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Syria series: Humanitarianism, state sovereignty and authoritarian regime maintenance in the Syria conflict.

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Adam Coutts.

This seminar aims to dissect the UN-led humanitarian aid effort in Syria and the regime’s responses to it by joining together perspectives on state sovereignty, humanitarianism and authoritarian regime resilience.

The seminar is based on a forthcoming paper by Reinoud Leenders and Kholoud Mansour. The paper argues that the Syrian conflict countered, and perhaps aborted, the emergence of contingent or diluted state sovereignty in the less developed world as it catapulted state sovereignty claims firmly back into the humanitarian realm through the regime’s projection of its categorical state sovereignty assertions onto and through the largest UN-led humanitarian assistance effort in decades. Accordingly, the Syrian regime obtained access to benefits and resources critical to its survival. These were accrued endogenously to the humanitarian aid, and by way of the benefits associated with the regime’s reinforced claims on state sovereignty more generally. We maintain that the illusory claims of the Syrian regime about its qualities and achievements since 2011 no longer draw in a large domestic audience now its naked and brutal repression of Syrian citizens has become ubiquitous; in its place the regime’s claim-making and consensual pretence has shifted to external audiences comprised of UN humanitarian agencies and donor states as the latter reinforced and sustained the Syrian regime’s empirically implausible claims on state sovereignty.

Reinoud Leenders (PhD SOAS ) is Reader in International Relations and Middle East Studies in the War Studies Department at King’s College London. His work deals with the political economy of corruption, authoritarian governance, refugee issues, and conflict in the Middle East including Syria. He authored Spoils of Truce: Corruption and State Building in Post-War Lebanon (Cornell University Press 2012) and co-edited (with Steven Heydemann) Middle East Authoritarianism: Governance, Contestation and regime Resilience in Syria and Iran (Stanford University Press 2013). He formerly worked for the International Crisis Group based in Beirut, and for the University of Amsterdam.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Public Policy series.

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