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Political History of the Middle East in the 20th Century


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, MA Middle Eastern Studies (research), or MA International Relations.

The number of places available in this course are limited. Therefore, read the information below under registration carefully.

Students who are not admitted to one of the abovementioned programmes can only be admitted to the course, if there are places left. Interested students may mail the Student advisor mentioning the course title, their name and their student ID number in the subject line. If they are admitted, they will be enrolled for the course by January 31 at the latest.


This course traces the political history of the Middle East throughout the twentieth century. The story starts with the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, resulting in different paths to nation-state formation where transnational ties challenged the international settlement. Politics of nation building, authoritarian reforms, and colonial practices in the Middle East will be discussed in the global context of the interwar years and the Second World War. The second half of the twentieth century was marked by revolutionary processes of decolonization, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and political rivalries among monarchies and republics in the Arab Middle East. The countries of the Middle East’s non-Arab “Northern Tier” (Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) constituted one of the decisive frontier regions between the North Atlantic Alliance and the Soviet Union, where diplomacy, democracy, and development had an immediate Cold War context. Finally, this course will elaborate on the idea of an early end of the Cold War in the Middle East towards the end of the 1970s. The result was the emergence of a variety of conservative-authoritarian regimes towards the end of the twentieth century that proved to be resilient and robust until first decades of the twenty-first century. By combining approaches from international sociology with international history, this course will explore the political history of the Middle East in the twentieth century in its local and global complexities.

Course objectives

At the end of the semester, students will be able to:

  • describe and take a critical stance to the current developments and paradigms in the state of research on the history and politics of the Middle East in the twentieth century,

  • identify and utilize main conceptual and theoretical approaches in international sociology and international history,

  • find primary sources on various themes of the modern Middle East in European and (translated or original) local languages at the Leiden University Library and in other online-available resources,

  • design a research proposal in studying diplomacy, security, revolution, and war, as well as nation-state formation, modernization, and development,

  • conduct original research based on an evaluation of scholarship, application of theory and methodology, and use of primary sources,

  • report on research findings both orally and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of scholarship.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The conveners need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases, it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Participation (active participation in the in-class discussions) 15%
Presentation and assignments 25%
5,000-word essay (term paper) 60%

The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.
In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.
The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Final Paper
Students are free to formulate a research topic that is related to the themes and time frame encompassed in this course on the history and politics of the Middle East in the twentieth century. The term paper must use one of the proper academic citation systems (Chicago style notes and bibliography) and it must be authentic. The paper must conform to the designated limit of 5,000 words. Plagiarism will be checked and automatically means failing the class.

The term paper is written in four stages: First, the topic of the term paper needs to be discussed and decided with the instructor. Second, an abstract (max. 300 words) must be submitted. Third, a first version which will be commented on must be submitted. Fourth, the final version will be submitted. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version.

Late submissions of the final version will result in a deduction of paper grades as follows: 1-24 hrs late = -0.5; 24-48 hrs late = -1.0; 48-72 hrs late = -1.5; 72-96 hrs late = -2.0. Late papers will not be accepted more than four days after the deadline, including weekends and will be graded with 1.0.

The deadline of the first complete version is Wednesday, May 13, 23.59 hs. Feedback will be given by May 31 at the latest. The final version of the term paper is due on Monday, June 15, 9.00 hs.


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper, a resit of the paper is possible (60%). In that case the convener of the course may assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.

A resit of the other partial assessments is not possible.

Reading list

The list of weekly articles will be made available after the first session.


  • MA Middle Eastern Studies students may enroll directly through uSis. The number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served.

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) students are strongly advised to opt for the Research MA version of the course. They may enroll directly through uSis. The number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served. Students opting for the regular MA version should contact their Coordinator of Studies, dr. N.A.N.M. van Os for information on the enrollment procedure.

  • MA International Relations students should contact their Coordinator of Studies, Drs. E.J. Walstra for information on the enrollment procedure.