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BA Arabic Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
History and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa

Unit code MEST10711
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This is an introductory course on the History and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa, with sections devoted to geography, history, politics, economics, society, religion, gender, literature, arts, and cinema.

Two principal thematic questions generally run throughout the course, linking its various sections. They are: “What, if anything, is distinctive and exceptional about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)?” and “How has the MENA changed during the modern age?” 

To better understand these issues the course provides a theoretical framework through the study of the work of Edward Said including Orientalism and Covering Islam. Furthermore, students will be introduced to a range of sources relating to the History, cultures, and Politics of MENA, including reference and survey works, studies of particular subjects, and internet resources.

The principal objective of this module is to lay the foundations for a deeper study of MENA while facilitating acquisition of intellectual and personal transferable skills.


 It is the aim of this course to:

  • Introduce students to the study of a rapidly changing Middle East and North Africa from a multidisciplinary angle. The module will, in addition to removing any fogginess students might have about the MENA, debunk preconceived stereotypical ideas they might have acquired through the media about a region often typified as a war zone and an area rife with conflict.
  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of the MENA from multifarious angles including history, politics and anthropology.
  • Lay the foundations for the study of various MEST modules at subsequent levels.
  • Help students determine their pathways in further study about the MENA.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Gain knowledge of the history, politics and cultures of a diverse and ever changing MENA region
  • Gain an informed understanding of the MENA region and its people beyond media stereotypes
  • Understand and discuss theoretical issues behind the study of the MENA from a multidisciplinary angle
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the core texts on Middle Eastern Studies
  • Have appropriate command of key concepts and terminologies related to the multidisciplinary study of MENA



Week 1 – Introduction to the module ZSS

Week 2 –Definitions: Identifying and Locating the MENA and its peoples ZSS

Week 3 – Society: Gender and Kinship, Ethnicity and Identity ZSS

Week 4 – Orientalism: Edward Said and the Problems of Studying the MENA ZSS

Week 5 – History and Politics: The Formation of the Modern Middle Eastern State System MB


Week 7 – Economy: The Middle Eastern Economies and the Role of Oil MB

Week 8 – Religion in MENA: Political Islam TWP

Week 9 – Religion: Sectarianism TWP

Week 10 – MENA Literature, Arts and Music as Political Voices DM

Week 11 – Cinema and Politics in MENA DM


Students will be assigned to small groups for weekly tutorials.

These will consist of discussing allocated readings on a weekly basis.

Teaching and learning methods

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Directed Reading
  • Course work
  • Blackboard E-Learning

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Relate their learning experiences to the social, cultural, political, and other dimensions which characterize the Middle Eastern and North Africa.
  • Gain a good understanding about the history, cultures, religions, and the politics of the region and its people.
  • Build awareness about the diversity which distinguishes the MENA as well as its Cultures, religions and populations.
  • Gain access to the study of a range of specialist areas within the discipline

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Develop their analytical and critical thinking
  • Gain skills in synthesis and analysis of data and information
  • Develop advanced skills of written and verbal communication
  • Improve their abilities of organization and expression of ideas

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Increase their discussion and debating ethics
  • Use library, electronic and online resources
  • Improve their reporting skills
  • Develop their group ethos
  • Engage in self and peer review/evaluation

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Gain skills in independent learning.
  • Develop their abilities in co-operative learning and team work.
  • Develop their time management and punctuality skills
  • Gain skills in debating and presentation
  • Apply Subject Knowledge
  • Understand group dynamics and intercultural backgrounds in the use of negotiating skills to reach objectives.

Employability skills

¿ Time Management and punctuality ¿ Presentation skills ¿ Critical thinking and analytical skills. ¿ Discussion and debating ethics ¿ Organization and expression of ideas

Assessment methods

Assessment task


Weighting within unit



1 x 1500 words

2 hours



Formative Assessment: Seminar Presentation of directed reading (15 minutes) on the same topic as your essay. Feedback will be given by tutor and peers.



Assessment task


 written examination

 2 hours


Feedback methods

  • Oral feedback on seminar presentations
  • Written feedback on final exam and essay
  • Additional one-to-one feedback: Lecturer’s 2 weekly office hours are the chief venue for feedback. This is a walk-in, i.e., no prior appointment is required. 

Recommended reading


1.       Dale F. Eickelman, The Middle East and Central Asia: An Anthropological Approach, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, third edition 1998)

2.       Gerner J. D. and G. Schwedler (eds), Understanding the Contemporary Middle East (Boulder CO and London: Lynn Rienner, 2004)

3.       Khalaf, S., and R.S. Khalaf, Arab Society and Culture: An essential guide ( London: Saqi Books, 2010)

4.       Owen, R., State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East (London: Routledge, 2000).

5.       Said W. E., Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (London: Penguin, 2003)

6.      Salhi, Z S., Gender and Diversity in the Middle East and North Africa (London: Routledge, 2010). 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Zahia Smail Salhi Unit coordinator

Additional notes


·         The opening Lecture will introduce students to the module components in terms of content, assessment, weekly reading and tutorials. Subsequent lectures will be devoted to covering the detailed syllabus.

·         While the module leader’s role will be the coordination of the overall module and the delivery of some lectures, other members of AMES will lecture on their particular specialisms.

·         Lectures will introduce the topic of the weekly reading which will then be discussed in the weekly tutorials.

·         Readings will be distributed ahead of the lectures/tutorials, and uploaded to the blackboard.

·         Students will be expected to come to their lectures and tutorials well-prepared and to participate vigorously in class discussions. It is essential that they complete all the required readings before the lecture/tutorial.

·         Students will be expected to take notes on the lectures which will constitute additional materials to be used for revision for their written exam.


·         Lectures will introduce the topic of the weekly reading, which is then discussed in the tutorial of the subsequent week.

·         Students are expected to prepare the reading so that they can better engage with the lecture and contribute critically to the discussion of the compulsory reading in the tutorial group.

·         Readings will be assigned in advance for students to prepare their 15 minutes seminar presentation.

·         The weekly reading assignments require regular work outside classes and in advance of the tutorials, including close study of assigned texts, note taking, summarizing or excerpting, as well as the creation of texts in note form. Readings will be contextualized and discussed during classes.

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