The eighth annual ACRPS Social Sciences and Humanities Conference on “The Contemporary Arab State: Perception, Emergence, and Crisis” concluded 25 March 2021.
The fourth day discussed five research papers, commencing with Director of the ACRPS Political Studies Unit Marwan Kabalan’s paper on the collapse of the Baathist state in Syria, ushering in the most perilous phase since the 8 March 1920 “Syrian Kingdom” declaration of independence. The Syrian crisis beginning in March 2011 saw the state and its opponents calling in the assistance of allies – engendering a regional and international proxy war and existentially threatening state, social fabric and national identity. External interventions contributed to the suppression of the peaceful state opposition movement, transforming it into armed revolution and civil war.
Munqeth Othman Agha, a researcher in Turkey’s COAR Center for Studies and Research and the Syrian Memory Foundation, then discussed the interaction between state and non-state actors in Syria during the regime's regaining of control of southern Syria in 2018, assessing the nature, dynamics and outcomes of state interaction with 10 selected Syrian non-state groups and external actors.
The next conference session, devoted to rentier states, saw lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Sétif 2 Hami Hassan presenting an analytical historical reading of “the social state” in Algeria and transformations brought on by constraints of the critical economic situation, chronicling the emergence of rentier state capitalism’s six decades of stalled development. The Algerian development project was beset – especially in the 1980s and 90s – by the vicissitudes of low oil prices, political turmoil and insecurity, all testing the ability of the social state to fulfil societal needs.
Moroccan economist at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, Ibrahim Al-Morshid went on to discuss Moroccan state decentralization and “advanced regionalization,” considering agency theory and power sharing. Examining the contractual relationship between the kingdom’s royal establishment’s delegation of executive tasks to the prime ministerial institution as agent of executive authority bearing risks related to the exercise and sharing of that authority as per constitutional requirements, the researcher’s mathematical model demonstrates that notwithstanding the success or failure of prime ministerial management of public affairs, the royal establishment always emerges victorious and strengthened from executive power-sharing.
Researcher at the Regional Center for Education and Training in Tangiers Mohamed Ahmed Bennis then discussed the Moroccan state’s “advanced regionalism” and its role in strengthening state central power and reproducing the predicament of reform suspended between aspirations of limited modernization of operating mechanisms and preservation of central structure – a dilemma that parallels the failure of democratic transition and stalled forging of a new social contract – with continued restrictions on the public employment of state resources to hands of central authorities.
Professor of higher education at the Regional Center for Education and Training Professions in Tangiers M'hamed Jabroun opened the fifth conference day (25 March 2021) with a paper on state and religion in Morocco, analyzing the trajectory from secularization to Islam in the aftermath of colonialism. The Moroccan monarchy saw dangers in modernity’s secularist tide which it sought to stem by revamping its relationship with Islam as the pillar of traditional legitimacy. It increased the quantity and quality of religious materials in public education programs as King Mohammed VI cast all state actions in a religious light, thereby framing the public political sphere in religious fatwas. Jabroun concluded that the path of the Moroccan monarchy, shifting from secularism to Islamism, remains subject to future transformations, given that the shape of the state-religion relationship still suffers from many shortcomings in practice.
Historian Saeed Al-Hajji of the University of Sidi Mohamed Ibn Abd Allah in Fez, then presented a paper discussing the post-colonial Moroccan state’s “pimping apparatus”: one of the most prominent aspects of traditionalism in the ancient makhzen structure of the state, rooted in traditional heritage dating from the sixteenth century sultan’s makhzen. After French colonialism’s exit, the newly independent Moroccan state employed pimps and local elites to direct the community towards a culture of compliance with makhzen authority. A modern institutional interface now gives citizens a choice of elected representatives, but within the traditional system that bars the participation of non-makhzen elites, thus effectively consolidating makhzen hegemony.
Ahmed Andari, professor of public law at the University of Islamic Sciences in Mauritania and head of its public law department, presented a paper on the contemporary state in the Arab world, referencing the post-colonial state in Mauritania. The building of the post-colonial state in Mauritania, as in the rest of the Arab world, has been subject to two different types of influences: one of a perception of the state as emanating originally from the West, and a second, the old perception of a state rooted in the sultanistic heritage that the Arab and Islamic world knew for centuries preceding the colonial period. The contradictions between the two are reflected in the construction of the post-colonial Mauritanian state: modern in form, but traditional in substance.
Also on the contemporary state in Mauritania, Mohamed Mokhtar Ould Bellati El Hajj Ahmed, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Legal and Economic Sciences at the Modern University of Nouakchott related how Mauritania despite difficult surrounding circumstances has managed to build democratic constitutional institutions in keeping with a 2006 constitutional amendment that enshrined the principle of peaceful transfer of power and prevented the president of the republic from assuming more than two terms of the presidency. The Mauritanian state’s diversified economy combining exploitation of raw materials (iron, copper, and gold) with development of sectors of food production (fisheries, livestock and agriculture) has contributed to shaping the nucleus of the state and institution-building. But development remains a challenge, due to continuing rampant corruption and absent good governance, with a small elite controlling political decision-making and economic resources.
In the final session of the conference, Ruwaida Mohamed Abdel-Wahab Farah, Lecturer and Graduate Studies Coordinator at the Department of Political Sciences at the Faculty of Economic and Social Studies at the University of Khartoum, presented a paper on indicators of failed states, with 2005-2020 Sudan as a case study. She assessed critically the standard Fragile and Failed State Index measurements and indicators of American research centers as not being reflective of the realities of Sudanese experience since December 2018 and subsequently changing perceptions in global institutions measuring state fragility. The researcher concluded that the nature of Sudan’s external relations determines the country’s fragility ranking, rather than objective assessment of its realities.
Majd Abu Amer, an assistant researcher at the Arab Center, presented a paper at demonstrating how the state in the Arab world has given rise, since its inception, to continuing debate as to whether it is truly a nation-state, authentically "Arab," or functionally modern. His discussion suggested that the Arab state is not a failed state in the sense of 1993 Somalia, but something between state and failed state.
At the conclusion of the conference ACRPS Arab Prize for the Social Sciences and the Humanities committee chairman Dr. Fahmi Jadaan reviewed the committee’s justifications for suspending the eighth-round prize. Director General of the Arab Center Dr. Azmi Bishara closed the conference affirming the center's mission to encourage research in the social sciences and humanities. He invited scholars to come forward to the center with their research projects and presented the topic of “Political Culture” that has been selected for the upcoming ninth round of the Social Sciences and the Humanities Conference and Arab Prize. The topic’s background paper will soon be posted on the Arab Center’s website and social media platforms.