February 2011


Students will:

  • Survey the current political situation in North Africa and the Middle East.
  • Consider the role of the United States and international community and analyze the potential effects of the protests on democracy and stability in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Identify the political geography of the region.
  • Collaborate with classmates to research and present information about countries in the region.


Middle East and North Africa Map

Middle East and North Africa Map

Country Profile

Note to Teachers

  • This is the third in a series of lessons on the recent events in North Africa and the Middle East. The first, Egypt’s Uprising, provides students with fundamental information about the causes of the uprising, the role of new media, and the U.S. response. The second, After Mubarak: A New Middle East helps students consider the implications of a leadership change in Egypt on the protests for democracy throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
  • You may choose to watch the video(s) in this lesson as a class, or have students work in small groups. Your decision will probably depend on the availability of technology.

1. Getting Started

Begin class by asking students what they have heard about recent protests in the Middle East and North Africa. Then show the following video of U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI).

Which countries does Senator Reed mention? Have students heard about protests spreading to other countries as well?

2. Group Investigations

Break students into small groups and assign each group a country to research. Countries experiencing recent unrest include, but are not limited to, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen. Distribute “Middle East and North Africa Map” to each student and “Country Profile” to each group. Instruct students to work with their group to learn about their assigned country and explore the recent protests. Students should fill in their map with their country’s name, any major cities, nearby bodies of water or other major geographical features, and neighboring countries. Students may find the following resources useful for completing their country profile.

Note: You may wish to have students research their assigned country and complete the handouts for homework prior to this class period.

Recommended Resources:

CIA World Factbook
Provides information on the history, people, government, economy, and geography of every country worldwide.

Al Jazeera: Region in Turmoil
Provides an interactive map with summaries of recent demonstrations, as well as in-depth reporting on several countries.

The New York Times

Middle East Protests (2010-2011)
Provides a summary of the latest major events in the countries experiencing protests, a compilation of related articles, and a range of multimedia resources. Two resources from this page that may be particularly helpful are listed below.

Middle East Protests: A Country-by-Country Look

Political Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East


Mid-East and Arab Unrest
Provides up-to-date reporting on events in the region, including photos and maps. One resource from this page that may be particularly useful for this lesson is listed below.

Middle East Protests: Country by Country

The Guardian

Arab and Middle East Revolt—An Interactive Map
A country-by-country guide to protests in the region.

The Washington Post

Middle East in Turmoil
Provides a timeline of major events and additional coverage on the protests. Organized by country.

3. Group Presentations

Ask groups to report their findings to the class. Each group should show their country’s location on the map, describe the situation in their country, and go over their answers to the questions on the worksheet. As each group presents, the rest of the class should fill in their maps with information from the presentations. After students’ presentations teachers should encourage a discussion on democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa. Some questions might be:

What do the different protests have in common? What makes each of them unique? Do students feel that the examples of Egypt and Tunisia have inspired protesters in other parts of the region? What factors have contributed to the success of different protests? Why have some governments reacted more violently to the protests than others? How could these protests change the lives of everyday people in the region? In which countries has the U.S. historically supported authoritarian regimes? Has the U.S. response to the protests been consistent, or has it varied from country to country?

Do the protests present students with a new image of the Middle East? Why should people in the United States care about people struggling for democracy halfway around the world? What role do students feel they can play in these events? Many of those organizing these protests are young people. Do students feel any connection between what’s happening in the Middle East and their own lives? Do they feel that there are problems in their own country, state, or community worth protesting over?

4. Considering U.S. Policy

There has been a lot of talk about what role the United States should play in the protests, yet few have asked how the spread of democracy in the Middle East could affect U.S. foreign policy more generally. Ask students to consider how the protests might influence the United States’ attitude and policy towards the region. You may want to consider reshowing the video of Senator Reed.

What events is Senator Reed referring to when he says that “imposing democracy from outside is hard”? Senator Reed states that supporting democracy “as it wells up from the streets” is the best approach. What does he mean by this? How has the United States responded to the protests? Do students think the United States should support democracy in other parts of the world? If so, what do students think is the best approach?

Despite priding itself on being an example of democracy, the United States has relied on and supported authoritarian regimes in the Middle East (for example in Egypt and Saudi Arabia) to combat Islamic extremism and provide a steady flow of affordable oil.

By supporting democracy, does the United States run the risk of harming its own security and economic interests? Is there a conflict between the United States’ economic and security interests and its desire to support democracy? Does there have to be?

5. Thinking Further—Human Rights in the Region

Show students the video of Sarah Leah Whitson from Human Rights Watch, then encourage a discussion using the following questions:

According to Sarah Leah Whitson, what is the state of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa? This video was filmed in April 2010, many months prior to the recent wave of protests. What effect might the protests have on human rights in the region? In the short term? In the long term? How might democratic change in the Middle East and North Africa impact the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians?

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