ASTK18301U The Contemporary Middle East in the Context of Shifting Global Politics

Volume 2019/2020

Bachelor student (2012 programme curriculum): 10 ECTS

Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS




This course aims to provide students with an understanding of the major political processes, structures and actors shaping political developments in the contemporary Middle East.


We will discuss the main theoretical and analytical approaches that dominates the study of the Middle East. The course will present the students to ongoing debates as to which, if any, IR-theory is best equipped to grasp the key dynamics of Middle East international relations or whether one must look beyond standard theories when seeking to understand the Middle East.


The course will use different cases to introduce students to interactions between different types of actors and how these interactions shape Middle Eastern politics and the state. This will include transnational and local armed non-state actors such as Islamic State or the Houthis in Yemen. It will relate these interactions to shifts in global politics such as US policies towards the Middle East, the growing role of China and Russia, as well as regional dynamics, most notably the effects of the regional competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia.


The course will focus on political processes before, during and after violent conflicts, often intrastate but with some form of third-party intervention. As part of this, the course will investigate how asymmetric power relations play out for example as this relates to the use of drones or the use of state and non-state proxies.


The course will encourage students to think critically about the universality of theories and concepts including how international power relations affect and are part of ongoing struggles to frame perceptions of political events in the Middle East.

Learning Outcome


  • Knowledge of trends in policies and strategies of state and non-state actors in the Middle East.
  • Knowledge of selected academic debates and emergent dynamics on the ground in relation to third-party interventions, peacebuilding, and state-building in the Middle East
  • Empirical knowledge of selected cases in the Middle East and their specific dynamics



  • Ability to relate critically to concepts such as sovereignty, legitimacy, state-building, third-party intervention, state/non-state actors, failed/fragile state, as well as the political and academic consequences of the use of such concepts
  • Ability to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of theories presented to analyze major political challenges facing the contemporary Middle East
  • Ability to independently discuss and critically apply theories to empirical cases



  • Ability to critically reflect on contemporary Middle Eastern politics, especially as it relates to interactions between the domestic and the complexities of the broader geopolitical environment
  • Ability to critically discuss and evaluate current research on Middle Eastern politics and international relations more broadly
  • Ability to independently present academic work and engage in constructive discussions of theoretical approaches to Middle Eastern politics


Examples of potential readings:

  • Bank, Andre and Morten Valbjorn (2012). “The New Arab Cold War: Rediscovering the Arab Dimension of Middle East Regional Politics,” Review of International Studies 38, no. 1.
  • Mehran Kamrava (2018). “Multipolarity and Instability in the Middle East,” Orbis, Fall 2018, 602-4.
  • Bassel F. Salloukh (2017). “Overlapping Contests and Middle East International Relations: The Return of the Weak Arab State,” PS: Political Science and Politics 50, 660–63.
  • Grimm, S., & Weiffen, B. (2018). “Domestic elites and external actors in post-conflict democratisation: mapping interactions and their impact”. Conflict, Security & Development, 18(4), 257-282.
  • Williams, Alison (2007), “Hakumat al-Tayarrat: The Role of Air Power in the Enforcement of Iraq's Boundaries”, Geopolitics, 12:3, 505-528
  • Riccardo Alcaro (2018). “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Europe’s Uncertain Role in Middle Eastern Geopolitics”, IAI Policy Brief, May 2018
  • Raymond Hinnebusch (2015). “Core and periphery: the international system and the Middle East in “The international politics of the Middle East” (2nd edition), Manchester University Press, 23-63.
  • Polese, Abel & Santini, Ruth Hanau (2018). “Introduction - Limited Statehood and its Security Implications on the Fragmentation Political Order in the Middle East and North Africa”, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 29 (3), 379-390
  • Barnett, Michael & Zürcher, Christoph (2009). The Peacebuilder’s Contract: How External Statebuilding reinforces weak statehood in Paris, R & Sisk, DT (eds.). The Dilemmas of Statebuilding: Confronting the contradictions of postwar peace operations, Routledge: London, 23-52
  • Bilgin (2015). ‘Whose ‘Middle East’? Geopolitical Inventions and Practices of Security,’ International Relations, 18, 25-41.
  • Hertog, Steffen (2010). ‘The Sociology of the Gulf Rentier Systems: Societies of Intermediaries’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52 (2), 282-318
  • Sedgewick, Mark (2010). “Measuring Egyptian Regime Legitimacy.” Middle East Critique, 19 (3), 251-267
  • Lustick, Ian S. (1997). “The Absence of Middle Eastern Great Powers: Political ‘Backwardness’ in historical perspective”, International Organization, 51 (4), 653-683
  • Lia, Brynjar (2016): ‘Jihadism in the Arab World after 2011: Explaining its Expansion’. Middle East Policy, 23 (4), 74-91.
  • Al-anani, Khalil (2012), “Islamist Parties post-Arab Spring”. Mediterranean Politics, 17 (3), 466-472
The course uses a mixture of classroom teaching, small-group problem-solving, short student presentations on specific case studies.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
NB! Due to the the covid-19 situation the university is /has been closed down for physical attendance. Therefore the examination form in the spring semester 2020 has been temporarily changed to an oral exam with synopsis conducted online via Zoom Video Communication.
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- For the semester in which the course takes place: Oral exam with a synopsis

- For the following semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner