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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies

Postgraduate Course: The Syrian War and the Strategic Meltdown of the Middle East (IMES11089)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis semester-long course on the Syrian conflict, approaches the latter as the most deeply transformative development in the Middle East since the end of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, beyond the Syrian war itself, students will learn about the broader Middle Eastern dynamics (rivalries between regional and international powers, Sunni-Shia sectarianism, Jihadi militancy, Kurdish nationalism) that feed the Syrian war and are transformed by it.
Course description Syria's war is arguably the most destabilising conflict the world has witnessed since the end of the Cold War. Currently the only country worldwide where war constitutes the first cause of mortality, Syria has seen half of its population displaced. The resulting outflow of refugees has overwhelmed neighbouring countries, while putting a strain on European unity. Initially fought among Syrians, the war has attracted intervention on the part of regional states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, the American and Russian superpowers, as well as Sunni and Shia foreign volunteers fighting alongside the two warring parties. The colonial border between Syria and Iraq has de facto cease to exist, while new quasi-state entities have emerged under the aegis of the Islamic State and the Kurdish PYD. Studying the Syrian war is not only a means to understand one of the most transformative developments in contemporary world politics, but it also offers a window into broader Middle Eastern fault lines that have nurtured the conflict.

While acquiring general knowledge about contemporary Syrian and Middle Eastern political dynamics through the lectures, readings and presentations, each student will also actively develop expertise and research skills on a particular aspect of the conflict that will be assigned to them. This process will be supported throughout the semester by the creation of an individual portfolio that will serve as the basis of the student's participation in a simulation of peace talks at the end of the course, in which each student (or group of students, depending on the number) will represent one of the warring parties. The portfolio will contain a detailed analysis of that warring party's interests and strategies, in addition to resulting demands and red lines this party would be likely to formulate in negotiations.

After reviewing the social, economic and political dynamics that have paved the way for the collapse of the Syrian political system in 2011, we will see how an uprising that started as part of a region-wide revolutionary wave turned into a civil war characterised by extreme military escalation and, on both sides, foreign intervention and the proliferation of non-state armed groups. We will analyse the reasons for the fragmented character of the opposition, the factors behind the rise of Jihadi factions, and the rise of militia governance within the power vacuum created by collapse of state control, leading to the establishment of new quasi-state entities run by the Islamic State and the Kurdish PYD. After discussing the factors behind the unprecedented level of population displacement in the