Arab master in democracy and human rights

A unique learning experience, rich in interdisciplinary content and academic activities and field-related work


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The Arab Master includes research-oriented courses and practical trainings in the field of human rights and democratisation. It attracts students, researchers and experts from the region and beyond, because of its interdisciplinary character, its comparative approach and its action-oriented features.

It offers cross-regional mobility, with one semester in Beirut (Lebanon), and another in one of the following universities: Birzeit University (Palestine), International University of Rabat (Morocco) and University of Carthage (Tunisia). Cairo University (Egypt) and the University of Jordan (Jordan) are currently in the process of joining.

You will acquire theoretical and practical knowledge and insights into the region and the master’s main thematics. The programme allows you to develop research and practical skills. It includes a week-long field trip and offers you the possibility of doing internships in leading national and international organisations across the region.

First Semester

The first semester at Saint Joseph University consists of 10 courses and runs from September to February.

Thematic 1: Democracy and Rights

This thematic section aims at setting the ground for critically understanding democracy and human rights both in theory and in practice, with a focus on the Arab World. It is dedicated to the exploration of such issues as the state, democratic institutions, civil society, as well as the evolution of different sets of rights (social, economic, civil and political) and their reception in the Middle East and North Africa.
These issues are approached from a variety of disciplines: International Relations, Political Sociology, History, Geopolitics, Philosophy, and Legal Theory. The thematic section combines both a conceptual and a contextual approach. Students will also look into Arab Political Thought and the legacy of colonialism.

Legacy of Colonialism
2 Credits

Historical and Geopolitical overview of the Middle East and North Africa from the dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire till today; highlighting the challenges of colonialism, state-building, the neo-liberal order and the impact of the continuously changing world order. A specific seminar is devoted to the region’s new strategic landscape five years after the beginning of the “Arab Spring”.

Arab Political Thought
2 Credits

Understanding contemporary ideological debates across the Arab World through the analysis of the thought of prominent thinkers and intellectuals who have inspired political currents and spawned political parties since the end of the 19th century. The course looks into key notions such as modernity, Islam, nation, democracy and socialism with a focus on ongoing debates surrounding secularism, identity, progress and authenticity.

Democracy and Human Rights
4 Credits

A parallel analysis of the foundation of Democracy and Human Rights, discussing their fundamental principles, and their evolution both globally and regionally. Democracy is approached as mode of political organisation that goes beyond a specific form of the state, distinguishing its substantial definition from its procedural one. Human Rights is explained in the context of international law, showing its instruments and its mechanisms. They are then contrasted with the international politics of Human Rights.

Thematic 2: Governance, Rule of Law and Constitutional Process

The second thematic section explores the relations between modes of governance, constitutional design, electoral systems and political dynamics. It looks into mechanisms through which institutions and civil society participate in promoting and consolidating democracy: constitutions, parliaments, constitutional courts, political groups and pressure groups. Democratic and Human Rights principles are approached from a theoretical, critical and contextualised perspective highlighting the process and evolution of their interpretation.

Comparative Constitutional Systems
4 Credits

This course looks into how constitutions and courts frame freedoms and rights. It highlights the role of domestic jurisdiction in the implementation of human rights through a comparative inquiry across the Arab World and beyond. A specific seminar is dedicated to the framing and interpretation of shari’a by constitutions and high courts, exploring the relationships between religion and law in the context of contemporary Muslim societies.

Political Parties and Pressure Groups in MENA
4 Credits

The course questions analytical and conceptual tools used to understand and explain political movements and parties in the Arab world. Concepts such as class, kin and tribe, sect, civil society, and informal politics are critically examined and assessed. Students deal with theoretical and empirical questions that are central to understanding political movements and groups in the Arab world. They will also look into the different examples of mobilisation (tactics, methods and tools) with practical exercises related to campaigning strategies.

Thematic 3: International Relations and the Global System of Human Rights Protection

The third thematic section explores the relations between one the one hand, international relations and human rights and, on the other hand, international and regional human rights obligations and national and regional mechanisms of human rights protection. Thematic Section III will include a particular focus on the protection of the human rights of groups which have been identified as requiring particular protection such as migrants, children and national and ethnic minorities. The waves of democratic transition in Southern Europe, Latin America and Eastern Europe have shown us the importance of institutional change to ensure democracy. Today, what is important is not so much to "make revolution" as to set up strong institutions capable of leading political actors to respect the principles of democracy. This is the well-known argument of the “virtuous circle”. Political life is virtuous not because the actors are virtuous but because institutions are good.

International Human Rights law and Protection Mechanisms in MENA
3 Credits

Human Rights are examined through three levels of protection mechanisms: national, regional and international. A special focus is given to the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Right (OHCHR) and the National Human Rights institutions (NHRI). It also looks into the various processes that the global system of human rights protection has established such as reporting to international organisations, human rights monitoring, and dialogue between the state and the other human rights actors (NGOs, media, etc.)

Vulnerable persons and groups Human Rights
3 Credits

Vulnerable persons and groups require special protection mechanisms under national and international law. The course will look into the specific legal frameworks that aim to curb or reverse discrimination and ensure equal access to rights. Specific seminars will look into the issue of Women’s Rights, Children’s rights, and minority rights across the region and its contrasting contexts.

Thematic 4: Political Transitions to Democracy

The fourth thematic section aims to explore the notion of political change against the backdrop of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011. By looking into this series of events and comparing it to periods of political transition in other contexts, students will gain a better idea about how (un)helpful the concept of political change can really be to evaluate the developments in the Arab World in recent years. Once this basic framework has been posited, attention will be paid to key themes in contemporary Arab studies: state formation, regime type, authoritarianism and citizenship. This is done with the aim of providing further contextual background and conceptual tools to course participants.

Democratisation and Liberalisation
4 Credits

This course examines the factors and processes that hinder the development of effective democracies in the Arab World. It looks into the political effects of liberalisation and how economical structures (rent, interests and corruption) and security agencies can slow or reverse democratic change.
The course looks into issues pertaining to good governance within the security sector and explores good practices concerning the fight against corruption while examining the dynamics of de-democratisation at work in the post-Arab Spring Middle East.

Transition Processes in the MENA
4 Credits

The course explores the notion of political change against the backdrop of the “Arab Spring”, looking into the series of events and comparing them to transition processes in other contexts. Within this course, specific seminars are devoted to internal processes such as transitional justice, and external ones such as military interventions, international tribunals or diplomacy (with a focus on EU foreign policy of democratisation and Human Rights the Middle East and North Africa).

Methodology I

Applied Research in Democracy and Human Rights I
5 Credits

Seminars prepare students to design and implement their research from the formulation of a hypothesis to the drawing of conclusions through data collection and the analysis of results. An introduction to quantitative and qualitative research is interwoven with field visits to highlight ethical issues and data gaps, preparing students to develop a thesis proposal that is feasible, useful and scientifically sound.

ARMA Arab Master

The Arab Master’s programme is taught across two campuses. All students will follow seminars and workshops in Lebanon during the first semester. During the second semester, students will study at one of the partner universities in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia.

Second Semester

Students spend their second semester in Jordan, Tunisia, Palestine or Morocco (February to June) where they will work on their master thesis. They can also do an internship in an NGO, INGO, IGO or national organisations if it supports their research.
Students return to Beirut mid-June for their thesis defence and an intensive week on Project Development followed by the implementation of their Human Rights projects and graduation.


Research Paper
20 Credits

The thesis is a research paper between 20,000 and 30,000 words pertaining to Human Rights or Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. It can consist of either primary research or secondary research undertaken by the student during the second semester under the supervision of an expert or academic from Birzeit University, the International University of Rabat, the University of Carthage, or the University of Jordan. Primary research could be covered by fieldwork that the student undertakes independently or through an internship. 

Methodology II

Applied Research in Democracy and Human Rights II
5 Credits

Human rights research requires specific research methodology taking into account legal sources, identifying duty bearers and rights holders, and allowing to measure observance and violations. Students get to learn from lessons from the field brought by practitioners, and test their knowledge through a week-long field research on Refugee Rights and Issues. Students will also follow a seminar on Project development and will be accompanied in its implementation phase.