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Last updated 21 July 2017

A: The Middle East: Egypt and Iran compared (Dr Glen Rangwala)

The course
Over the past 65 years, political change in the Middle East has been propelled most visibly
by events in Iran and Egypt. The advent of the Free Officers Movement in Egypt in 1952 set
up a model of rule across the region – one based on nationalism, ‘modernisation’, military
dominance and state-led development – that was widely imitated. The 1979 revolution in
Iran offered a different model, one in which religion, clerical leadership and a
transformational foreign policy were foregrounded. The 2011 revolution in Egypt set a new,
anti-authoritarian tempo to Middle Eastern politics. All three revolutionary movements
remain deeply contested within their own societies, and disputes over their legacies
constitute a primary focus of on-going political competition.

They are countries with many clear similarities and differences. Both are countries in which
there is a long history of imperial and national identity, but in which over recent centuries
Islam has played a significant role in politics. Iran’s population however is predominantly
Shi’a Muslim, and mostly identify ethno-linguistically as Persian (Farsi); Egypt’s is Sunni
Muslim, and mostly identify as Arab. Iran is oil-rich, Egypt now largely resource-poor. As the
two most populous countries in the Middle East, Iran and Egypt present the two major sides
to the region, and in different ways exemplify the politics of the Middle East today.

The lecture series will compare the two countries that between them have shared a region,
but which remain palpably distinct in their governing institutions and political culture.
Students can expect to come away from this course with a good grasp of the modern history
of these two countries, and to understand their political systems, particularly in so far as
they have been changing over the past decade. They should also be able to draw
comparisons. What explains the long experience of authoritarianism that has dominated
both countries’ modern histories, and do they both inhabit a similar ‘grey zone’ between
democratic participation and unaccountable leaderships? Does religion play a similar role in
garnering political legitimacy? To what extent do they face similar economic and social
challenges? What explains their different orientations in foreign policy?

Lectures
Lecture 1: State formation and revolutionary legacies
(Friday, 19th January, 11am)

The first lecture will set up a central theme in the course, that revolutionary episodes are
not occasional departures from normal political processes, but are key features of how the
politics of both countries has become established. That is, grappling with the legacy of the
revolution has become the basis around which ordinary politics operates.
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Lecture 2: Authoritarianism, democratisation and revolutionary consolidation


(Monday, 22nd January, 9am)

The theme this lecture will address is how systems of government have been established in
Iran and Egypt after the revolutions of 1979 and 2011 respectively. It will look to how and
why those periods of consolidation have taken different paths and have had varying
outcomes.

Lecture 3: The politics of dissent


(Friday, 26th January, 11am)

This lecture looks specifically at who has been left out of the new post-revolutionary
establishment in Iran and Egypt: it’s intended to serve as the mirror to lecture 2. With Iran,
the ‘Green Movement’ (2009-??) provides the central focus. On Egypt, the focus in the
reading is on the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members briefly took the leading role in post-
revolutionary official political processes, but were then displaced in 2013.

Lecture 4: Gender politics during revolutionary upheavals


(Monday, 29th January, 9am)

The politics of gender and sexuality in Iran and Egypt provides an alternative way to
understand these two countries. Authors who write on these themes insist on the centrality
of gender relations in understanding national politics. The lecture will look at how a focus on
gender helps us understand revolutionary and post-revolutionary politics.

Lecture 5: Foreign policy in troubled times


(Monday, 5th February, 9am)

The lecture will connect the foreign policy of Iran and Egypt with their domestic politics. In
both countries, it is useful to think through the extent to which revolutionary processes
reoriented foreign policy stances, and what the consequences of those stances have been
for political order within the country. More generally, it is important to think through whose
interests are served through their foreign policy stances.

Lecture 6: Revolutionary legacies and political change


(Monday, 12th February, 9am)

The final lecture takes us back to the starting theme of the series, on understanding both
Egypt and Iran as countries significantly shaped by their experiences of revolution. This
lecture will be oriented around thinking about the future of both countries: to what extent
are they outgrowing their revolutionary legacies?
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Essay questions and reading lists


In the reading lists below, [OL] means the text can be found on-line (including through
electronic access to journals); some of them will only be available from within the university
network. [M] means than an individual chapter from a longer texts should be available on
the library’s Moodle page by the start of the course. If specific pieces are not available
electronically as listed below, please do contact the lecturer. If there are problems in
connecting to the relevant Moodle site, then speak to the library.

Although these reading lists are long, you are really not expected to read everything on
them. Key items are starred, but beyond that you should have a broad coverage of the
themes that make up the topic. There are few notes below to give you a sense of what
those themes are, and what specifically to look for within particular texts.

Background reading
It is crucial for this option to have a good understanding of the modern history of both
countries, before you dive into the specific reading for each of the essay questions. That
specific reading will only make sense against a general background understanding. To start
off the reading – preferably over the Christmas vacation – it is worthwhile to look at a
couple of more general texts that will give you a sense of the politics, society and political
culture of the two countries. You may find that these two texts can be read at a relatively
leisurely pace, without feeling an obligation to take notes. Neither is strictly academic in
tone (Mottahedeh though is a serious academic historian); Shenker, a journalist, makes his
strong political avowals, and those can be read through if you don’t agree, nonetheless
leaving much of value.

Roy Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran (new edn: Oxford:
Oneworld, 2000 / 2008; originally published with the better subtitle, Learning and
Power in Modern Iran, London: Chatto & Windus, 1986).

Jack Shenker, The Egyptians: A Radical Story (London: Allen Lane, 2016).

Moving on from there, you should try to plough through a modern history of each country.
In the case of Iran, the texts by Keddie and Ansari are usefully complementary: Keddie
provides the straight historical account, while Ansari is the thematic exploration of Iranian
nationalism from the eighteenth century. For Egypt, its modern history can only be
understood within the context of the Arab Middle East, as it came from the nineteenth
century to form a distinctive part of the Ottoman Empire. For that reason, it is perhaps best
to approach Egypt through relevant sections of Gelvin (chapters 5, 9-10, 12 and 15) and/or
Cleveland & Bunton (the relevant sections of chapters 4-6, 11, 15-16 and 18).

It is also useful to have a good sense of pre-revolutionary Egypt and Iran. Kurzman and Parsa
(esp pp. 91-125) are best for Iran, while – slightly differently, due to being written before
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2011 – it’s best for Egypt to look at Cook (especially chapter 4), the three articles in
Schlumberger and the piece by Langohr in Posusney/Angrist.

Nikki Keddie, Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution, 2nd edn (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2006). (chapter 7 on [M])

Ali Ansari, The Politics of Nationalism in Modern Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2012), via: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139020978 [OL - ebook]

James Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

William Cleveland and Martin Bunton, A History of the Modern Middle East (Westview Press,
4th edition, 2009) – earlier editions, with Cleveland as the sole author, are also fine.

* Oliver Schlumberger, ed., Debating Arab Authoritarianism: Dynamics and Durability in


Nondemocratic Regimes (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007) - chapters 4
(Albrecht) [M], 8 (Pioppi) and 11 (Richter) on Egypt.

Marsha Pripstein Posusney and Michele Penner Angrist, eds., Authoritarianism in the Middle
East: Regimes and Resistance (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2005) - chapter 9
(Langohr) [M].

Steven Cook, Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt,
Algeria, and Turkey (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2007). (chapter 4 on
[M])

* Charles Kurzman, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran (Harvard University Press, 2004).
(conclusion on [M], but, really, try to find the time to read the whole thing)

Misagh Parsa, Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution (New Brunswick: Rutgers University
Press, 1989). (chapter 4 on [M])

Essay 1: What explains the differences in how revolutions have, or


have not, been consolidated in Egypt and Iran?
The question invites you understand the different paths taken by Iran after 1979 and Egypt
after 2011 (and, optionally, after 1952) in creating stable and legitimate forms of
government. Note that the second essay is going to be about foreign policy, so perhaps
steer off that topic for the first essay as much as possible.

For Iran, the most sustained arguments about the character and ideas of the post-
revolutionary government are those made by Martin (see especially chapter VII), on the
immediate period of consolidation, and Brumberg (chapters 6-8) on the longer term
development. The short articles in the MEI retrospective provide a good range of different
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perspectives: it’s worth browsing through all nine of the articles in the first part of the
collection. The short piece by Ghobadzadeh & Rahim is mostly introductory, but does take
you up to contemporary events. On Egypt, the recommendations are a range of short
articles: from the Gerges collection, the pieces by Cole (chapter 3), Chalcraft (chapter 7) and
Owen (chapter 11) are all on the causes and immediate aftermath of the revolution. El-
Ghobashy gives an interesting insight into how the politicisation of the Egyptian judiciary
has resulted in their prominent role after the 2011 revolution. Different perspectives on the
extent to which Egypt has experienced a counter-revolution, and what sustains the new
government, are provided by Roll, Stacher, Marfleet (especially chapter 9), Marshall and van
de Bildt. It is worth looking through all, in order to think through and evaluate their different
forms of explanation.

To understand government stability and legitimacy, it’s also important to understand how
opposition is mobilised. On Iran’s Green Movement, various articles and primary documents
relating to it are collected in the Hashemi/Postel volume: do look at the introduction, and
then dip in to the various pieces in there, especially Part II. For something more focused,
Behravesh’s article is the one at which to look, while Sherrill and Milani provide different
takes on what has happened since. Quite differently, Asef Bayat’s book gives another
perspective on who have been left out of the process of revolutionary consolidation: it’s all
worth reading, but those pressed for time should certainly read chapter 3. On Egypt, the
Wickham book provides a good grounding on the Muslim Brotherhood: chapters 5, 7 and 9
will be particularly helpful. Ismail provides the broader focus on the place of Islam in the
politics of Egypt, and shows well how religion is not just an oppositional tool, but provides a
moral and political discourse used by all Egyptian governments since the 1970s.
Abdelrahman puts the Brotherhood in the context of the wider political movements of anti-
authoritarianism and for social justice in Egypt, while the contributions by Sowers and
Harders in the IJMES ‘roundtable’ listed below look at what has become of those
movements since 2013.

It is particularly useful to think about the effect of the revolutions on gender politics: Al-Ali is
a useful starting point, particularly due to the discussion of Egypt in that article. The
Sika/Khodary article provides a brief account of women’s organisations before and during
the 2011 revolution. Morsy explores women’s roles in the revolution, while Langohr takes
that on to the aftermath. Pratt looks at how and why the Egyptian state had policed
sexuality through one notorious past case. The Iranian reading is broader, and here the
introductory collection by Povey and Rostami-Povey provides a helpful range of information
and arguments. The five short pieces in the MEI retrospective (mentioned above) provide a
briefer alternative. Sedghi and Paidar both provide rich and complementary accounts of
women’s political agency: Sedghi is the historical narrative, Paidar’s is thematically
organised, and although it’s now quite old, is still very much worth reading: see especially
chapter 6.
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Vanessa Martin, Creating an Islamic State: Khomeini and the Making of a New Iran (London:
I.B. Tauris, 2000). [OL - ebook]
* Daniel Brumberg, Reinventing Khomeini: The Struggle for Reform in Iran (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2001). (chapter 6 on [M])

Middle East Institute, The Iranian Revolution at 30 (2009), via:


http://www.mei.edu/sites/default/files/publications/2009.01.The%20Iranian%20Rev
olution%20at%2030.pdf [OL]

Naser Ghobadzadeh and Lily Zubaidah Rahim, ‘Electoral theocracy and hybrid sovereignty in
Iran’, Contemporary Politics, 22/4 (2016), pp.450-468. [OL]

* Fawaz Gerges, ed., The New Middle East: Protest and Revolution in the Arab World
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). [OL - ebook]

Mona El-Ghobashy, ‘Dissidence and Deference among Egyptian Judges’, Middle East Report
279 (Summer 2016), at: http://merip.org/mer/mer279/dissidence-deference-
among-egyptian-judges [OL]
Stephan Roll, ‘Managing change: how Egypt’s military leadership shaped the
transformation’, Mediterranean Politics, 21/1 (2016), pp.23-43. [OL]

Joshua Stacher, ‘Egypt running on empty’, MERIP online, 8th March 2016, at:
http://www.merip.org/mero/mero030816 [OL]

* Philip Marfleet, Egypt: Contested Revolution (London: Pluto Press, 2016)

Shana Marshall, 'The Egyptian armed forces and the remaking of an economic empire',
Carnegie paper (2015), at:
http://carnegieendowment.org/files/egyptian_armed_forces.pdf [OL]

Joyce van de Bildt, ‘The quest for legitimacy in postrevolutionary Egypt: propaganda and
controlling narratives’, The Journal of the Middle East and Africa, 6:3-4 (2015),
pp.253-274. [OL]

Asef Bayat, Street Politics: Poor People's Movements in Iran (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1997). (chapter 3 on [M])
* Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel (eds), The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and
the Struggle for Iran’s Future (New York: Melville House Publishing, 2010).
Maysam Behravesh, 'Iran's reform movement: the enduring relevance of an alternative
discourse', Digest of Middle East Studies, 23/2 (2014), pp.262–278, at:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dome.12050/pdf [OL]
Clifton W. Sherrill, 'Why Hassan Rouhani won Iran's 2013 presidential election', Middle East
Policy, vol.21/2 (2014), pp.64–75. [OL]
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Abbas Milani, ‘Iran’s paradoxical regime’, Journal of Democracy, vol.26/2 (April 2015),
pp.52-60. [OL]
* Maha Abdelrahman, Egypt’s Long Revolution: Protest Movements and Uprisings (London:
Routledge, 2014). [OL - ebook]

‘Roundtable: After the “Spring”: New Patterns of Grassroots Politics?’, International Journal
of Middle East Studies, vol. 47/1 (2015): articles by Jeannie Sowers (‘Activism and
political economy in the new–old Egypt’) and Cilja Harders (‘“State analysis from
below” and political dynamics in Egypt after 2011’). [OL]

* Carrie Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement (Princeton:


Princeton University Press, 2013). [OL - ebook]

Salwa Ismail, Rethinking Islamist Politics: Culture, the State and Islamism (London: IB Tauris,
2006). [OL - ebook]

Nadje al-Ali, ‘Gender and civil society in the Middle East’, International Feminist Journal of
Politics, vol.5/2 (2003), pp.216-232. [OL]

Maya Morsy, ‘Egyptian women and the 25th of January Revolution: presence and absence’,
Journal of North African Studies, vol. 19/2 (2014), pp.211-229. [OL]

Vickie Langohr ‘Women's rights movements during political transitions: activism against
public sexual violence in Egypt’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol.
47/1 (2015), pp. 131-135. [OL]

Nadine Sika and Yasmin Khodary, ‘One step forward, two steps back? Egyptian women
within the confines of authoritarianism’, Journal of International Women's Studies,
13/5 (2012), pp.91-100, via: http://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol13/iss5/9 [OL]

Nicola Pratt, ‘The Queen Boat case in Egypt: sexuality, national security and state
sovereignty’, Review of International Studies, vol.33 (January 2007), pp. 129-44. [OL]

Tara Povey and Elaheh Rostami-Povey, eds., Women, Power and Politics in 21st Century Iran
(London: Routledge, 2013).

Hamideh Sedghi, Women and Politics in Iran: Veiling, Unveiling, and Reveiling (Cambridge
University Press, 2007).

Parvin Paidar, Women and the Political Process in Twentieth-Century Iran (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1995). (chapter 6 on [M])
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Essay 2: How is foreign policy related to regime security in Iran and


Egypt?
Much of the reading for the first essay will be relevant for this topic too, but it should be
supplemented with reading specifically about foreign policy. Many of the texts on this topic
have been influenced by the late Fred Halliday’s Revolution and World Politics (1999); whilst
this book is only intermittently about Iran, and so doesn’t fall squarely within this paper
option, it is useful to look at the short piece listed below to develop a flavour of the
argument. Shama provides the broad account of Egyptian foreign policy, while Alterman and
Meringolo provide subtly different accounts of how this policy relates to domestic concerns.
Due to the stridency of its foreign policy pronouncements since 1979, the literature on
Iranian foreign relations is huge. Tayekh is perhaps the most useful starting point, as he
gives a solid historical narrative. After that, browsing the Ehteshami/Zweiri collection would
be helpful: the pieces by Ramazani and the last piece by the editors are particularly
recommended. Ansari’s book is focused on relations with US, but is considerably more
sensible than its title makes it sound. The 2015 deal at Vienna over Iran’s nuclear
programme may be a milestone, if not a turning point, in Iran’s foreign relations: see the
short pieces by Ansari (again), Terhalle and Khalaji for different aspects of that.

For more recent events, on Egypt, the articles by Cook and Hessler are both fairly long
reviews of Sisi’s regime, with Cook’s portrayal of its calculated strategy different from
Hessler’s account of its fractiousness. But they are perhaps most relevant here for what they
have to say about Egypt’s foreign policy, particularly within the Middle East. The article by
Wright is on the new tensions in Iranian-US relations with the advent of the new US
presidency. About which, Lynch speculates intelligently about the difficulties that will beset
a policy of ‘belligerent minimalism’: it’s only briefly on Iran, but may be useful for thinking
through what may follow.

It’s also useful to have a sense of how both countries are viewed by the US and other
outside powers: see Hanna on Egypt and Tertrais on Iran to have a flavour. These are
included not because this is the sort of analysis you are encouraged to write, but because
debates about them are also followed closely within each country. So the pieces should give
you a sense of how they come to view their own predicament and prospects on the
international stage.

Fred Halliday, ‘Iran’s revolution in global history’, openDemocracy.net (March 2009), at:
https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/iran-s-revolution-in-global-history [OL]

* Nael Shama, Egyptian Foreign Policy from Mubarak to Morsi: Against the National Interest
(Routledge, 2014). (chapter 4 on [M])
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Jon B. Alterman, ‘Dynamics without drama: new options and old compromises in Egypt’s
foreign policy’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, vol 18/3 (2005), pp.357-
369. [OL]

Azzurra Meringolo, ‘From Morsi to Al-Sisi: Foreign Policy at the Service of Domestic Policy’,
from the Insight Egypt paper series of Istituto Affari Internazionali (March 2015), at:
http://www.iai.it/sites/default/files/inegypt_08.pdf [OL]

Anoush Ehteshami and Mahjoob Zweiri, eds., Iran’s Foreign Policy from Khatami to
Ahmadinejad (Brighton: Sussex University Press, 2011). (chapter 1 on [M])
* Ray Takeyh, Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). (chapter 9 on [M])
Ali Ansari, Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Great
Conflict in the Middle East (New York: Basic Books, 2006). (chapter 6 on [M])
Ali Ansari, ‘The end of the beginning? The July 2015 Iranian nuclear deal’, RUSI Journal,
vol.160/4 (2015), pp.24-29. [OL]
Maximilian Terhalle, 'Why revolutionary states yield: International sanctions, regime survival
and the security dilemma: The case of the Islamic Republic of Iran', International
Politics (September 2015), vol. 52/5, pp.594–608. [OL]
Mehdi Khalaji, ‘Great expectations: Iran after the deal’, The Washington Quarterly, vol.38/3
(2015), pp.61-77. [OL]

Steven Cook, ‘Egypt’s nightmare: Sisi's dangerous war on terror’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 95,
Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2016), pp.110-20. [OL]
Peter Hessler, ‘Egypt’s failed revolution’, New Yorker (2 January 2017), at:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/02/egypts-failed-revolution [OL]
Robin Wright, ‘Trump and Iran: yet another hostage crisis’, New Yorker (6 January 2017), at:
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump-and-iran-yet-another-hostage-
crisis [OL]
Marc Lynch, ‘Belligerent minimalism: the Trump Administration and the Middle East’, The
Washington Quarterly (Dec 2016), vol.39(4), pp.127-44, at:
https://twq.elliott.gwu.edu/sites/twq.elliott.gwu.edu/files/downloads/TWQ_Winter2017_Ly
nch.pdf [OL]

Michael Wahid Hanna, ‘Getting over Egypt: time to rethink relations’, Foreign Affairs
(November/December 2015). [OL]
Bruno Tertrais, ‘Iran: an experiment in strategic risk-taking’, Survival, vol.57/5 (2015), pp.67-
73. [OL]