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Cosmopolitanism in Retreat? The Crisis of Syrian Identity in Post-Arab Spring Open Access


Other title
Arab Spring
Syrian Crisis
post-colonial identity
Syrian uprising
anti-colonial ideologies
national identity
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Zaamout, Noureddin M
Supervisor and department
Mahdavi, Mojtaba (Political Science)
Examining committee member and department
Mahdavi, Mojtaba (Political Science)
Cressida Heyes (Political Science)
Epp, Roger (Political Science)
Byrne, Siobhan (Political Science)
Department of Political Science

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Master of Arts
Degree level
This research project examines the following central question: what does Syrian identity mean in the eyes of contending groups in the current Syrian crisis (2011-2017)? In answering this question, the project engages in original research, shedding light on the ‘identity’ dimension of the war in Syria. It challenges primordialist and/or Orientalist approaches to identity, which shadow the cosmopolitan components of the Middle East, confining the region’s identity-politics to notions of sectarianism and conservative militant Islamism resistant to modernity. Through employing Hamid Dabashi’s critical postcolonial cosmopolitan framework of analysis, the research historicizes the crisis of Syrian identity, focusing on critical periods ranging from the 1920s, up to the contemporary crisis (2011-2017). It demonstrates that the country’s postcolonial state-imposed national identity projects have for years been exclusionary, and either have been shaped by, or have encountered, three ideological formations: those are, anti-colonial nationalism, third-world socialism, and Islamism. These formations emerged in conversation with, and in response to, European colonialism and were conveniently deployed by the ruling regimes to legitimatize their position. Through a discourse and content analysis, based on Dabashi’s analytical framework, the research argues that the 2011 Syrian Uprising was an attempt to bring an inclusive meaning to ‘Syrianism’ and to retrieve the repressed cosmopolitan worldliness. Protestors were committed to a unified Syria, as a political entity and a source of identity. They were not seeking an Islamist, a pan-‘Arabist’, a separatist, a Ba’athist socialist or a sectarian vision, but were rather united by prospects of creating a locally produced alternative that would maintain national harmony and retrieve the country’s cosmopolitanism. The research argues that the prolonging of the Syrian conflict has resulted in the deterioration of an inclusive, cosmopolitan ‘Syrianism’, as various actors have risen with conflicting ideas about national identity. Using archival primary and secondary sources, the research problematizes the identity discourse of the conflicting groups and to compare where they place ‘Syria’ in their ideologies. The research findings suggest that the ideologies of the studied combatant groups embody counter-revolutionary exclusionary notions of identity, which are not based on the cosmopolitan worldliness, but rather reinforce the suppressed, reactionary and exclusionary post-colonial ideological dichotomies.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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