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Writing Syrian History While Propagating Arab Nationalism

Textbooks about Modern Arab History under Hafiz and Bashar al-Asad

Monika Bolliger

This article argues that Syrian history textbooks promote the formation of Syrian national identity, although their explicit objective is to propagate Arab nationalism. Their authors' attempt to construct the history of an imagined Arab nation encompassing the whole of the Arab world in fact tells the story of different nation-states. Syrian students are therefore confronted with rival geographical spheres of national imagination. Changes in the new textbooks under Bashar al-Asad reveal increased Syrian patriotism, a will to comply with globalization, and attempts to maintain Arab nationalism.

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Giovanni Bochi

This article examines the practices of mobility and settlement of a community of Syrian Dom moving between Syria and Lebanon. I explore strategies, limitations and opportunities that defined the sphere of Dom social relations in Lebanon. While considering mainly the experience of Dom men, I argue that the scarcity of work, combined with social and political instability, affected their ability to reproduce community and family ties in Lebanon. Within these external constraints, flexibility and adaptation informed both residence patterns and the field of social interactions, which the Dom reconstituted through their cross-border mobility.

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Michael Provence

Since March 2011, Syrian citizens have challenged their government through street protests and, more recently, armed confrontations. Both the protest movement and the government’s response to it have their roots in the recent past. This article examines the contours of the last decade, and events in Syria since 2011, to understand the origins of popular protest and the origins of the Syrian government’s largely military response. Protest and dissent appeared after Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000. The government’s response to such protest was not predetermined, but was rather the result of specific governing structures and political choices made by state elites.

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Syrian Diasporans as Transnational Civil Society Actors

Perspectives from a Network for Refugee Assistance

Shawn Teresa Flanigan and Mounah Abdel-Samad

This article presents early qualitative data from an ongoing project that includes interviews with members of a Syrian diaspora network engaged in giving and receiving philanthropy. With the onset of the Syrian refugee crisis, the network began to provide education for displaced Syrian children in Lebanon in addition to its other activities. The purpose of the research project is to understand motivations and mechanisms of humanitarian assistance toward a conflict region, and also if and how the practice of philanthropy is tied to peacebuilding on the ground and individuals’ sense of political efficacy. This article gives particular attention to the civil society aspects of diasporan assistance, and how those engaged in humanitarian aid conceive of their influence on politics, policy, and peacebuilding.

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Gilberto Conde

This article looks back at the 2011 Arab Spring where the movements that brought hope to the region and beyond seem to have gone astray. The military has taken over in Egypt, while Libya, Syria and Yemen have descended into civil strife with tremendous human costs. Bahrain has witnessed repression that has overwhelmed the opposition, and while Tunisia, the country where Arab Spring began, has avoided the violence characterizing the aforementioned states, change has remained rather limited. As for other countries that rode on the same wave of mobilizations, hopes for democratic transformation have been subdued in somewhat less violent contexts but with varying degrees of pressure from the state. This article examines what has happened to the Arab Spring countries, why and what is required to democratically transform the region.

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Framed between change and stability

Syria between people's revolution and regime survival

Gilberto Conde

English abstract: The ideological struggle deployed between the Syrian opposition groups and the government during the first year of the Syrian popular uprising is examined in this paper. Force alone was not enough for the regime to crush the revolt, at least during its first twelve months, while protesters were unable to bring down the government. The battle for cultural hegemony had to be won by one of the two sides. Protesters and the regime alike had to deploy their discourses along frames that resonated with the values, hopes and fears of Syrians. The effectiveness of the regime in securing the support of large sections of urban dwellers and its systematic violent repression led to frustration on the part of demonstrators, who ended up supporting at least morally the armed struggle. A stalemate was reached. This led to divergent framing activity within the opposition, which in turn led to its division.

Spanish abstract: El artículo examina la lucha ideológica que se dio entre los grupos sirios de oposición y el gobierno durante el primer año del levantamiento popular en Siria. Durante los primeros 12 meses a partir de marzo de 2011, al régimen no le bastó con la fuerza bruta para aplastar la revuelta, aunque los manifestantes tampoco lograron tumbar al gobierno. Se dio un combate por la hegemonía cultural y uno de los bandos necesitaba ganarla. Tanto los opositores como el régimen frasearon sus discursos alrededor de aristas conceptuales (frames) en armonía con los valores, esperanzas y temores de la población siria. La eficacia del régimen en obtener el apoyo de amplios sectores de los habitantes de las principales ciudades y la represión violenta sistemática condujeron a un sentimiento de frustración entre los manifestantes, que terminaron ofreciendo un apoyo al menos moral a la lucha armada. Se llegó a un impasse. Esto a su vez llevó a que diferentes grupos de oposición reconstruyeran su discurso en torno de aristas distintas, lo que generó división.

French abstract: L'article étudie la lu e idéologique menée entre les groupes d'opposition et le gouvernement pendant la première année du soulèvement populaire en Syrie. Pendant les douze premiers mois, à dater du mois de mars de 2011, la force brute n'a pas suffiau régime pour écraser le mouvement, bien que les manifestants à leur tour n'aient pas réussi à faire tomber le gouvernement. Une lu e pour l'hégémonie culturelle s'est développée et un des deux côtés devait la gagner. L'opposition ainsi que le régime ont encadré (frame) leurs discours de sorte à qu'ils parlent aux valeurs, espoirs et peurs des syriens. Le succès du régime à gagner l'appui (ou le recul) de grands secteurs de la population des villes principales et la répression violente systématique ont produit un sentiment de frustration parmi les manifestants, qui ont fini par soutenir la lu e armée au moins moralement. La situation est arrivée à une impasse. Dans cet état, différents groupes d'opposition ont reformulé leurs discours au tour d'encadrements divergents, ce qui a mené à leur division.

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From the Ottoman to the American Empire

Syrian Narratives of Global Power

Kathleen Reedy

This article examines Syrian narratives of global power, ranging from the Ottoman era to the present day. Despite the country's relatively peripheral status in international politics, the stories of its people always feature Syria as a central figure in global policy and intrigue. When viewed not merely as speculation or conspiracy theories but as a form of speech act, these narratives can be seen as having an effect on relationships between different groups of people in relation to and among Syrians. This 'identity work' allows Syrians to order their own world through discussions of global power and gives them a sense of agency. Thus, 'talking about the powerful' actually serves to empower a local, 'marginalized' population, momentarily reversing the whole concept of peripheralization.

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Flying above Bloodshed

Performative Protest in the Scared City of Damascus

Ziad Adwan

Syrian activists adopted the flying demonstration protest form in 2011 during the Arab Spring. A flying demonstration occurs for a few minutes, and then the demonstrators run away. Protestors mainly chose this form to avoid deadly confrontations with the regime’s secret police. This article examines how flying demonstrations challenged the Syrian state’s media allegations that no demonstrations were taking place. Action, spectatorship, aftermath, and catharsis were key concepts from the theater and performance fields that allowed Syrian activists to intensify the demonstrations and achieve certainty, making flying demonstrations a consistent phenomenon in the capital, Damascus. I analyze the flying demonstrations theories brought from Richard Schechner’s performance theory and Augusto Boal’s invisible theater. Although demonstrators were not considering theater during their protests, I conclude that flying demonstrations’ theatrical characteristics were essential to making this phenomenon visually compelling, encouraging more participation, and, to some extent, guaranteeing safety during deadly Syrian events.

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Falling Apart Together

On Viewing Ali Atassi’s Our Terrible Country from Beirut

Ira Allen

I could not hear weeping as the screen fell dark. But the glistening cheeks and too-bright eyes spoke loudly enough when the lights rose. We had confronted together a loss of revolutionary possibility, and a refusal of that same loss, that touched nearly every body in the theater. To view Syrian filmmaker Mohammad Ali Atassi’s Our Terrible Country (2014) in Beirut, scarcely seventy-five miles from a Damascus whose dying and lost flowed continuously into Lebanon even as we watched for Syrian hope on the screen, was to be swept up in the civil war’s terrible pull of collective suffering and loss. Swept up, for many in the salle, perhaps all, all the more than each was already. Less than a decade earlier, Syrian military checkpoints had controlled movement throughout Lebanon entire. Lebanon had been the fractured vassal state, Syria its wise but firm tutor. In the “now” of 2014, however, there was no longer a Syria but only an increasingly dim possibility that one might come someday again to be. Syrian refugees swelled Lebanon’s population, crowded Beirut and Tripoli and the mountain towns and the verdant Bekaa Valley. And many sitting silent and wet-eyed through the film’s still-terrible credits had friends and loved ones not only from but still in the terrible, devastated spaces we had together watched passing across the screen—spaces still falling apart in 2014 as we watched, scarcely two hours away, scarcely further than the length of the film itself, falling apart before our eyes in the 2013 of the film’s shooting as they had been falling apart for two years already before that. As they are falling apart still, now in 2018, with only proper names exchanged: Ghouta, Raqqa, Homs, Aleppo, today Ghouta again. Tomorrow? Their terrible country, indeed.

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Tareq Al-Sham (The Road to Damascus)

Syrian Refugees, Lebanese Society, and Unsettled Problems

Emily Regan Wills

This article departs from standard academic style to address the implications of the Syrian refugee crisis for Lebanon’s civil society, particularly with regard for solidarity across difference and the always-troubled Syria/Lebanon relationship. I adopt this style because the consequences and unfolding changes to Lebanese civil society and political practice driven by the Syrian crisis are still in progress, have uncertain outcomes, and are in a state of constant flux. The same must be said of my own knowledge and understanding of this situation, as I continue to engage in fieldwork and dialogue with actors on the ground. This article is the product of my particular place as an ethnographer at the beginning of what is likely to be years of study, as an outsider entering into a new country and city, as a policy actor with a higher education initiative for Syrian refugees and host community members in Beirut, and as an American-Canadian binational uninterested in sharpening distinctions between ‘there’ and ‘here’, neither in my own understanding nor in my scholarship. Because of the unsettled nature of the analysis in this piece, I have chosen not to arrange it as an argument supporting a single thesis. Instead, I have interwoven sections from my fieldnotes, particularly those from my trip to Beirut in May 2015, with sections that lay out, in a less personal format, the context, and elements that collectively helped shape the situation as it stands. My goal is to both document the dynamics of anxiety and rejection that surround the refugee crisis in Lebanon—where refugees are demonized in the press, targeted through bylaws aimed at ‘foreigners,’ and by denying access to basic services. My aim is to understand how the intertwined elements of Lebanese and Syrian history and politics have are creating this moment. At a time when societies around the world are gripped with fear and panic, how can the microcosm of the crisis in Lebanon give us insight into the development of xenophobic anxieties in our own societies? How does Lebanon’s proximity to the Syrian crisis make its experience reflective of global responses to uncivil times?