MA International Relations (Standard)

Year of entry: 2022

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Course unit details:
The Arab Uprisings and Revolutionary State Formation

Unit code POLI70981
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Politics
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This module analyzes the recent uprisings and subsequent state formation processes in the Middle East and North Africa through the prism of revolutions and state formation in the 21 Century. Empirically, we will explore the Arab Uprisings in terms of their root causes, revolutionary dynamics, regime responses, implications and the role of external intervention. Theoretically, these questions will be discussed through the lens of revolutions, counterrevolutions and state formation processes. The role of Islamist movements and the processes of regime fragmentation and survival under the pressure of mass protests will also be addressed. By focusing on the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, we will then examine the (counter-)revolutionary state formation processes and evaluate political, economic and social reforms as well as the obstacles that they encounter. Analysis of transitional justice and the geopolitical reconfiguration of the region will help explore the implications of revolutionary attempts further. All these divergent aspects of contemporary (counter-)revolutions serve to answer the key question of this module: What do the Arab Uprisings tell us about the obstacles to and possibility of contemporary revolutions?

The module explores the Arab Uprisings through the prism of wider questions of revolution and state formation processes:

  • Why are mass uprisings ubiquitous in the 21st Century, while revolutionary outcomes have remained rare?
  • Why have some authoritarian regimes faltered under the pressure of popular uprisings, while others have survived?
  • Why did some Arab uprisings turn violent and what are the consequences of different types of resistance?
  • What are the implications of NATO-led interventions?
  • What are the main structural obstacles that revolutionaries encounter in the state formation process?
  • What are the local and global implications of the Arab Uprisings?

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to: 

  • comprehend theoretical approaches to revolutions.
  • engage with theories on social movements, political violence and non-violent resistance, state formation, military intervention and transitional justice.
  • understand the socio-economic and political root causes of contemporary mass uprisings.
  • differentiate between divergent trajectories of political mobilization through analysis of revolutionary dynamics and the factors that constrain or fuel them.
  • understand processes of regime fragmentation and regime survival in the context of mass uprisings.
  • critically assess the driving forces, effects and limitations of foreign interventions in revolutionary processes.
  • comprehend the obstacles encountered by revolutionary networks in the subsequent state formation processes.
  • analyse the benefits and limitations of transitional justice processes.
  • assess the geopolitical consequences of the Arab Uprisings.
  • demonstrate improved teamwork, writing, presentation and research skills.


Teaching and learning methods

The module will be delivered in ten two-hour blocks of teaching. In the first three seminars, the convener will introduce the underlying driving forces and revolutionary dynamics. As of week 4, students will be involved in the dissemination of knowledge through group presentations. The convener will try to cater to different types of learning by providing imagery in her presentations, and offering links to podcasts or visual forms of learning, where appropriate.