Panel 5b Syria The Effect of the Intifada on Theoretical Understandings

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Chair: Professor Raymond Hinnebusch, Director of the Centre for Syrian Studies and Professor of International Relations, University of St Andrews
Discussant: Dr Alan George, Senior Associate Member, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford

Paper 1: Neoclassical Realism and the Foreign Policy of Syria. A Case of Theory vs Reality?
Francesco Belcastro, PhD candidate, University of St Andrews

The events of the Arab Spring call for students of international relations of the Middle East to engage with the domestic dimension. This paper will look at the case of Syria in order to test the potential of neoclassical realism in the analysis of the foreign policy of a regional power. It will look at the domestic dimension as what Taliaferro defined “an imperfect transmission belt” between the constraints and incentives given by the system and the foreign policy outcomes. Is there a relation between policy-makers’ degree of autonomy and Damascus foreign policy? Were the domestic constraints what stopped the Syrian president from pursuing “the Egyptian pattern” in the 70s? As recent events occurred in Syria have undoubtedly increased Bashar Al-Asad reliance on his military elites, can we expect any change in the country’s foreign policy? Realism as a research paradigm needs to address this set of questions if it has to say something on contemporary events in the Middle East.

Paper 2: Between Authoritarian Upgrading and the Uprising: Two Fieldstays in Syria and how to Refine Results by Reflecting on Methodological Challenges
Tina Zintl, Research Fellow, School of International Relations, University of St Andrews

Ethical considerations, sampling procedures, and reflexivity are not just bureaucratic and compulsory exercises for every researcher. This paper demonstrates how methodological issues are intrinsic to and useful for social science research projects. When the Syrian regime blamed the protests on foreign conspiracy, many ‘cosmopolitan’ Syrians, who had willingly shared their views with a foreign researcher in 2010, declined interview requests. This showed that snowball sampling is a ‘temporary snapshot of wasta’ and relies not only on trust between researcher and potential interviewee but also between potential interviewees. Methodological challenges show that authoritarian Syria welcomed foreign-educated returnees’ knowledge transfer but granted them, at best, the role of junior partners. This presentation will demonstrate how reflecting on methodological difficulties can turn social sciences’ perceived weakness – i.e. their lack of “scientific hard facts” – into an advantage.

Paper 3:  Failure of a Security Paradigm: Syria in Revolt
Dr Ari Kerkkänen, Director, The Finnish Institute in the Middle East

This paper analyses the failure of the security paradigm in Syria, one of the triggers to cause a widespread popular uprising in 2011. Since the ascendancy of Hafez al-Assad to power, Syria built up its security machinery, which was meant to deal with internal threats to the regime more than external ones. The basic premise is that there exists a gap between the state (internal as well as external) security and the human security. Human security, whatever way defined, was sacrificed for the cause of protecting an authoritarian regime. The gap reflects also a continuous power struggle and it is understood being one of the factors in alienating citizenry from the regime. The basic conclusion is that a lack of human security increases the fragility of any society from within.

Paper 4: A Comparative Analysis of Hezbollah and Hamas Responses to the Syrian Uprising
Nasrin Akhter, PhD candidate, University of St. Andrews

This paper seeks to examine the contradictory approaches of Hezbollah and Hamas towards the Assad regime in light of the Syrian uprising. As Islamist organisations united in their opposition against the state of Israel, both movements should have supported Syria, the third member of the so-called rejectionist front, against opposition attempts to destabilise the current government. However, despite their common foreign policy agendas and dependence on Damascus, both movements have taken markedly different approaches, with Hassan Nasrallah’s open support for Bashar at odds with Hamas’s reluctance to commit to the Syrian government, implying perhaps tacit support for the opposition. Through an examination of official statements since the beginning of the revolt in March, the paper attempts to uncover possible reasons for the divergent approaches, the consequences of Hizbullah and Hamas’s actions on their domestic positions and the likely effects of their responses on Syria’s regional standing itself. Reference will also be made to Iran by way of comparison. >> download the paper

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