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. First, they suggest that violent conflict may disrupt prewar practices less than is often assumed. Instead, civil wars in the Middle East have exhibited high levels of continuity between pre-war and wartime conditions, especially in the domain of economic governance. Second, they highlight the limits of state fragility frameworks in identifying the causes of conflict and the effects of conflict on opportunities for postconflict reconstruction. Third, they challenge assumptions about the possibility for resolving conflicts by reforming political institutions to decentralize authority, renegotiating the relationship between sovereignty and governance. 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.
Bio for Steven Heydemann:
April 11, 2018