The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies’ Paris Branch convened its Third Annual Conference Friday 29 January 2021 to take up the issue of populism in Europe and the Arab world. Given the exceptional circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s event took place in video conference with the participation of Arab and French experts on the subject. The opening session took place as a discussion of “Populism and its Transformations” featuring addresses by Dr. Azmi Bishara, General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Professor Bertrand Badie of the Paris Institute of Political Science, and Professor Pierre Rosanvallon of Collège de France in Paris. Four conference sessions followed, continuing through the day, to conclude in a panoramic historical overview of the issue of populism.
The first session took up the current forms of populism and its representative voices in Europe and the Arab world. Professor of political sociology Federico Tarragoni of the University of Paris provided introductory notes on populism, highlighting important conceptual distinctions. Sociologist and diplomat Gurvan Le Bras dealt with how diplomacy deals with authoritarian populisms in Europe and the Arab world. Legal expert and member of the board of directors of the Arab Center in Doha Abdallah Saaf spoke of the populism of governments in countries of the southern Mediterranean.
The second session reviewed Arab examples of populism. Claire Beaugrand of the National Center for Scientific Research in France considered French scholarship’s research into manifestations of populism in the Gulf countries, highlighting cases in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait. Mehdi Mabrouk, Tunisian sociologist and director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies’ Tunis branch discussed the Tunisian model of populism. Researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research in France Matthieu Rey devoted his intervention to a discussion of the confrontation of authoritarian populism with popular protests in Syria.
In the third session, which focused on the issue of populism and the crisis of the state, President of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies Abdulwahhab al-Effendi enquired whether populism might be a form of war against reason. Researcher at the Arab Center in Doha Mohammed Hemchi dealt with foreign policy and populism, while researcher Tarek Kahlaoui from the Mediterranean School of Business in Tunis spoke of populism and democracy in Tunisia.
The fourth session surveyed populism in media with Executive Director of the Arab Center in Doha Muhammad al-Masri reviewing public opinion on populism polled in the Arab world. Media specialist Alain Gresh addressed the mounting populist discourse seen in French media. Researchers Aldja Nabila Bouchaala and Aissa Merah presented their paper on "Populism in the Algerian Media's Coverage of the Hirak Movement".
Henri Laurence, Chair of Chair of Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies at the Collège de France, brought conference proceedings to a close with a historical overview of the concept of populism from its earliest roots in Greek philosophy and until the present day.