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A website for K-12 educators featuring innovative resource on the culture, geography, history and religions of the Middle East, including essays, classroom activities, downloadable multimedia content and interactive Google Earth tours.


This section contains full-text readings from a variety of sources. Many of these texts have never been offered online before. They represent a range of scholarly views and interests, and are intended to offer a more in-depth view of selected topics covered in this module. Please be aware that these texts may not be reproduced in any way without the express permission of the original copyright holder, as indicated at the head of each reading.

The readings listed in grey are currently unavailable, as we work toward renewing copyright permission from the publishers.

  • Interview with William Cleveland
    Michael A. Toler

    This interview with William Cleveland, Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, provides excellent background for scholars beginning to delve into the study of the history of the Modern Arab World, addressing many of the issues they need to be aware of. Among the topics discussed are the contradictory risks of either treating a region composed of many different cultures and countries as a monolith, or of insisting too much on regional or national specificity. Cleveland also addresses, briefly, some of the key developments in the recent history of the region, such as the development of the nation state system, the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the effect of the oil boom on the the Arab countries.

  • Egypt and North Africa
    Peter von Sivers

    This brief survey by Peter von Sivers, Professor of History at the University of Utah, traces the spread and development of Islam in the northern part of the African continent, particularly from a religious perspective or, more accurately, with regard to the role of Islam in governance of the region. He divides the article into two main parts: 1) 'The Formation and Dominance of Sunni Orthodoxy (700-1800)' which deals with the arrival of Islam, its interactions with local populations and innovations introduced by successive governing dynasties. 2) 'Political Recentralization and Religious Reform (1800-present)', which discusses the response of North African Islam to the modern world and increased interaction with the West.

  • The US-Middle East Connection:Interests, Attitudes and Images
    Mohamed El Mansour

    In this article the influential Moroccan historian takes provides a history or the role of the United States in the Middle East and North Africa. The essay provides and excellent introductory survey, beginning with the recognition of the young American republic by Morocco in the 19th century through recent events. The paper is a consice and necessarily general survey that provides a useful overview of historical developments. It can be complimented by more in depth, issue specific readings with a more limited focus, such as the articles by William Quandt and Fawaz Gerges that analyze the American approach toward the Arab-Israeli conflict and Political Islam, respectively. See, also, the gallery in this unit as well as resources in the links and bibliography to explore the topic further.

  • The Arab Middle East: Arabism, Military States, and Islam
    Ira M. Lapidus

    This chapter is a very brief survey of recent history in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and neighboring Gulf states from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire through 1988 when the book was originally published. It clearly outlines the role of British and French colonial powers in defining the nation states that exist in the region, and how this involvement impacted local political structures. It also touches on the impact of Arab Nationalism and political Islam in a nation by nation survey of recent political developments. Ira M. Lapidus is an Emiritus Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.

  • The Myth of the Middle East Madman
    Stephen Humphreys

    The nationalization of the Suez Canal by Gamel Abdel-Nasser, the Iranian hostage crisis of 1978-79, and the decision of Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait, are three events which have had a tremendous impact on the history of the Middle East. They are also three events which have contributed to constructing what Stephen Humphreys, Professor of History and Islamic Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, calls "The Myth of the Middle East Madman", i.e. the Middle Eastern leader bent on antagonizing the world and specifically the West, for no apparent or seemingly rational reasons. The author dismantles this myth by looking into the context surrounding each of the decisions above, demonstrating the completely logical and very real motivations behind each decision. In some cases the actions may have been misguided and the results mixed, but nonetheless, the initiative was motivated by real political factors. Hence, the Middle East Madman is a stereotype that doesn't have a basis in reality.

  • The Ottoman Empire: the Nineteenth Century
    Donald Quataert

    This article by Donald Quataert, a specialist in Ottoman History from Binghamton University (SUNY Binghamton) deals with the “long nineteenth century, 1798-1922” in the Ottoman empire. This was a period of transformation in the empire, marked by a number of external pressures that led to some shrinkage of borders and greater pressure on the Ottoman Empire from external economic factors, as well as some internal rebellion. There is an extended discussion of Egypt’s Muhammad Ali and his challenges to Ottoman authority and its results, as well as a number of internal legal and structural changes that occurred during this period, most notably reforms in the status of Muslims and non-Muslims and some changes in the legal status of women. The article also focuses on the rise of inter-communal violence within the empire. An understanding of the Ottoman Empire, particularly from 1798 onwards, is essential to an understanding of the Arab World today, as all the territories in the Arab World, with the exception of Morocco, were under Ottoman rule. It was from its rubble that the modern nation states to the region emerged. Consult the interview with William Cleveland for some theoretical insight into this process, and the bibliography for additional resources on the Ottoman Empire.

  • Frontiers in North Africa
    George Joffe

    Through a detailed and specific consideration of the borders of Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, this article provides an important illustration of a point made in the history module by several scholars, including William Cleveland, that many of the nations in the Middle East exist within borders defined as much in response to imperial and colonial needs in the region as to community interests and territorial claims of the populations living there. The article begins a theoretical and historical survey of border issues which argues that in many ways colonially imposed conceptions of territory-based states were imposed on structures that had been based more on community affiliations. He then proceeds to analyze, on a case by case basis, the major border disputes within the region, and the historical development of conflicting claims. The article has been updated by the author for inclusion in this site.

  • Reform and the Politics of Inclusion in the Maghrib
    Azzedine Layachi

    In this essay, Azzedine Layachi, Professor of Political Science at St. John's College in New York, reviews events of the last three decades in Moroco, Algeria and Tunisia, particularly with regard to political and economic reforms and the factors which brought them about. The author argues that these reforms have a tendency to "include few elements of society and to exclude many." He also argues that these reforms are not, as many argue, merely "regime survival tactics" but that they "should be considered as part and parcel of irresistable socio-demographic, economic and policitcal mutations in the Maghreb."

  • Arabia 1989 - 1995
    M. Yapp

    This chapter from The Near East since the First World War: A History to 1995 is a discussion of the history of the Arabian Peninsula from 1989 to 1995, particularly the build up to and effects of the most important event of this period, the “Kuwait Crisis and War,” which, of course, is know to most Americans as the Gulf War. However, the discussion begins with the collapse of oil prices in the 1980s. Sections of the essay focus on Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and the Persian Gulf States, i.e. Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates

  • Popular Religion
    Jonathan P. Berkey

    This book, by an Associate Professor of History at Davidson College, considers the history of Islam from roughly the middle of the seventh century through to the beginning of the 18th century, i.e., from the Umayyad era through Medieval Islam. While the book is chronologically organized, it's approach is more analytical than many histories of the period tend to be. this chapter looks at "popular religion" in the Medieval Period (1000-1500), introducing the distinction between popular practices and the scholarly teaching of the Ulama, including festivals and visits to tombs. Berkey makes a useful distinction between popular Islam and Sufism, however, is discussed in the precending chapter.

  • Militant Islam in Morocco: The Perils of Exclusion and the Risks of Inclusion
    Azzedine Layachi

    This essay is a consideration of Islamist movements in Morocco and the efforts of the Moroccan government to reach some sort of accomodation with them during the past three decades. The essay also gives insight into the factors which contribute to the attractiveness of the movements for the citizenry, their poltical programs and techniques. Written as recently as February 2002, the author attempts to assess whether or not the political and economic liberaliztion process currently going on in the coutnry will be sufficient to keep these movements in check. for more on related topics, listen to the interview with Azzedine Layachi in the AV section of this unit.

  • Imperial Muddle
    Ken Stier

    This article provides a historical overview of the problems encountered by Great Britian when, at the end of World War I the three provinces that make up the modern nation state of Iraq became a British mandate. Under this arrangment Arab claims to independence were theoretically recognized, but it was to be the role of the British to prepare the territory for self rule. The article provides a historical account of the debate over approaches to be taken, the strategies implemented and the internal problems in Iraq that caused the approach to fail.

  • "Conclusion" from America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests
    Fawaz Gerges

    In the conclusion to his book America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests? Fawaz Gerges discusses the American government’s response to the phenomenon of Political Islam during the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration which followed it. The essay summarizes the results of the research that is detailed in the book, Gerges first deals with the rhetoric of the executive branch and finds it generally very productive. He then moves to an analysis of policies, finding that the rhetoric does not translate into policy. In fact, he demonstrates that there has been a great deal of inconsistency in US policy toward Islamist movements in Egypt, Iran, Algeria and Turkey. The essay concludes with thoughts on “What is to be done?” with regard to Islamic movements so as to “prevent the hijacking of American foreign policy by those in both camps who are beating the drums of cultural and civilizational war.” Fawaz Gerges is currenlty Christian A. Johnson Chair in International Affairs and Middle East Studies at Sarah Lawrence College.

  • The Consequences of 1948
    Edward W. Said

    This essay by Edward Said, one of this country’s most important cultural critics and a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, originally appeared as the “Afterword” for The War for Palestine : Rewriting the History of 1948. The essay begins with Said’s personal experience of the war that led to the establishment of the nation of Israel, then proceeds to more general considerations of the war on the Palestinian people, the Arab World and on Arab Ideology. Said discusses in some detail the plight of the Palestinian refugees who were rarely truly welcome in the countries to which they fled, the post-1948 militarization of Arab countries, and the ideological distortions present in accounts of historical events on both sides of the conflict. The article ends by proposing Said’s strategy for peaceful coexistence that should be “based on a full consciousness of what 1948 was for Palestinians and for Israelis, the point being that no Bowdlerization of the past, no diminishment of its effects can possibly serve any sort of decent future.” The article, is, however, a deeply personal account of the issue. For varying perspectives on the Arab-Isreali conflict, see the reading by William Quandt in this unit, as well as the links list, which contains a section on the conflict from Arab, Israeli and Palestinian perspectives.

  • Israeli-Palestinian Relations Since the Gulf War
    William L. Cleveland

    On September 13, 1993 when the Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin exchanged an awkward handshake on the White House Lawn in front of President Clinton, it seemed to many a moment of great, previously unimagined hope. This chapter provides an objective accounting of the process that led up to that moment, as well the gradual unraveling of whatever understanding had been reached, as well as subsequent, but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to revive the understanding. The chapter includes an assessment of problems with the Oslo accords from both a Palestinian and Israeli perspective, and ends in 1999 with the formation of Ehud Barak's coalition government in Israel. For more on the the American role in the conflict, see William Quandt's 2001 assessment of "The Challenges Facing Future Administrations." The AV section of this unit also contains newsreel footage from Arab television on key periods such as the 1967 war between the Arabs and Israel. Edwards Said's article "The Consequences of 1948" provides a Palestinian perspective on the establishment of the Israeli state, and the links section of this unit contains a special section that provides a number of resources representing various perspectives from both sides of the conflict and from international news agencies and NGOs.

  • Challenges Facing Future Administrations
    William Quandt

    This essay is from William Quandt’s book Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict since 1967. As the concluding essay of the book, it is an assessment of the role played by each American administration in promoting and facilitating peace between the parties in this conflict. The piece is illuminating because of the light it sheds on the effects of domestic politics in the United States, and of the degree of personal commitment on the part of the President and his staff, on the process. Quandt’s analysis is subjective, but well argued and well supported. The article ends with an assessment of future prospects for ending the conflict. The article frequently refers to UN resolution 242, the text of which can be read online here. It would be difficult to overestimate the impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the Arab world. For much more on this topic, see the section “Arab-Israeli Conflict” in the links list. William Quandt is a Professor of International Relations and Comparative Government at the University of Virginia.

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