Course Description

Course Name

Making Sense of the Middle-East (in English)

Session: VSVS1121

Hours & Credits

45 Contact Hours

Prerequisites & Language Level

Taught In English

  • There is no language prerequisite for courses at this language level.


Course objective: This course aims to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of key concepts, themes and issues that have shaped the Middle East, a region with a rich and complex history made up of several cultures. The main objective of the course is to introduce the area through an interdisciplinary approach that will reflect its internal diversity and dynamics, combining academic readings, journalistic accounts, films and audio-visual aids that cover politics, religion, culture, conflicts, gender and sociology. It is designed to help contextualize current trends and identify various interpretative frameworks.

Classes will be lecture-based, but active learning and participation will be encouraged through the discussion of assigned readings, films and student presentations.

Learning outcomes:

- Understand the core Arab-Islamic cultural, historical, and political traits and concepts

- Develop critical analyses on current events after becoming acquainted with facts,

diverse opinions and data

- Strengthen skills to approach to foreign or unknown realities and thoughts from

different perspectives

- Establish links between multifactorial origins and final results of different processes

Course contents:

1.- Introduction

- A first approach to Arabs and Islam

- ‘Orientalism’ v. reality

2.- Events that shaped the contemporary Middle East

- Timeline of the Middle East History

- The legacy of European colonialism in the Mashreq

3.- Ideology and nationalism

- Legitimacy, religion, politics... intertwined?

- Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism

4.- The never ending story

- Israeli-Palestinian conflict

- Timeline, leaders, setbacks, and achievements

5.- States and societies

- Political regimes and civil movements

- Major regional players

6.- Gender in the Middle East

- Women’s roles, men’s roles

- What is hijab and why do women wear it?

7.- The Arab uprisings of 2011

- Egypt is not Yemen, Tunisia is not Syria

- The ‘Day of Rage’, Yawm al-ghadab

Course Materials

There will be both required and optional readings for each unit. Optional readings are

recommended for students wanting to learn more about a topic or as assistance with the

writing of assignments. All articles and documents will be either available online or provided by the instructor.

Media, films and audio-visual aids will contribute to portraying the events and issues

previously examined.

A list of up-to-date resources and research Websites related to the ME will also help students to compare and contrast different, and sometimes antagonist, perspectives.


- Exodus (Otto Preminger, 1960)

- Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

- Baran (Majid Majidi, 2001)

- Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, 2005)

- Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad, 2005)

- Rendition (Gavin Hood, 2007)

- Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)

- Cairo 678 (Mohamed Diab, 2010)

- Nader and Simin. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)


Ali, Nadje al. “Gendering the Arab Spring,” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 5, no. 1 (2012): 26–31. Available in this link:

Anderson, Scott. “Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart”. The New York Times Magazine. August 15, 2016. Available in this link:

Aswany, Alaa. al. On the State of Egypt: A Novelist's Provocative Reflections. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2011.

Angrist, Michele Penner. “The Making of the Middle East Politics.” Chap 1 in Angrist’s (ed). Politics & Society in the Contemporary Middle East. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2010. Available in this link:

Bayat, Asef. “Islam and Democracy: What is the Real Question?” The Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM). ISIM Paper 8. Amsterdam University press. Leiden. 2007. Available in this link: =1

Ben-Ami, Shlomo. Scars of War, Wounds of Peace. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2005 

Fromkin, David. A Peace to end all Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1989.

Hasso, Frances “Culture Knowledge’ and the Violence of Imperialism: Revisiting The Arab Mind.” MIT Electronic Journal 7 (Spring, 2007): 24- 40. Available in this link: hasso.pdf

Lewis, Bernard. What Went Wrong? New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Massoud, Hani. “The future of Arab labor movements.” December 11, 2013. Al-Monitor. Available in this link:

Litvak, Meir. "The Islamization of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: The Case of Hamas." Middle Eastern Studies 34.1 (1998): 148-63. Available in this link: Islamization%20of%20conflict.pdf

Mamouri, Ali. «Women’s movement in Iraq faces setbacks ». Al Monitor, 18 marzo 2014. Available in this link:

Moghissi, Haideh. Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism. New York : Zed Books Ltd, 1999.

Moruzzi, Norma C. “Gender and the Revolutions.” MER268. Middle East Research and Information Project: MERIP. Vol 43, Fall 2013. Available in this link:

Pollard, Stacey E. (2014). The State and Civil Society in the Arab Middle East (Doctoral Dissertation). Western Michigan University. Available in this link:

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London: Penguin, 1977.

Smith, Charles. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. A history with documents, 8th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013.

Suad, Joseph. “Gender and Citizenship in Middle Eastern States”. MER198. Middle East Research and Information Project: MERIP. Vol 26, Spring 1996. Available in this link:

Media (examples)

Research (examples)

Audiovisual documents (example)

On Orientalism. Interview with Edward Said.

Course Evaluation:

20% Tasks and attendance

40% Final exam

30% Projects

10% Subjective evaluation (students are expected to come prepared to class and the professor will value that students are showing a mark of improvement)

Spanish Grading Scale:

Matrícula de Honor 10

Sobresaliente 9 – 9,9 Notable 7 – 8,9 Aprobado 5 – 6,9 Suspenso 0 – 4,9 No Asistencia (Student has exceeded the allowed number of unexcused absences)

Please find as a reference the following grading scale conversion. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the student’s home university or institution to determine the final grade equivalencies.

Matrícula de Honor = A+ Suspenso = F Sobresaliente = A No presentado = Incomplete (attended Notable = B classes but did not take final exam) Aprobado =C No Asistencia = Incomplete (enrolled in the course but did not attend class)

Appealing grades: The deadline for disputing grades is 30 days from the reception of the certificate at the home university.

Class Attendance: class attendance is mandatory, and attendance is taken at every class meeting and is reflected in the course attendance sheet that is sent to the university.

An 85% of attendance is required for the successful completion of the course. Not missing any class will be considered positively.

If a student exceeds this limit, the grade in the transcript for this subject could appear as “not attended course”.

Class Protocol

Students are required to be involved in class activities. They are expected to show their preparation by participating in discussions, by asking relevant questions, being critical and analytical with the contents presented in class as well as by sharing their ideas and opinions. In class the student is required to maintain a polite demeanor always and under every circumstance. Students are asked not to eat in class and to put their cell phones on silence. With the exception of use during class presentations, laptops are not permitted in class.

Special Accommodations

Students with special needs who require reasonable modifications, special assistance or accommodations in this course (either for properly following-up classes, to take exams, etc.) should direct their request to Academic Coordination during the first week of the course.

*Course content subject to change