In the spring of 2011, young people from Tunisia to Yemen took to the streets calling for “bread, freedom, and social justice,” ultimately escalating to demanding the fall of authoritarian regimes across the Middle East and North Africa. This course attempts to make sense of this revolutionary moment by exploring the historical and contemporary dynamics of popular political mobilization in the region. Students will encounter a rich variety of voices across boundaries of religion, ethnicity, gender, class, and nationality as they interrogate the role of ordinary people agitating for change.
This course explores how ordinary people in the Middle East and North Africa have negotiated and transformed the structures of power they found themselves embedded in from World War I to the present. Students will encounter feminist activists organizing protests against foreign occupation; a young actor using comedy to boost morale in a civil war; peasants joining an armed rebellion; and fisherman coordinating a strike. By foregrounding popular actors, this course enables students to gain an appreciation for the lived experience of grassroots political transformations in a region alternatively framed as frozen in time and inherently unstable.
Given the chronological and geographical scope of the course, readings and assignments will focus on themes and debates which continue to roil the region today: colonialism and imperialism, authoritarianism and state violence, class and social justice, anti-colonialism and nationalism, violent vs. non-violent resistance, and the role of religion in politics. Students will examine these and other issues from the perspective of the women, men, and youth who organized protests, spread pamphlets, risked arrest and torture, and coordinated services for fellow refugees. By engaging with a diverse range of historical and contemporary sources through in-class debates, written response essays, and a final research project, students will learn to both critically analyze sources and communicate their analyses through convincing and well-supported arguments.
Students will leave this course with the tools to interpret contemporary developments in the Middle East and North Africa from a critical and historically-informed perspective. In addition to learning essential content, students will hone critical reading, research, writing, and oral communication skills that will prepare them for AP and college coursework in most disciplines.
Prerequisites: This course is ideal for students interested in Middle Eastern history and current events, social and political activism, and global questions of (neo)colonialism and subaltern agency. There are no prerequisites for the course, but students will be asked to approach the material and each other with open minds and hearts and a commitment to respecting a breadth of perspectives and backgrounds.
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