Panel 6A

The Transformation of Syrian Communities through Expatriation: Continuity and Change

15.00 – 17.00
Chair: Thomas Pierret, University of Edinburgh

The Transformation of the Syrian Business Community through the 2011 Revolution

Ching-An Chang, University of Edinburgh

Among the millions Syrians who fled to Syria’s neighbouring countries due to escalations of conflict within Syria during and since the 2011 revolution, thousands were businessmen who possessed great amounts of economic and social capital. The amount of this outflow of Syrian capital was believed to be at least one-third of the Syrian economy, and thousands of Syrian-registered companies have been established in these host countries following the resettlements of the businessmen. The main research question in this presentation is: How has the Syrian business community transformed economically, socially, and politically through the 2011 revolution compared with the pre-2011 era? In order to study the transformation of the Syrian business community, it is first important to address what the pre-revolution Syrian community looked like? The presentation will periodise the journey of the Syrian businessmen from the eruption of the revolution in 2011 to the expatriation and settlements of the businessmen in host countries. The importance of this study lies in the great amount of capital and potential political economic influences of the Syrian business communities in Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan. Even though the economic and political strengths of the expatriate Syrian business community in these three countries have come to light since mid-2012, currently there are no studies focusing on the emergence of the expatriate Syrian business communities. The sources used in this presentation are based on nine month in-depth interview-based fieldwork with 191 Syrian businessmen in Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan.

Ties That Matter: Family Life and Political Activity among Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and Turkey

Birgitte Stampe Holst, University of Copenhagen

Where much research on refugee life privilege the role of the host country I will in this paper also draw attention to the role of sender state and family life as central to understanding continuities and change in everyday patterns of political activity among Syrians living in Lebanon and Turkey.  Comparing ethnographic cases from Lebanon and Turkey I will show that the political turmoil of uprising, civil war and exile, while it has provided new opportunities for Syrians to be politically active and/or outspoken, has not led to a clear sense of political emancipation. Many of my interlocutors are still cautious when it comes to political activism or to making political statements in everyday conversations.  The comparison between Turkey and Lebanon is essential as it makes clear that host state politics do play a role with regard to political activity among Syrians. But the comparison also reveals that looking at the host country is far from sufficient to understanding continued cautiousness among my interlocutors. Rather, continued familial ties to Syria and/or the sense that one’s family is within the reach of Syrian authorities cause my interlocutors to continue to reckon with the Syrian regime and what it allows politically.  I thus argue that change and continuity in everyday political activity among my Syrian interlocutors is connected strongly to structures of family life and political developments in Syria as well as to host state politics.

Syrian Refugees in Egypt: A Common Voice to Face Uncertainty in Exile

Maaï Youssef, Sorbonne University – Paris 1

Based on various fieldworks conducted between 2013 and 2016, and 60 semi-directed interviews with Syrian refugees, this paper questions how local and national levels shape the situation of uncertainty experienced by Syrian refugees in Egypt. More specifically, it shows how Syrian refugees create their own adjustment strategies, and try to initiate a « Syrian community » with specific practices, networks, narratives and labelling, both based on the pre and post-2011 experience.  Since March 2011, Egypt has been facing the largest wave of immigration in its history with the arrival of approximately 300, 000 Syrians. First, a large part of them was driven by the hope of finding in Egypt a “revolutionary solidarity”, a common culture based on Arab language and a shared past. But, since the Revolution of 25 of January, the Egyptian political system has treated the issue of Syrian refugees both as an opportunity and as a threat. Under Mohamed Morsi, groups of exiled activists and religious associations openly participated to an external opposition to the Syrian regime. The fall of Morsi on the 3rd of July 2013 put an end to the favourable climate towards Syrian refugees and gave rise to stigma and authoritarian repression. By ostracizing refugees, the Egyptian state denies them any social existence and prevents them from articulating a discourse of contestation against the State’s authority. Against this background, this paper explores the agency of Syrian refugees in Egypt and shows how they are still managing to build a collective voice and memory.

Making refugees work? The politics of labor market integration for Syrian refugees in Jordan

Katharina Lenner, University of Bath and Lewis Turner, SOAS

Refugee response planners no longer frame Syrian refugees as merely objects of humanitarian care. They are increasingly portrayed as enterprising subjects, whose formal integration into labor markets simultaneously creates self-sufficient actors and cures the economic woes of host countries. Understanding these changes requires analysis of refugees as migrant workers in globalized segmented labor markets, and the combination of literatures on changing political economies, migrant workers and forced migration in the region. In this vein, this paper analyzes policies to integrate Syrian refugees into the labor market in Jordan, one of the few countries which has substantively engaged with this issue. Based on interviews with key agencies conducted in Jordan in 2015 and 2016, it focuses on the three most prominent strategies employed to this end – substituting other migrant workers, employment expansion through zonal development, and the formalization of existing Syrian labor. We tease out various frictions, which point to conflicting projects of socioeconomic development among the actors and organizations involved. We argue that they stand in tension with entrenched features of Jordan’s political economy, which disrupt the current radical blueprints of transformation. Simultaneously, these developments offer opportunities for other actors and modes of governance to (re-)enter the fray, reshaping seemingly unified policies to achieve a variety of disparate objectives. While this helps to explain the surprising level of commitment to the scheme, it does not mean that it will be possible for these changes to both reinvigorate the Jordanian economy and offer Syrians the prospect of a dignified, self-sufficient life.

Informal Spatial Politics Among Syrian Refugees In East Beirut

Duncan Wane, King’s College London

In this paper I will discuss the preliminary findings of my ethnographic research, undertaken in East Beirut between February and May 2017. The research seeks to answer one central question: How do Syrian refugees use their informal occupation of space as a basis on which to argue for power and rights? This question applies both to their permanent use of space, as in the creation of informal camps or other housing, and to their everyday movements in the surrounding area, which can form an equally valid basis to advocate for political inclusion.  Conventional literature on the politics of refugee spaces tends to stress how political action is restricted or prevented, using the work of Foucault or Agamben to emphasise the control other agencies exercise over the space of the camp. This attitude unrealistically foregrounds the camp as the quintessential location for refugees, and denies the urban nature of refugee spaces by replacing it with notions such as Agier’s “city-camp”. In this paper, I will approach the question instead through the literature on urban informality, particularly Fregonese’s theory of “hybrid sovereignties”, Bayat’s “quiet encroachment”, and the approaches of Sanyal (2012) and Chalcraft (2009). This perspective will allow me to explore informal political behaviour among Syrian refugees in a way which properly acknowledges their agency and the urban nature of their environments.