SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

International Relations of the Middle East

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

This year long, interdisciplinary course provides an in-depth introduction to the international politics of West Asia and, to a lesser extent, North Africa or what is commonly known as the “Middle East”. It links the study of international relations as a subject matter with the empirical understanding of transnational ideologies (e.g. pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism), inter-state conflict (e.g. the Persian Gulf Wars, the conflict in Israel/Palestine etc.), foreign policy of major regional states (Iran, Turkey, Iraq etc.) and “superpower” politics. The course thus investigates both the factors involved in the making of international politics in the area, and the way we can analyse them. To that end, it introduces students to the discourse of “Orientalism”, theories of international relations such as (neo)realism and social constructivism and other approaches in IR. Beyond this conceptual focus, themes such as Islam, gender, democracy, civil society, globalisation, fundamentalism, terrorism, revolution etc. are also covered.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  •  analyse the state formation process in West Asia and North Africa;
  • explore meta-theoretical frameworks for the analysis of regional conflicts and foreign policies
  • examine the role of political cultures and transnational loyalties, especially in its pan-Arab and Islamic manifestations;
  • evaluate historical dynamics, including colonialism and its impact on the politics in- and discourse about the region.
  • investigate the preconditions for regional integration and communitarian interaction between states;
  • compare regional politics and global processes with a particular emphasis on the impact of superpower politics on the region.
  • analyse the historical, strategic and international dynamics of the major inter-state wars amongst regional actors including the three Persian Gulf wars and the conflict in Israel/Palestine.
  • critically evaluate the impact of globalisation on economic and political liberalisation.
  • appreciate the transnational dynamics of civil societies in the region including NGOs, women’s rights movements and human rights organisations.


This module will be taught over 20 weeks with:

  • 1 hour lecture per week
  • 1 hour tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

History and Methods

1. Introduction: Course Overview/Pedagogy

2. What is the “Middle East”?

3. Concepts and Theories of IR

4. Critical approaches: Orientalism - Gender

Themes and Concepts

5. Transnational Loyalties: Pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism

6. From the Cold War to the new world order

7. Islam and Global Order

8. The “Jihadist” challenge

9. National-Islamists

Foreign Policies and Interstate Politics

10. War and Peace in Israel/Palestine

11. War and Peace in the Persian Gulf

12. Iran

13. Turkey

14. Iraq

15. The Kurdish Question

16. Syria

17. The region after the Arab Spring

18. Conclusion

19. + Revisions

Method of assessment

Assignment 1: Essay 50%
Assignment 2: Essay 50%


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules