The eighth annual Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) Social Sciences and Humanities Conference continues 21-25 March 2021 on the topic “The Contemporary Arab State: Perception, Emergence, and Crisis”.
Iraqi political psychology researcher Luay Khazaal Jabr started the second day with a psycho-social examination of the dynamics of collective fear in Iraqi state authoritarianism, highlighting the interaction of society and state. Continuing with Iraq, consultant at the Iraqi Center for Strategic Studies al-Nasser Duraid Saeed addressed the sectoral economic distortions, the so-called “Dutch disease,” that devastated the Iraqi state, economy and society in the second half of the twentieth century.
In the next session professor Reda Hamdi of Sousse University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities turned to the semiotics of the contemporary Arab state, drawing lessons of past reform efforts in Tunisia to transition from authoritarian to more participatory forms of governance. The Arab Maghreb state also figured in the intervention of Abdelaziz Taheri, contemporary history professor of at the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences at Mohammed V University in Rabat, who discussed nineteenth and early twentieth century violence practiced in both the sultan’s makhzen state and lawless Bled es-Siba areas beyond the makhzen. Following the colonial period, independence itself witnessed an increase in political violence in the notorious “years of lead,” when contention over state construction, colonial and national legacies, power, sovereignty, wealth, and restricted domains for political action all gave rise to the spread of violent cultures, both modern and traditional – until a phase of transitional justice was ushered in at the beginning of the current century.
A third session concluded the second conference day with two interventions: researcher at the Kairouan Center for Islamic Studies Suhail al-Habib discussed citizenship in the modern nation state as an expression of the burning needs of the masses of Arab peoples, over the past decade’s contexts of fraught democratic transition in Arab countries; ACRPS researcher Mohammed Hemchi highlighted the enduring salience, for challenges confronting civil society in Arab countries on the path of transition towards democracy, of Azmi Bishara’s criticism of reductionist “global south studies” approaches to civil society.
Noureddine Thaniou, Professor of Higher Education in Algeria’s Prince Abdelkader University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, launched the third day (on Tuesday 23 March with discussion of the coherent and organic relationship of state-in-formation with identity in Algeria. While the Arabic language and Islamic faith were foundational for national independence in the post-colonial era, they have ever since stymied state construction and engendered instability, bringing the country recently to the brink of disintegration. The Arabic language and religion’s place in governance thus remain subject to endless sterile debate and thereby reinforcing the strong relationship between state and identity.
Abdelkader Abdel-Ali, professor of political science and international relations at Algeria’s Moulay El-Taher University addressed corporatist/trade union tyranny in the relationship between state and society wherein the “trade union” or “corporatist” state instills chaos and fragmentation in civil society and promotes monopolistic practices in the rentier economy that serve elite and crony capitalist interests.
The next session featured a joint intervention by Al-Quds University’s Institute of International Studies lecturers Maha Al-Samman and Awad Mansour, respectively from departments of architecture and political science. Referencing the Palestinian context, they presented an alternative to the dead ends of Nasserist and Baathist Arab nationalisms and neocolonial transitional discourse, as well as to traditional European or Arab notions of state. Specifically, they called for development and refinement of a liberation consciousness that can encompass ending internal and external obstructions to the realization of peoples’ vital and profound aspirations.
International relations and Islamic political thought researcher Muhammad Ghazi Al-Jamal then explored demographic fragmentation and political reform in Jordan, highlighting issues impeding formation of a binding national identity for the two major components of the Jordanian people, concluding that honest dialogue seeking to find commonalities may lead to forging an inclusive national identity, in a joint project of political and economic reform.
In the final session of the third day of the conference Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies researcher Hani Awad presented strategies pursued by authoritarian regimes at local levels of government, examining governance in Egypt during the reigns of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1952-1971), Muhammad Anwar Sadat (1971-1981), and Muhammad Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011). Informal decentralization helped centralized authoritarian regimes in Egypt exert control over communities by managing clientele networks at local levels, illegally reducing public expenditure through coopting local communities into the state’s economic and political agendas.
Ahmed Mohsen, a researcher from Turkey’s Sabahattin Zaim University’s Institute of Graduate Studies in Turkey also dealt with Egypt. In his comparative study of the non-democratic regimes of Egypt and China from the beginning of the nineteen-eighties until 2010 he queried how China achieved rates of economic growth surpassing those achieved in Egypt. He suggested it is the independent factor of legitimacy that impacts the dependent factor of economic achievement – and not the other way around. Hence, improving governance in economic fields at the local level is what helps to chalk up the economic achievements tallied by autocratic regimes. In other words, introduction of more democratic procedures in an autocratic regime contributes to the regime’s further economic development. Mohsen concluded that “legitimacy of achievement” is not achieved by greater achievement per se, but rather through securing greater legitimacy.