Panel 1a Reflecting on the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’: Can we understand new trends using old models? [part 1] The Syrian and Egyptian Cases (Liberation, Domination and Expression and Resistance, Representation and Identity Research Networks Panel)

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Chair: Dr Frédéric Volpi, Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Director of the Institute of Middle East and Central Asia Studies, University of St Andrews

Paper 1: Islamism and the January Revolution in Egypt: Implications for ‘Liberal World Order’
Dr Ewan Stein, Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

This paper assesses the significance of the 25 January Revolution for Egypt’s role as a normative power in the Middle East and the world. The paper challenges common assumptions about how ‘liberal order’ is spread, undermined, and reinforced. The ascent of political Islam in Egypt does not so much signify Egypt’s continued rejection of liberal norms as their social deepening via Islamist language and structures. Far from constituting some kind of Huntingtonian revenge, the Islamist upsurge should more accurately be viewed as potentially a new phase of neoliberal consolidation whereby a morally bankrupt postcolonial regime is replaced by fresh elites more capable of gaining social acceptance for liberal myths. But this new phase itself is already being challenged from below, by a revolutionary movement voicing clear and universal demands. This dynamic may, in time, actually strengthen liberal order as a substantive, as opposed to mythical, normative framework.

Paper 2: Egypt and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1981-2011: The Dynamics of Change and Continuity
Dr Amnon  Aran, Senior Lecturer in International Politics of the Middle East, City University (co-authored with Dr Rami Ginat)

This paper seeks to explain Egypt’s foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under Mubarak, and offer some reflections on the post-Mubarak era. The paper identifies four foreign policy determinants: the relationship with the US, Israel, the Arab world, and the Egyptian domestic arena.  It argues that under Mubarak Egyptian foreign policy was determined primarily by the relationship with the US and the decision to maintain the peace with Israel. The impact of the Egyptian domestic sphere and the Arab-regional context were held at bay. Based on the survey of events following Mubarak’s downfall, the paper argues that a shift is underway. Domestic determinants assume a greater role than before in shaping foreign policy, with the corollary of eroding the foundations of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. At the same time, however, Egypt resists foreign regional interventions in the conduct of its foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Equally, the impact of the US remains high, incentivizing continuity with Egypt’s stance under Mubarak.

Paper 3: Overstating the Syrian State: an Assessment of pre-2011 Scholarship on Syrian Politics
Dr Thomas Pierret, Lecturer in Contemporary Islam, University of Edinburgh

While researchers cannot be blamed for their failure to predict the current Syrian uprising, problematic was their incapacity to detect the trends that created a favourable context for such development. Whereas social and political unrest had been part of scholarly accounts on Tunisia and Egypt for several years, the Syrian regime was largely perceived as immune to popular protest. There might be more to this myopia than the fact that during the same period, Syria did not witness major strikes and protest movements. Three main biases possibly account for this problem. The first is the tendency to focus on the regime and the president. The second is the overestimation of the capacities of the Syrian state in terms of social control, transformative power, and adaptability. The third bias is the fact that the few political scientists who turned their attention towards society, rather than to the regime, tended to study social elites, therefore missing more grassroots transformations.

Paper 4: The Costs of Authoritarian Upgrading and External Linkages: the Case of Syria
Professor Raymond Hinnebusch, Director of the Centre for Syrian Studies and Professor of International Relations, University of St Andrews

This paper looks at how authoritarian upgrading, although meant to “fix” certain vulnerabilities in earlier populist versions of authoritarianism, had in it costs, hence the seeds of the Arab intifada. Central to this is how regimes positioned themselves in the global political economy. Why did Syria’s rather eccentric approach compared to pro-Western republics, not spare it? >>download the paper

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.
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