in class examinations.

o   They will be based primarily on the readings.

o   Both examinations will be graded by the teaching assistant.


Required meeting with TA

This is a “Writing in the Discipline” (WID) course. The assignments are therefore designed to help develop your ability to write as a political scientist and to draw on scholarship by political scientists in other forms of writings.  


In addition, a teaching assistant has been assigned to this course to help students with their writing.  Each student should call on the TA when s/he feels it might be helpful.  TA guidance is not only offered; it is required in that each student must make an individual appointment with the TA to discuss writing at least one point during the semester.  FAILURE TO HOLD AT LEAST ONE INDIVIDUAL MEETING WILL RESULT IN A FAILING GRADE FOR ONE WRITING ASSIGNMENT.


Academic Integrity and Plagiarism
Students should familiarize themselves with GW’s Code of Academic Integrity:
http://www.gwu.edu/~ntegrity/code.html.  The issue that has proven most problematic in my past courses has been plagiarism. Students should therefore take particular note of the definition of plagiarism and the procedures for violation explicated in the Code.


Course Outline and calendar (subject to minor modifications)





Aug 26

Modern Politics I


Aug 28

Modern Politics II


Sep 4

Modern Politics III

By this date, finish reading Angrist, Politics and Society, the following chapters:

o   Angrist, The Making of Middle East Politics

o   El-Ghobashy, Governments & Oppositions

o   Moore, Political Economy

o   Carapico, Civil Society

o   Schwedler, Religion and Politics

o   Patel, Identity and Politics

o   Singerman, Gender and Politics

Sep 9

Modern Politics III


Sep 11

Islam and Politics I


Sep 16

Islam and Politics II


Sep 18

Islam and Politics III

By this date, finish reading:

o   Brown, Religion and State

o   Qutb, Milestones (Blackboard; in this edition, the text is on pp. 23-177; all the other supplementary material is optional)

o   Brown and Lombardi, “Translation: The Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt on Islamic Law, Veiling and Civil Rights: An Annotated Translation of Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt Case No. 8 of Judicial Year 17 (May 18, 1996)” (Blackboard)

Sep 23


All students should come prepared with an answer to two questions:

1.     Does the existence of an Islamic legal tradition affirm or undermine state authority?

2.     Qutb presents his ideas as timeless, but Brown argues that the dominant approach among Islamic scholars historically showed deference to state authorities. Why have radical ideas gained greater currency in the modern era?

Sept 25

Egypt I


Sep 30

Egypt II



Oct 2

Egypt III

By this date, finish reading:

o   Angrist, chapter on Egypt

o   Lynch, Arab Uprising

o   Egypt readings on Blackboard

o   Mandaville, "The Unexceptional Islamists"  

o   Brown, "Egypt's Transition Imbroglio"

o   Brown, “Egypt’s Wide State Reassembles Itself”

o   Van Antwerp, “Post Soviet Lessons for Egypt”

o   Hanna, “Blame Morsi”

o   Brown, “Egypt Official Declares What Is and What Isn’t Important”

Oct 7



Oct 9

Security Services

By this date, finish reading:

o   Owen, “The Military in and Out of Politics” (Blackboard)

o   Barany, “The Role of the Military” (Blackboard)

Oct 14

Arabian Peninsula I


Oct 16

Arabian Peninsula II

By this date, finish reading:

o   Angrist

o   chapter on Kuwait and UAE by Herb

o   chapter on Saudi Arabia by Okruhlik

o   Readings on Blackboard:

o   Herb, "Nation of Bureaucrats"  

o   Paul Salem, "Kuwait: Politics in a Participatory Emirate"  

o   Looney, "The Window is Closing"  

o   Brown, "Why Won't Saudi Arabia Write Down Its Laws?"  

o   Wehrey, “A New Saudi Arabia?”

o   Kinnimont, "Bahrain's Still Stuck"  

o   Brown, "Kuwait's Short Nineteenth Century"

o   Diwan, “The Politics of Transgression in Kuwait”

Oct 21

Iran I


Oct 23



Oct 28

Iran II



Oct 30

Iran III

By this date, finish reading:

o   Angrist, chapter on Iran by Keshavarzian

o   Khomeini, Islamic Government (Blackboard)

o   Arjomand, After Khomeini

o   Iran Primer (links on Blackboard):

o   Sadjapour, "Supreme Leader"

o   Bakhash, "Six Presidents"  

o   Farhi, "The Parliament"  

Nov 4

Iraq I


Nov 6



Nov 11

Iraq II


Nov  13

Iraq III

By this date, finish reading:

o   Angrist, chapter on Iraq by Lawson

o   Trip, History of Iraq

o   International Crisis Group, “Failing Oversight,” Blackboard

o   International Crisis Group, “Déją vu All Over Again: Iraq’s Escalating Political Crisis,” Blackboard

Nov 18



Nov 20

Palestine I


Nov 25

Palestine II

By this date, finish reading:

o   Angrist, chapter on Palestine by Brown

o   Articles on Blackboard:

  • Danin, “A Third Way to Palestine”
  • Brown, “Are Palestinians Building a State?”
  • Brown, “Gaza Five Years On”

Dec 2


Angrist, chapter on Israel by Dowty

Dec 4

Israel and Palestine compared

Read, print out, and bring to class the Declarations of Independence of the United States, Israel, and Palestine.  (Copies posted on Blackboard)