Course Description

The Middle East Institute's new online course offers students anywhere in the world a primer to understanding the region's most challenging contemporary issues through video lectures, selected readings, and live Q&A's with MEI's leading analysts and fellow students.

The course's catalog of lessons features top experts on Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Yemen, among others, discussing how each country's history has shaped its current political and security challenges. Through the online discussion forum, students will have the unique opportunity to interact with leading analysts in the field, including former U.S. ambassadors, authors, and experts who have worked extensively in the region. Students will gain considerable insight into today's policy challenges and the prospects for long-term political change in the region.

Course and Instructors Overview

Middle East Institute

LESSON 1:Introduction to the Modern Middle EastThe contemporary Middle East is plagued by dictatorship, underdevelopment, and civil war. In this lesson we examine the principal causes of this fragmented region, as well as potential paths toward a more prosperous and peaceful Middle East.INSTRUCTED BY: Dr. Paul Salem  Vice President for Policy Analysis, Research & Programs Paul Salem is vice president for policy analysis, research and programs at The Middle East Institute. He focuses on issues of political change, transition, and conflict as well as the regional and international relations of the Middle East. He has a particular emphasis on the countries of the Levant and Egypt. Salem writes regularly in the Arab and Western press and has been published in numerous journals and newspapers. Prior to joining MEI, Salem was the founding director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon between 2006 and 2013. From 1999 to 2006, he was director of the Fares Foundation and in 1989-1999 founded and directed the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Lebanon's leading public policy think tank. LESSON 2:Shifting Power Dynamics in the Middle EastFrom World War I to the Cold War to the Arab Spring, the Middle East has experienced dynamic changes in leadership, alliances, and power structures. This lesson explains the region's current political order by examining the evolution of regional power dynamics throughout the past century.INSTRUCTED BY: Ross Harrison  Scholar, The Middle East Institute Ross Harrison is a scholar at The Middle East Institute and is on the faculty of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. From 2007-2013, he was professor in the practice of international affairs at Georgetown, serving as chair of the international commerce and business concentration in the Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) program. Ross is also on the faculty of the political science department at the University of Pittsburgh, teaching courses in Middle East politics. LESSON 3:The Effect of US Military Intervention in the Middle East: 1979 - PresentSince 1979, U.S. military intervention in the Middle East has tremendously shaped the region's political, economic, and social trajectory. Through his own experiences as an advisor to five U.S. presidents, Richard Clark explores the key periods of U.S. military engagement in the Middle East and how the use of force has shaped not only the region itself, but global perceptions of U.S. policy toward it.INSTRUCTED BY: Richard A. Clarke  Chairman of the Board of Governors, The Middle East Institute Mr. Clarke served for thirty years in US government national security agencies, including the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House National Security Council. In the Reagan administration, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence. In the Bush (41) Administration, he was Assistant Secretary of State for Politico-Military Affairs. During an unprecedented ten consecutive years with the NSC, Mr. Clarke served as Special Assistant to the President for Global Affairs, Senior Director for Transnational Threats, National Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, and Special Advisor to the President for Cyber Security. Since leaving government, he has taught five years at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, served as an on air consultant for ABC News for nine years, and managed Good Harbor Consulting for a decade. He has published numerous books and novels, including Pinnacle Event (St. Martin's Press, 2015) and the New York Times #1 best seller, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, and Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes. LESSON 4:Afghanistan in the Post 9/11 WorldNearly sixteen years after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, violence and political fragility continue to plague Afghanistan. This lesson provides an overview of Afghanistan’s history, including the Soviet invasion, civil war, and legacy of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Additional topics include Afghanistan in the post-9/11 period, and the various political challenges facing the country.INSTRUCTED BY: Ahmad Majidyar  Director of the IranObserved Project, The Middle East Institute Ahmad Khalid Majidyar is a Fellow and the Director of IranObserved Project at the Middle East Institute. From 2008 to 2015, Ahmad worked as a Senior Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institutes, where he co-authored two monographs on Iran: “Iranian Influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan” (AEI 2012), and “The Shi’ites of the Middle East: An Iranian fifth column?" (AEI 2014). In addition, he has provided briefings on Iran and Afghanistan at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint IED Defeat Organization, the National Defense University, the State Department and Congress; and he has spoken as a guest analyst at think tanks, universities, and world affairs councils. LESSON 5:The Politics and Ideology of Post-Revolutionary IranSince 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has played a pivotal role in shaping the geopolitical balance of the Middle East. In this lesson, we explore Iran’s history, political structure and evolution, and the role of civil society in Iranian politics.INSTRUCTED BY: Alex Vatanka  Senior Fellow, The Middle East Institute Alex Vatanka specializes in Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran. From 2006 to 2010, he was the managing editor of Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst. From 2001 to 2006, he was a senior political analyst at Jane’s in London (UK) where he mainly covered the Middle East. Alex is also a senior fellow in Middle East Studies at the US Air Force Special Operations School (USAFSOS) at Hurlburt Field and teaches as an adjunct professor at DISAM at Wright-Patterson AFB. He has lectured widely for both governmental and commercial audiences, including the US Departments of State and Defense, US intelligence agencies, US Congressional staff, and Middle Eastern energy firms. LESSON 6:Yemen's Security and Political ChallengesYemen, a failed state ravaged by civil war and foreign threats, faces an array of security and humanitarian challenges. This lesson provides an overview of Yemen’s history and assesses the impact of the Arab Spring on its fragile political system. In addition, it examines the current civil war and analysis the prospects for peace.INSTRUCTED BY: Amb. Gerald Feierstein  Director of Gulf Affairs, The Middle East Institute Jerry Feierstein retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in May 2016 after a 41-year career. At the time of his retirement, Feierstein held the personal rank of Career Minister. Over the course of his career, he served in nine overseas postings, including three tours of duty in Pakistan, as well as tours in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Tunisia. In 2010, President Obama appointed Feierstein U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, where he served until 2013. From 2013 until his retirement, Feierstein was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs. LESSON 7:Turkey's Evolving Political DynamicsIn recent years, Turkey has faced multiple social and political challenges both at home and abroad. An attempted coup, government brutality, and a fragile relationship with the west has altered Turkey’s political posture. This lesson will explore the influence of Turkey's political parties, the country's role in Syria and other regional conflicts, and its relationship with regional allies and the west.INSTRUCTED BY: Gonul Tol  Director of Turkish Studies, The Middle East Institute Dr. Gönül Tol is the founding director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies. She received her Ph.D. in political science from Florida International University, where she was a graduate fellow at the Middle East Studies Center. After three years of field research in Germany and the Netherlands, she wrote her dissertation on the radicalization of the Turkish Islamist movement Milli Gorus in Western Europe. She was also an adjunct professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University. She has taught courses on Islamist movements in Western Europe, Turkey, world politics, and the Middle East. LESSON 8:Allies, Rivals, and the Global Struggle for SyriaSince the start of the 2011 Syrian Civil War more than 465,000 Syrians have been killed and more than a million injured. Half of the country's prewar population have been displaced from their homes. This lesson provides an overview of the early resistance against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and discusses the armed conflict and what lies ahead.INSTRUCTED BY: Charles Lister  Senior Fellow, The Middle East Institute Charles Lister is the author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency, and focuses on terrorism, insurgency and sub-state security threats across the Middle East. He is also a senior consultant to The Shaikh Group’s Track II Syria Initiative, within which he has helped coordinate a two-year process of engagement with the leaderships of over 100 Syrian armed opposition groups. He was formerly a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and before that, the head of MENA at the London-based IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre. 

Course curriculum

  • 1

    Course Information

    • Information

    • Course Syllabus

    • Virtual Office Hours Instructions

  • 2

    Introduction to the Modern Middle East

    • Scholar: Paul Salem

    • Introduction

    • Forces for Change

    • The Regional Order

    • The Challenges Ahead

    • Political Reform

    • Recommended Reading

    • Discussion

  • 3

    Shifting Power Dynamics in the Middle East

    • Scholar: Ross Harrison

    • Current Conflicts in the Middle East

    • The Middle East from the Ottoman Empire to the Cold War

    • Collapse of the Arab Order

    • Today's Regional Struggle for Power

    • Recommended Reading

    • Discussion

  • 4

    The Effect of U.S. Military Intervention in the Middle East: 1979 - Present

    • Scholar: Richard A. Clarke

    • Introduction: The Middle East in 1979

    • The Iran Iraq War

    • The First Gulf War

    • The Road to 9/11

    • U.S. Invasion of Iraq

    • The Arab Spring

    • Contemporary Challenges

    • Recommended Reading

    • Discussion

  • 5

    Afghanistan in the Post-9/11 World

    • Scholar: Ahmad Majidyar

    • Introduction to the War in Afghanistan

    • Historical Background

    • Afghanistan's Civil War

    • Post-9/11 Afghanistan

    • Feasibility of a Political Solution

    • Current Challenges in Afghanistan

    • Recommended Reading

    • Discussion

  • 6

    The Politics and Ideology of Post-Revolutionary Iran

    • Scholar: Alex Vatanka

    • Overview of Iran's History

    • Iran's Political System

    • Political Interest Groups in Iran

    • Iranian Civil Society

    • Rafsanjani and Iran's Political Evolution

    • Recommended Reading

    • Discussion

  • 7

    Yemen's Security and Political Challenges

    • Scholar: Gerald M. Feierstein

    • Overview of Yemen's History

    • Yemen in the Arab Spring

    • Yemen's Political Transition

    • Yemen's Civil War

    • Prospects for Peace

    • Recommended Reading

    • Discussion

  • 8

    Turkey's Evolving Political Dynamics

    • Scholar: Dr. Gonul Tol

    • Overview of Turkey's History

    • Turkey's Political Parties

    • Turkey's Foreign Affairs

    • Turkey and the West

    • Turkey's Role in the Region

    • Recommended Reading

    • Discussion

  • 9

    Allies, Rivals, and the Global Struggle for Syria

    • Scholar: Charles Lister

    • Overview of the Civil War

    • The Start of the Resistance

    • Armed Conflict in Syria

    • U.S. Military Involvement

    • Events of 2015

    • Looking Ahead

    • Recommended Reading

    • Discussion