Political Science 6377

Comparative Politics of the Middle East

Fall 2013                                                  Nathan Brown

Monday, 5:10-7:00 pm                               1957 E Street, Suite 512



This course will concentrate on three aspects of the comparative politics of the Middle East:  Islam and politics; regime type and change; and ideology.  These aspects will be woven together rather than addressed as separate topics.


There are three requirements for the course:

Š      Regular attendance in class;

Š      Completion of the assigned reading by the date indicated; and

Š      Completion of eight short papers (no more than three pages in length) critically evaluating the reading for the week.  I have indicated discussion questions that may serve as guides for those students writing the paper.  Papers are to be submitted by e-mail 10 am the day of class.  Late submissions will be penalized one half grade if submitted between 10 am and class time and one full grade if submitted after class begins.

Š      Please note that the readings and questions for November 18 will be announced later. I will try to develop readings that are current on political developments in the Arab world.


Grades will be calculated on the basis of the short papers.  Failure to attend class regularly or to complete the assigned readings will be penalized.

Learning Outcomes

As a result of completing this course, students will be able to:

Š      Analyze political economy, political regimes, and political ideology in the modern Middle East; and

Š      Assess academic writings by political scientists on these subjects.

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.


The following texts are available for purchase at the GW Bookstore. Other supplementary readings will be assigned. They will be made available through Blackboard.


Course Outline


August 26                    Introductory meeting


September 9               Understanding Authoritarianism—Structure and History

Readings: (All links on Blackboard)

Š      Owen, The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life

Š      Comparative Politics, special issue, January 2004 on authoritarianism in the Middle East (articles by Lust-Okar, Langhor)


Š      Is there such a thing as Arab authoritarianism?

Š      Are culture and religion given too little attention?


September 16                         Authoritarianism and Political Economy       




Š       If Arab states were to democratize, would they have to go back to the 1960s and start over?

Š       Did Bellin and Hydemann miss the boat?

Š      Would Bellin have been surprised by the Tunisian Revolution?


September 23             Authoritarianism and Democratization

Readings:        Brynen et al, Beyond Arab Spring


Š      Why did authoritarianism last so long?

Š      Is authoritarianism over?


September 30             Islam and Politics: Sunni Approaches


Š      Sayyid Qutb,  Milestones, posted on Blackboard. You need to read only the work itself (in this edition, pp. 23-177)

Š      Nathan J. Brown and Clark Lombardi, “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,” American University International Law Review, 2006, Vol. 21 Issue 3, pp. 437-460 (posted on Blackboard)


Š      Qutb’s argument presents itself as timeless.  But why did it only appear in the recent past?

Š      To whom is Qutb’s argument most likely to appeal?

Does the view of the Constitutional Court on the Islamic shari`a differ with that of Qutb in any fundamental way?


October 7                    Islamism in Egypt


Š      Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood



Š               Are Islamists movements products of the modern world or reactions against it?

Š               Is the organization of Islamist movements related to their ideologies?

Š               How are the organizations of Islamist movements likely to be positioned for post-2011 politics?


October 14                  Islamism and Authoritarianism in the Arabian Peninsula


Š      Hertog, Princes, Brokers, and Bureaucrats

Š      International Crisis Group, “Can Saudi Arabia Reform Itself?” (link on Blackboard)

Š      Michael Herb, “A Nation of Bureaucrats, “International Journal of Middle East Studies," 41, no. 3 (August 2009), 375-395 (on Blackboard)


Š      Does authoritarianism work differently in the Arabian peninsula?

Š      Does Islamism work differently in the Arabian peninsula?


October 21                  Sunni Islamist Movements





October 28                  Islam and Politics: Shi`i Approaches


Š      Ayatollah Khomeini, Islamic Government (Blackboard)

Š       Look over the Q and A section on www.sistani.org (using the search function if necessary) to find instructions to followers on various topics. 


Š      Is Khomeini simply giving Shi`i form to Qutb’s arguments?

Š       Is Shi`ism inherently revolutionary?

Š      Does Sistani’s view of the role of the jurist differ from that of Khomeini?


November 4                Radical Shi`ism in Iran


Š      Arjomand, After Khomeini

Š      United States Institute of Peace, “Iran Primer,” link on Blackboard.  Read selections from "Politics"(8 entries), "Opposition" (4 entries), and "Military" (4 entries) on the left hand of the page.


Š      Is wilayat al-faqih possible in practice?

Š      Is the Islamic revolution sustainable?


November 11              Democracy

Readings:        Articles by Fish, Donno and Russett, Diamond, Yom, Ross, Jamal and Tessler, and Cifty (Blackboard)


Š      Is the Arab world simply hostile territory for democracy?

Š      Is explaining the absence of democracy an unpromising approach?


November 18              Arab Spring I

Readings:        tba

Questions:    tba


November 25              Nationalism

Reading:          Nadav Shelef, Evolving Nationalism


Š      Is Shelef persuasive in explaining ideological change?

Š      How transferrable is Shelef’s analysis of ideological change to the Arab world?           


December 2                Political Economy

Reading:                      Alan Richards and John Waterbury, Political Economy of the Middle East


Š      What explains the poor economic performance of Middle Eastern states in recent years?

Š      Is economic liberalization impossible in the Middle East?