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


Admission requirements

Admission prioritized for 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 other relevant MA programmes interested in taking this course should contact the Student Advisor, Dr. Nicole van Os, prior to registration. All students interested should have had approximately 30 EC worth of courses in Middle Eastern Studies at BA level. See below for information on the registration.


This course provides an overview of the international relations of the Middle East from the end of the Cold War to the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Uprisings. It reviews and compares the major theories that have explained the behavior of regional and extra-regional powers in the Middle East, their cooperation and competition, and their impact on Middle East security. The course also analyses the role of irregular armed groups in Middle Eastern conflicts, as well as their interaction with states and non-state actors. It focuses on key issues, such as the transformation of the US role in the Middle East from the 1990-91 Gulf War to the 2003 occupation of Iraq; the impact of the ‘global war on terror’ in the Middle East; the strategies of Middle Eastern powers, such as Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel; the competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran; the international and transnational dimensions of conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Palestine.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will have:

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

  • Acquired familiarity with theoretical approaches and comparative methods applied to the study of the international politics of the Middle East

  • Acquired the ability to critically engage with the literature on IR of the Middle East.

Moreover, students will have acquired the ability to:

  • elaborate research questions, articulate ideas and arguments appropriate to the context and answer them cogently and persuasively.

  • critically use primary and secondary sources to support their arguments.

  • conduct supervised research on IR topics in a theoretically informed manner

  • provide and receive constructive criticism

This course will allow students to further develop the following skills: (i) structuring and organizing presentations (ii) sophisticating their academic writing (iii) refining their capacity to identify and discuss the major arguments in the field of IR in the Middle East, through assessing existing literature and analysing empirical studies (iv) designing a research project, identifying relevant sources, formulating sound research questions and developing the research, by using appropriate methods.



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.

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.

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.

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: 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • 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 research, reading and writing the abstract and final paper) 60 hours.

Assessment method

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). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimise overlap between prior and new work.

Students must submit their assignment(s) to the blackboard through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Student participation (posts and seminar discussion) 20%
In class presentation 15%
Written assignment 15%
End of term research paper (of 5,000) words 50%

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.

The final paper accounts for 50% of the final grade. The paper will only be graded if the student has attended the seminars.

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.

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

End of term research 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.

Late submissions 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 paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only).


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 (50%). 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.

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

Louise Fawcett, ed., International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford University Press, 2018.
Other selected readings.


Students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies and the MA International Studies are required to register through uSis before January 15. Students from these programmes who cannot register in uSis, and interested students from other MA programmes are requested to send an email to the student advisor, Dr. Nicole van Os, including their name, student ID number, course title and prospectus or catalog number. Depending on the availability of places, the student advisor will register these students after January 15. By February 1 at the latest the student will be able to see in uSis whether (s)he is registered or not.

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 “USIS-Actnbr.”. More information on uSis is available in Dutch and English. You can also have a look at the FAQ.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. Marina Calculli


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.