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International Relations in the Middle East: Regional Struggle and Great Power Rivalry after the Cold War


Admission requirements

Admission prioritized to students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies specialisation Modern Middle East Studies and the MA International Studies. Students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) or another relevant MA programmes interested in taking this course should contact the Coordinator of Studies prior to registration. All students should have had approximately 30 EC worth of courses in Middle Eastern Studies at BA level.


The course analyses key issues of international relations in the Middle East from the end of the Cold War to the present, focusing on the interaction of regional rivalries and ‘great powers’ policies in order to assess the extent to which the region has been structured by international forces and factors. Besides analysing the role of ‘superpowers’ in shaping the regional order, the course focuses on regional actors’ perceptions of the threats and opportunities they face after the Cold War and the strategies they have adopted to deal with them. The course is based on a multi-layered approach to understanding the international relations of the region, which integrates the role of system-level global powers, regional and transnational actors, transnational ideologies and domestic socioeconomic forces that fuel regional conflicts.

We will address a number of topics, including the American ‘era’ in the post-cold war Middle East, the international politics and foreign policies of Iran, Turkey and Arab Middle East powers struggling for regional hegemony; the failure of the peace process and the trajectory of the ‘resistance front’; the bipolar sectarianisation of the region after the Arab revolts; the impact of global ‘war on terror’ and proxy competitive interventions in the region; and the securitization of European Mediterranean policies facing a ‘refugee crisis’. In so doing the course will introduce students to competing perspectives on international relations, regionalism and foreign policy making, conflict and security, which are relevant to an in-depth inquiry into the complex interactions within the region.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will have:

  • Achieved an understanding of the dynamics of the interaction between nation-states and external powers in the post-Cold War Middle East

  • Familiarised themselves with theoretical approaches and comparative paradigms to the international politics of the Middle East

  • Acquired the ability to critically evaluate competing paradigms and assessment in the field of International relations and Middle East politic.
    Moreover, students will have acquired the ability to:

  • use their understanding to tackle specific research questions in the field, articulate ideas and arguments appropriate to the context and answer them cogently and persuasively

  • analyse state of the art literature and make use of various relevant materials, including primary sources

  • conduct supervised research on international relations issues in a theoretically informed manner

  • provide and receive constructive criticism, incorporating justified criticism by revising their own position
    This course will allow students to further develop the following skills: (i) oral skills and presentation skilles through weekly seminar discussions and presentations, (ii) academic writing skills through composing a research paper that requires them to research and analyse sources, organize and synthesize information, formulate clear arguments appropriate to the context and pertinent conclusions, (iii) analytical and critical skills through assessing academic literature, analysing case studies and critically evaluating competing paradigms and assessments of the Middle East in the global order, (iv) research skills by designing a research plan (for the final paper), finding relevant sources, formulating sound research questions and implementing the research using appropriate methods and techniques within the discipline involved.


The timetable is available on the website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar and supervised research.
    The weekly 2-hour seminars consist of a lecture and a discussion class, which are designed to provide a critical overview of the academic literature and in-depth analysis of key issues as well as an opportunity to engage in discussion in a small group context.

All reading materials must be read in advance of class. A few broad questions put onto the syllabus for each seminar session will form the bedrock of the seminar discussion. Additionally, students will use blackboard to post comments on these questions at least 24 hours before the class takes place. The questions and the comments are then discussed during the seminar. One (or more) student(s) will open the discussion with a short presentation (max 7-8 minutes) introducing the literature and commenting on each question but each student is expected to arrive at class ready to engage thoughtfully in the seminar discussions. A calendar of students’ presentations will be agreed upon in the first week of teaching.

Attendance and active participation are mandatory. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed before the class takes place - or 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, etc.). To the discretion of the convenors, missed classes 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.

Moreover, students will be expected to engage in continuous independent study, employing the reading list (posted on Blackboard) and additional relevant sources to deepen their knowledge of the subject.

Course Load

Total course load is 280 hours including:

  • two-hour seminar class per week x 11 weeks: 22 contact hours

  • Preparation for the weekly class: 10 hours on average for a total of 110 hours

  • Preparation for the presentation: 8 hours

  • Independent reading: 80 hours

  • Research paper (including reserch, reading and writing the abstract and final paper) 60 hours.

Assessment method


The final evaluation will be based on class participation (posts and seminar discussion); the oral presentation; the written assignments; and the end-term individual paper.


The final mark is composed of:
Student participation (posts and seminar discussion): 20%
In class presentation: 15%
Written assignment: 15%
End of term research paper: 50%

The final mark is determined by the weighted average combined.
In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

Attendance is mandatory; missing more than one class per block (two per semester) means failing the course.

Written assignment
In preparation of the end-term research paper, students will write an end-term paper proposal including: (Provisional) Title, research question/hypothesis, table of content, brief description of the paper, and bibliography (max. 500 words, excluding bibliography). Submission deadline TBA by the convenor. Students who do not meet the deadline for submission of the proposal lose the right to get comments on it. Students are strongly advised to start working on the paper early in the semester, to revise their research plan following the discussion of the proposal/extended abstract with the lecturer, and to discuss the research ‘work in progress’ with the lecturer at least once before submitting the final paper

Final Paper
Students are required to write an individual end-term research paper on a topic related to the themes and time frame encompassed in this course. The research paper must include academic sources outside the syllabus, use one of the proper academic citation systems (APA or Chicago preferred) and abide to the designated limit of 5000 words (including footnotes and appendixes, but excluding bibliography). Paper format: double spaced, 12point type, page numbers, title, abstract and footnotes, and a few numbered section headings (up to 6).

Submission deadline for the final research paper TBA by the course convenor. (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convenor of the course). Students must submit their assignment to the blackboard through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via-email is not accepted

The final paper accounts for 50% of the final grade. The paper will only be graded if the student has attended the seminars.
Late submissions will be awarded a 6 maximum. Students who do not submit a term paper automatically fail the course.

The instructor may also assign informal assignments (quizzes, presentations, review and policy relevant notes) at her discretion. They form part of the student participation item of assessment.


There will be no resit for the presentation. There will be a resit for the research paper if the overall grade for the course is 5.49 or lower.
The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Exam review

How and when a term paper review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the course results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the course results, a term paper review will have to be organized


Blackboard will be used for:

  • distributing reading material and assignments

  • posting questions and discussion in preparation for the seminar

Reading list

There are no essential textbooks for this course. The texts in the list below are useful introductory books on the international politics of the region:
Louise Fawcett, ed., International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford University Press, 2013.
Raymond Hinnebusch, The International Politics of the Middle East, Manchester University Press, 2015.
Fred Halliday, The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics and Ideology, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Raymond Hinnebusch and Anoushiravan Ehteshami, eds. The Foreign Policies of Middle East States, Lynne Rienner, 2014.

Selected readings for each weekly seminar and the course syllabus, including information on where publications can be purchased and how this literature should be studied beforehand - will be posted on Blackboard before the start of the course. Articles and books listed in the syllabus as ‘required readings’ can be found in the library catalogue or online.
Provisional seminar topics:
I. The Middle East regional system from the Kuwait crisi to the New World Order
2. The Bush Doctrine and the US Invasion of Iraq
3. War and peace in Palestine/Israel
4. The international politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Gulf security
5. The ‘resistance front’ strategy
6. Reorienting Turkish foreign policy
7. The international politics of Islam
8. The Arab revolts: regional and international aspects
9. After the Arab revolts: counter insurgency, regional bipolarisation and global competitive interference
10. The European Union and the Middle East: from the neighbourhoood policy to the ‘refugee crisis’


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs



Dr. Aurora Sottimano


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).