State-led urban development in Syria and the prospects for effective post-conflict reconstruction

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Nadine Almanasfi


This paper uses two underlying theoretical approaches to analyse how the Syrian regime’s approach to reconstruction is not merely a result of the civil war, but in fact is tied to a longer history of political authoritarianism and the utilization of identity for political ends which has intersected with urban planning practices in the past. The first method is authoritarian upgrading, which as described by Steven Heydemann, is the way in which a regime will adapt its policies and governance to reflect changing social, political and economic conditions in an attempt to maintain power. The second is sectarianization which recognizes the manipulation and weaponization of identity in the Middle East and how it is used to stoke fear and generate political loyalty.

By using these two approaches, this paper aims to look at how regime-led urban development efforts have and will produce knock on effects for the demographic makeup of towns and cities in Syria. By bringing to light this relationship exposed via the various economic and housing laws that have been implemented before and during the civil war, one can see how urban development has been politicised and how it solidifies infrastructural inequalities and reinforces authoritarian rule. This relationship between urban development and political authoritarianism is important to understand because it raises concerns for egalitarian and inclusive post-conflict reconstruction scenarios that would be led by the Syrian regime – and that are already taking place.

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