The Arab Spring: Democracy, Globalization, and US International Relations

This module was made possible through the generosity of the  Qatar Foundation International.


During 2010 and 2011 a series of uprisings across the Middle East were collectively referred to as the “Arab Spring.” The events both individually and collectively drew comparisons to previous events in world history. References to the American, French, and Haitian revolutions, as well as the 1848 Revolutions, Prague Spring, Iranian Revolution and series of anti-Soviet revolts in the late 1980’s all sought to provide context and clarity to what was happening.

But the Arab Spring was different from those precedents  rendering each comparison inadequate as historical isomorphs.  First, the Arab Spring didn’t happen solely within the Western tradition nor in a single nation.  Second, the Arab Spring was a 21st Century phenomenon happening during an unprecedented  level of inter-connectedness fueled by contemporary globalization. Lastly, the United States in 2010-2011, unlike previous eras, was a geo-politcal hegemon.

In his work America’s War for the Greater Middle East, scholar Andrew Bacevich argues that the Arab Spring was disruptive to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. “the longstanding U.S. practice of paying lip service to democracy while accommodating autocratic monarchs and presidents-for-life appeared increasingly untenable. The costs associated with hypocrisy were rising.” The resources in this module help students and teachers make meaning of the complexity regarding the U.S’s relationship to the Arab Spring. Furthermore, the Arab Spring itself takes center stage allowing students to flesh out the nexus of themes of this module – Globalization, Democracy, and International Relations.


Essential Questions:

1- To what extent should nations support revolutions motivated by or for democratic principles?

2- In what ways has globalization (economic, cultural, or political) impacted how revolutions/change occurs?

3- How long should it take for a nation to establish a democracy and what factors impact that length?

4- To what extent should the process and systems of globalization promote these topics:  democracy, human rights, and capitalism?

Suggested Activities:

                               *This activity was developed by teacher contributor, Andrew Mills.


  • Activity BIn response to essential question #4, select one topic (democracy, human rights, or capitalism) as your focus for your digital timeline. Your timeline will highlight events that support your topic’s response to how globalization promoted its development.
    • Create a digital timeline using Sutori ( or another similar digital tool.
    • Include the following resources provided in this module:
      • 1-2 Video Clips
      • 5-6 Images
      • 2 Maps

      Features: Your timeline should have 12-15 items on it. At the end compose a thesis statement in response to the essential question, based on what you compiled in your timeline.

      *This activity was developed by teacher contributor, Samantha Reynolds Baranyk.

Module Resources:

  1. Scholar Screencast, by Dr. Peter Mandaville
    • Recording:  15 Minutes
    • “Our television screens in late 2010 and early 2011 were filled with images of ordinary citizens coming out in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen…pouring out into the streets to demand change for their countries.  And everything seemed hopeful… For many people these events seemed to come out of nowhere.  They seemed almost to be spontaneous.  But in fact there was a much larger story going on here.”
  2. C3 Inquiry Lesson
    • TBD
  3. Secondary Sources/Informational Texts
  4. Primary Sources



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