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Chapter Week 1-5

POLS 3060 Chapter Week 1-5: POLS 3060 Required Readings

Political Science
Course Code
POLS 3060
Janine Clark
Week 1-5

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POLS 3060 Required Readings
Part One: The History of State Formation in the Region
Week 1: January 12 & 17
Chapter 1: The Making of the Modern Middle East
The modern Middle East emerged as a result of social, cultural, and political
transformations that affected the region stretching roughly from Morocco to the Persian
It was the West that eventually labeled the region “the Middle East” - created a sense of
identification across the region, underpinned by notions of a common past, religion,
and/or culture.
The formation of this common identity begins roughly with the spread of Islam in the 7th
century CE.
Islam spread remarkably quickly in the early period, establishing large empires,
converting populations to Islam, and spreading Arabic language and culture.
The Abbasid, Umayyad, and later the Ottoman, Safavid, and Qajar empires extended
across a vast territory, stretching from North Africa to the Gulf.
By the 18th century, the two major political entities in the Middle East, the Ottoman
Empire (centered in what is today the Republic of Turkey) and Safavid/Qajar Persia
(centered in what is today the Islamic Republic of Iran), enjoyed relative strength and
The Ottoman Empire was a vast multiethnic, multilingual, and multireligious polity that at
its peak stretched from central Europe all the way to Yemen and across North Africa to
The 19th century saw a number of challenges to Ottoman and Qajar power.
The resulting pressures convinced the Ottomans and to a lesser degree the Iranian
Qajars to undertake a series of fundamental political and economic reforms during the
course of the 19th century.
In the 20th century, WWI (1914-1918) was a cataclysmic event in the Middle East.
It resulted in a redrawing of the map of the entire area and laid the foundation for
a series of rivalries and conflicts that reverberate up until the present day.
The increasing importance of the politics and economics of oil and the regional role of
the states that produce it emerged as a major question in the last decades of the 20th
Background: Early Islamic History
Muslim thinkers sometimes cite the period of Islam’s emergence as a golden age of
social justice and economic equality.
Islam emerged in the 7th century in the Arabian Peninsula in what is today Saudi Arabia.
Mecca was a commercial center on the caravan route across Arabia.
Many of the people of Arabia at the time were animist (they ascribed spiritual power to
natural phenomena and objects), but there were also Jews and Christians among them
in the peninsula.
The society of the peninsula at the beginning of the 7th century was tribal and
hierarchical and had almost no organized state structure.
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The Qur’an consists of 114 chapters, each made up of a number of verses.
The Qur’an is arranged according to how Muslims believe Muhammad organized it in his
Muhammad was a prophet, but also a political leader.
Differences emerged about how to choose a successor, and these questions led to a
major schism between those who eventually called themselves Sunni Muslims and those
who called themselves Shi’i Muslims.
Much of the bureaucracy of the Muslim Empire was built and managed by Christians of
the former Byzantine Empire.
Despite the rapid growth of this young empire, political problems continued to manifest
In 661 CE after the death of Ali, Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, Ali’s adversary, declared
himself caliph and moved the capital from Mecca to Damascus; this event marked the
beginning of the Umayyad dynasty.
The Mongol invasion of 1258 CE completely disrupted the political and social worlds of
the Middle East.
Based in Istanbul, the Ottoman Empire became a major world power and ruled over
much of the Middle East for centuries.
The Ottomans descended from Turkish-speaking Muslim tribes that fled the Mongol
invaders between 1100 and 1300 CE.
Osman I established the Ottoman dynasty around 1300 in the northwestern corner of
Anatolia on the frontier with the Byzantine Empire.
By the beginning of the 16th century, Osman’s descendants had built an empire that
stretched from western Asia to North Africa to southeast Europe.
One of the most remarkable features of Ottoman rule was its ability to insert itself into
local power dynamics to achieve a measure of security and stability.
The Ottoman sultans built a large standing army that successfully dampened the
tendency toward fragmentation that constantly threatened large premodern patron-
military empires.
The janissaries, or infantry force, were a professional, full-time force that wore distinctive
uniforms and were paid regularly even during peacetime.
The janissaries were made up of Christian boys enslaved at a young age through a
system called devshirme.
Each locality would provide a certain number of boys who were taken from their families,
converted to Islam, and trained to serve the Ottoman state and theoretically would
remain absolutely loyal only to the sultan.
Those with greater intellectual abilities staffed the large bureaucracy throughout the
empire, reaching the highest offices in the state.
Much of the administration and military of the Ottoman Empire was made up of slaves or
Mamluks of the sultan.
The Ottoman military was also innovative in its use of firearms.
The Ottoman infantry and cavalry units became legendary for their effective use of
gunpowder weapons in the conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
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To the east of the Ottoman Empire, another group of Turkic speakers established their
own state, which eventually grew into a major power and a rival of the Ottomans.
To undermine the power of elite Turkic clans, Shah Ismail I established a Persian-
speaking bureaucracy and built a conscript slave army made up of the various peoples
from the Caucasus.
The ulema eventually achieved a much greater degree of independence in Safavid Iran.
The Shi’i identity of Iran was one source of tension with the Sunni Ottoman sultans and
contributed to the mutual animosity between these two empires.
The two empires were at a constant state of cold and hot war throughout the Safavid
The animosity and rivalry between the Ottomans and Persians lasted until well into the
Qajar period in the middle of the 19th century.
In the late 16th century, reacting to a series of military defeats at the hands of the
Ottomans, Shah Abbas I undertook a number of reforms to reinvigorate the Safavid
He rebuilt the state bureaucracy in an effort to increase tax revenues to pay for
these military reforms.
The new army, organized with the idea of matching the strength of the Ottoman
janissaries, enabled Abbas to secure the frontiers and to recover territories the Safavids
had lost.
Abbas helped finance his army, a reenergized bureaucracy, and a new capital by
facilitating commercial relationships between European merchants and local Armenians.
A lack of leadership and resolve among the later shahs left the Safavid Empire without
an effective army and with a weak central government by the end of the 17th century.
The Safavid state soon collapsed, and more than a hundred years passed before the
Qajar dynasty united Iran under one government again.
Until the 1820’s, the multiethnic, multireligious Ottoman society was organized
hierarchically on a system of social and legal differentiation based on communal
religious identity, with the largest group, Sunni Muslims, at the tip of the pyramid.
This social pyramid was flexible to the extent that non-Muslims often achieved
preeminent positions both in the state structure and in commerce.
The social-legal structure of the Ottoman Empire was organized according to the millet
Millet was a religious group officially recognized by the Ottoman authorities and granted
a degree of communal autonomy.
The leader of the millet reported directly to the sultan, who appointed him after
consultation with millet’s leading personalities.
Each millet could use its own language, establish charitable and social institutions,
collect taxes for the imperial treasury, and operate its own religious courts.
State courts adjudicated in areas of public security, crime, and other areas not covered
by religious law.
Gender relations were patriarchal but also based on a notion of complementarity.
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