The second annual Arab Graduate Students Conference, organized by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, launched its work on Sunday, August 9, 2020. The conference which continued until 20 August is a unique Arab world event that seeks to link scholarship and researchers in the Arab region with young Arab social sciences and humanities students and researchers completing their doctoral studies in Western universities. As envisaged by the center, such linkage is necessary since these young researchers and students usually establish their professional and research paths in the countries in which they study, and publish their research results in Western academic institutions and in the languages of those institutions – contributing to creation of a gap between their scholarship and research activity and the Arab region. This conference aims to strengthen collegial relationships between Arab researchers in Western universities as well as between them and their colleagues in Arab research institutions, in an organized institutional framework.
The second iteration of the conference was scheduled to be held in March 2020 but was postponed due to the global conditions of closure amid the crisis of the Covod-19 pandemic. With the continuation of these conditions, the Center opted, given the importance of this conference, to consolidate a nascent tradition and convene the event remotely, via virtual communication technology and the Internet, while distributing its working sessions over eleven days.
150 portfolios were submitted by Arab students and graduates of doctoral degrees in Western universities as candidates for participation in the conference. After a careful process of adjudication and appraisal, the conference organizing committee selected 37 male and female researchers from universities from the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. The conference committee also coordinated with more than 30 professors from within the Arab Center and the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and other institutions around the world who have specialist expertise in the fields of knowledge included in the papers selected for presentation, to ensure provision of critical feedback and comment on the research involved.
The conference’s first day of working sessions opened with two presentations in the field of political theory. Tamara Al-Taher presented a paper entitled “The Search for 'Intellectuals' in the Arab World and Palestine: Forms and Spaces of a Socially Rooted Relationship.” The presenter posed a set of core research questions such as “what is the role and function of the intellectual? How does the definition of an intellectual personality affect and interact with the way societies perceive themselves? How does this interact with societies' definitions of knowledge, culture and power?” The researcher offered tentative answers to such questions, based principally on the Palestinian case, and on the critical interventions of Franz Fanon, Edward Said and Antonio Gramsci.
The second and final intervention on day one of the conference was by Yasmine Daher, who presented a paper entitled “Morality in the Context of the Arab Revolutions.” The researcher tried to elucidate the process of crystallizing the ethical self in the context of the surrounding community and contemporary Arab uprisings. The paper poses a set of research questions related to the study of political and ethical concepts deriving from the shape of mobilizations in the Arab revolutions, which she describes as being one of direct, open-ended, and non-hierarchical revolution.
Arab Doctoral Students in Western Universities continued distance online sessions in the Arab Graduate Students Conference for a Second Day on Monday 10 August 2020, via zoom video links and live streaming on the social media platforms of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, proceeding along the two tracks of “Conflict and Post-Conflict Studies” and “Economics and Finance.” Nanar Hawach reviewed his paper entitled “Reexamining Strategies of Resilience: A Study of Regime Resilience and Non-State Militias in the Syrian Civil War”. With the help of a theoretical framework drawing upon the contributions of Schleicht, Foucault, Weber, and Eisenstadt, Hawash examined the state’s function and monopoly on violence as seen in the case of the civil war in Syria, highlighting the sensitivity of handing over the force of violence, traditionally inherent in the function and sovereignty of the state, to dependent supporting militias.
Within the same track, Salah Sharief presented his paper entitled “The Dehumanization of Drone Warfare,” in which he addressed the contribution of the technology of drone warfare to transforming the war from conflict limited to specific times and geographical locations to one extended over vast areas and open-ended time frames through use of aircraft possessing combat characteristics capable of simultaneously identifying and dehumanizing the enemy, stripping humanity from the combatant – engendering reduced resistance to killing and a greater readiness to engage in military operations. In the Economy and Finance track, Mustafa Nourallah presented his paper entitled “Understanding Young Individuals’ Initial Trust in Non-Sovereign Digital Currency,” in which he demonstrated the possibility of applying “unified theory” and “behavioral financial theory” in factor analysis and modeling of structural equations to test hypotheses, highlighting the relationship between studied factors and effects.
The Economics and Finance track continued on the Third Day of the conference (Tuesday 11 August) with researcher Mohammad Al-Asadi presenting his paper entitled “Financing Reconstruction in Conflict-Affected Countries,” in which he reviewed the importance of institution- and peace building in conflict-afflicted countries to achieve a sustainable economy that leads to financial stability. Amina Idrissi Chouahdi presented her paper entitled “Conditions for Applying International Accounting Standards in the Public Sector: a Comparative Study of Morocco and Belgium,” discussing the concept of financial accounting and the role of organizations in applying rules of transparency, efficiency and quality, noting the importance of taking into account the geographical and political context. Researcher Anas Fassih concluded work on the track with his paper “Transboundary Influences on Framing Renewable Energy Policies in the Middle East and North Africa: A Comparison between Morocco and the United Arab Emirates,” comparatively assessing the orientations of Chinese and German policies towards sustainable energy and formulation of energy transition policies in both countries, based on the comparative approach in economic analysis.
In the Political Theory track, researcher Nada Berrada tackled “Young People Getting By: Contextualizing Everyday Practices of Agency among Moroccan Youth," in which she showed the influence of Western media and political discourse on the youth of the Middle East and North Africa after 2011.
The Fourth Day of the conference (Wednesday 12 August 2020) contained two tracks, on Palestine Studies and Historical Studies. In Palestine Studies, Khaled Anabtawi presented his paper “Sectarian Space and the Controversy of Settler Colonialism in 1948 Occupied Palestine”. He focused on understanding the sociological structure of the sectarian space inside the Palestinian towns and villages in the Palestinian territories in 1948 in the context of researching the representations and manifestations of sectarianism within the towns at the local political organizational level and the local political space.
In the History track, Said El-Ghazi El-Imlahi discussed his paper entitled “Religious Policy of the Spanish Protectorate System in Northern Morocco,” focused on the structure of the Spanish Catholic state and how it was able, in certain historical circumstances, to govern the territory of the majority of its Muslim population, with a method of government that does not contradict their spiritual beliefs and their religious institutions. This study in historical anthropology attempts to define the nature of the colonial protection system and the religious centers of influence in Moroccan society, showing how an ideological discourse was able to dominate religious institutions politically and socially in those regions, for a short period of time.
During the final three days of the conference (18-20 August), ten researchers presented research papers derived from their doctoral research in the thematic specializations of the conference: sectarianism, comparative literature, psychology, conflict and post-conflict studies, and immigrants and migration studies.
In the Sectarianism track, on August 18, Aisha Al-Rashidi presented a paper entitled “The Bahraini 2011 Uprising and the Regime’s Securitization of Sectarianism,” to demonstrate how the Bahraini regime had survived the 2011 uprising. Observing that this uprising had not been a sectarian struggle for power, as the Bahraini regime had sought to characterize it, Al-Rashidi emphasized that sectarianism was an important element in the suppression of the uprising and maintenance of the political status quo.
In the same conference track, Mohammad Mahmoud presented a paper entitled “Political Theory and Communitarian-Cultural Conflicts: Normative and Descriptive Approaches to Syria,” investigating the status of sectarian conflict in Syria and its weight as a model in contemporary political theory. The paper sought to define the appropriate approach to formulating a standard-based, sustainable democratic political model, in the Syrian case. After clarifying the intellectual approaches proposed by political philosophy, the paper attempted to construct a new paradigm suited to the Syrian case.
The Comparative Literature track’s interventions on August 18th were from Hadeel Hassan and Amal Mazuz: Hadeel Hassan's “The Aesthetic Awareness of the Ugly in Contemporary Arabic Literature: Syrian Women Writers in the 1990s” used philosophical definitions of “the ugly” to present an analysis of the social and cultural landscape of Syrian novels and ask if ugliness from female and male perspectives involved the same factors; Amal Mazuz, for her part, presented “Reinscribing Orientalism or Rewriting the Archetypes – Contemporary Western Female Travel Writing and the Representation of Muslim Women," wherein she highlighted stereotypes of Muslim women in contemporary travelogues by Western women writers (such as Reina Lewis and Jean Sasson), departing from a premise that these travelogues are ideological instruments of empire.
Elias Ghazal’s “Religious Leaders, Sectarianism and Protest in Lebanon,” in the August 19th Sectarianism track, addressed the problematic of assuming the ability of religious leaders to participate in the process of dismantling sectarianism, with reference to Lebanese model, and sought to clarify sectarianism’s mechanisms of and methods as deployed by the religious establishment to expand its influence and power; from this he drew conclusions about the future of sectarian identity and the sectarian regime in Lebanon.
A conference track on Psychology was devoted, on 19 August, to two interventions in this specialization. Sofian Azouaghe’s “A Psychological Approach to the Impact of Educational Practice and Working Conditions on the Mental Health of Teachers in Morocco” presented the different forms of violence to which teachers are exposed in Morocco, which in his view, have become rampant in recent years. This violence is a part of difficult circumstances surrounding the teaching profession in Morocco, which prompted him to study the impact of teaching demands on mental health, taking primary and secondary education teachers in the country as an example. In the second intervention, Donia Remili discussed “Types of Violence and Suffering in the Health Sector: Case Study of Nurses in Tunis Governorate,” examining the violent conditions faced by health workers in Tunisia in the current climate of complete political instability. The researcher reviewed the various types of violence and the underlying factors and their consequences for the health of Tunisian nurses, adopting a combined research methodology utilizing questionnaires as well as individual interviews and psychological testing.
Mohamad Mehdi Berjaoui and Nour Allah Munawar contributed to sessions in the Conflict and Post-Conflict Studies track, 20th August. In his paper, “From National Resistance to Regional Player: Hizbollah’s Foreign Policy Making,” Berjaoui focused on the circumstances of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and Iraq to shed light on the foreign policy of Hezbollah, explaining its motives and focusing mainly on the underlying ideological and doctrinal principles, especially that of “vilayet al-faqih” or “the guardianship of the jurist”. He concluded that Hizbollah’s interest in stability and security generates pragmatic decisions that do not necessarily contradict its ideological beliefs. Nour Allah Munawar’s paper “A Competing Heritage: Curating the Future Heritage of Post-Conflict Syria” hypothesizes that “heritage” continuously undergoes a process of transformation and change – so much so that destruction and loss of heritage sites in Syria since 2011 may still be instrumental in the creation of Syria's post-war heritage, and not simply expose the heritage to danger.
The conference concluded, on August 20, with a session in the Immigrants and Migration track with a paper by Ghofran Hilal entitled “International Protection of Refugee Women and Girls: Jordan Case Study," in which the researcher introduced the concept of refugee protection, and examined the effectiveness of the international system in establishing the concept and confronting the new challenges relating to refugee women and girls, giving an overview of the protection measures accessible by refugee women and girls in Jordan, and spotlighting the concept of “vulnerability” as an effective basis upon which to construct added elements of protection for women and girl refugees.
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