Since 2011, peaceful protests by citizens demanding political and economic change in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, have collapsed into violent conflicts. For many scholars of civil war and conflict economics, and for practitioners in the fields of development, peacebuilding, and post-conflict reconstruction, civil wars in the Middle East are the result of predictable causes—institutional failures defined in terms of state fragility—have followed predictable pathways marked by the breakdown of pre-war systems of governance, and will require predictable remedies to restore stability and repair local economies and societies. Yet the conflicts currently underway in Libya, Syria, and Yemen raise important questions about these assumptions.
Civil wars in the Middle East have not created conditions conducive to reconceptualizing sovereignty or decoupling sovereignty and governance. Rather, parties to conflict compete to capture and monopolize the benefits that flow from international recognition. Under these conditions, civil wars in the Middle East will not yield easily to negotiated solutions. Moreover, to the extent that wartime economic orders reflect deeply institutionalized norms and practices, postconflict conditions will limit possibilities for interventions defined in terms of overcoming state fragility.
In addition to holding the Janet Wright Ketcham 1953 Chair in Middle East Studies at Smith College, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government, Steven Heydemann is a nonresident senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution. From 2007–15 he held a number of leadership positions at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., including vice president of applied research on conflict and senior adviser for the Middle East. Prior to joining USIP, he was director of the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University and associate professor in the government department. From 1997 to 2001, he was an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. Earlier, from 1990–97, he directed the Program on International Peace and Security and the Program on the Near and Middle East at the Social Science Research Council in New York.
Heydemann is a political scientist who specializes in the comparative politics and the political economy of the Middle East, with a particular focus on Syria. His interests include authoritarian governance, economic development, social policy, political and economic reform and civil society.
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This event is sponsored by the Schar School of Policy and Government, Middle East and Islamic Studies, and Arab Studies Institute.