Panel 2a: Syrian Narratives during Revolutionary Change
Chair: Professor Fawaz Gerges, Director, Middle East Centre, LSE
Discussant: Patrick Seale, Journalist and Author
Paper 1: Which Flag? The 2011 Uprising and Syrian National Identity
Dr Christopher Phillips, Lecturer in the International Relations of the Middle East, Queen Mary, University of London
The uprising against President Bashar al-Assad represented a challenge not only to the regime but also to the national identity narrative that it had constructed. Symbols and images that were an essential part of this narrative, whether statues of Hafez al-Assad, posters of Bashar or even the two-star flag were rejected by the opposition in favour of an alternative flag and narrative looking back to the pre-Ba’ath era of Syria’s history. Competing pro and anti-regime demonstrations on the streets of Syria’s cities increasingly represented both competing visions for Syria’s political future but also competing definitions of Syria’s national identity. The paper will argue that in many ways this was an inevitable consequence of the vague, multi-layered nature of the regime’s identity discourse, which at different times promoted and manipulated Arab, state, religious and sub-state identity.
Paper 2: Infiltrated (Sunni) Fundamentalists or Laic Demonstrators? Hidden Sectarian Discourses in the Syrian Regime’s Rhetoric and Implicit Use of Islam in the Activists’ Narratives
Dr Lorenzo Trombetta, Independent Scholar and Middle East Correspondent for ANSA Italian News Agency
Since decades one of the main arguments of the Syrian regime has been that the Baathi regime is the unique and undisputed source of security, stability and civilian peace. In the efforts to comprehend the interaction between media and politics in the light of the turmoil in Syria, this paper will first highlight the official propaganda aimed at reigniting the resentement of Sunnis that exists among the Alawi and Christian minorities. The second aim of this paper is to assess the scope of emerging anti-Alawi feelings among Sunni protesters. According to them, their struggle is to achieve equal rights and freedom for all citizens, with no regards to their sectarian affiliations. However, there have been anti-Alawi slogans during protests, mainly in rural areas. Moreover, most of the Syrian Sunni refugees relate events from a sectarian perspective as they claim they were attacked by the Alawi militias mainly because of their religious affiliation. >> download the paper
Paper 3: The Syrian Uprising: Trajectory, Narratives, and Implications
Professor William Harris, Professor and Head of Department of Politics, University of Otago
There are good reasons to define the “Arab Spring” in Syria as the least expected, most fateful, and ultimately most hopeful of the upheavals in the Arab. The paper first considers the trajectory of the struggle between regime and opposition since March 2011 against the backdrop of Syria’s social, sectarian, and economic situation in the early twenty-first century. Second, the paper dissects opposition and regime narratives, important in the context of poor media access compared to Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Third, there are the implications. As regards Arab-Israeli affairs, the position of Iran and Turkey in the Middle East and the balance in Lebanon the outcome in Syria will have fateful repercussions. Through the analysis, the paper attempts a profile of the predilections and absolutist world-view of Bashar al-Asad and the ruling family clique. These incline Syria’s trajectory toward a phase of devastation. >> download the paper
Paper 4: Mona Wassef and I: The Construction of Treason between Reality and Fiction
Helena Nassif, PhD candidate, University of Westminster
This paper aims to investigate the construction of treason through the case study of Mona Wassef, a famous contemporary Syrian actress, by juxtaposing one of her fictional roles with her experience of being accused of betrayal. The division in Syria between the regime loyalists and the opposition was reflected in the position of popular drama stars whose public image became vulnerable to accusations of treason. Wassef, together with more than one hundred television workers signed a call asking the Syrian troops to allow goods to reach besieged children in a Syrian border town. This was evaluated as anti-patriotic, and many production houses threatened to boycott signatories. In order to identify the work of treason as a discursive emotive construct, this paper reflects on the tensions accompanying the author’s own position as a researcher. The author intends to problematize the researcher’s stance in situations of social and political conflict and transformation, and to navigate the realities and fictions of the charge of treason as an overwhelming force in social interactions.These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by the presenters.