The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies will launch Istishraf [1]: The Annual Review of Arab Future Studies in 2015. With this new annual publication, the ACRPS responds to the pressing need for a rigorous academic publication devoted to forecasting and future studies in the Arab region. Thought forecasting and future studies have existed in the Arab region for decades, the corpus of material now published in the field allows for a critical, methodical approach to improve the quality of output. In addition to its academic function, Istishraf will further serve to promote development in the Arab states and strive toward better understanding of both internal and external factors affecting Arab development.

Recent years have shown a heightened interest in forecasting studies, as evidenced by the growth of a number of policy institutes and academic centers in this field. Combined with the work of a number of academics and experts from the Arab region, this increased interest has created a body of knowledge that can be used by Arab scholars concerned with questions of development and forecasting. Istishraf will thus serve as a platform for those Arab scholars who have helped to shape the field’s legacy, and welcome young Arab researchers in the quest to place forecasting studies at the center of Arab policy-making and strategic planning. Eventually, annual academic meetings and symposia on the topic will make it possible for a more permanent, institutionalized structure committed to forecasting studies.

The need for a publication such as Istishraf is made more pressing in light of the following considerations:

1)      The need to both institutionalize and develop Arab contributions to forecasting studies, as well as shape new generations of Arab scholars who can then build on and improve these contributions. This calls for an investment in knowledge acquisition, the development of curricula, and an awareness campaign on the importance of this field.

2)      The far-reaching societal changes sweeping through the Arab world that are indicators of a very distinctive structural crisis within the region, in addition to the implicit questions on the region’s future. The ACRPS takes a long-term, historical perspective on these shifts, and the need to guide them.

3)      The rise of forecasting studies and future studies in the region is consistent with the upheaval and deep-seated structural crisis presently existent in Arab countries. For instance, in the United States, the rise of forecasting studies coincided with the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the following Great Recession; in France, the field was ushered in by the country’s defeat by Nazi Germany in 1940.  

4)      Development models previously deployed in the Arab world have been called into question by the present phase of social change. This has given rise to a host of new alternative academic hypotheses and development models and the novel potentialities they hold out.

In achieving the above, Istishraf will make use of the body of previously published forecasting studies in Arabic. A pan-Arab focus will make Istishraf unique since most of the previously published material is largely country-specific and sporadically published. Only three such projects, now discontinued, aimed at producing future-focused studies concerned with the Arab world, these being: The Project to Forecast the Future of the Arab Homeland, carried out by the Beirut-based Center for Arab Unity Studies; Alternative Arab Futures, undertaken by the Third World Forum’s Middle Section, based in Cairo; and Alternative Visions of the Future for the Arab World, published by the France-based Futuribles International under the auspices of the UNDP and the European Union. Despite their valuable contributions and innovative methodologies, Arab states failed to utilize this knowledge. These publications also neglected particular Arab states, including Somalia and Mauritania.

Recent noteworthy country-specific forecasting studies include Egypt 2020, the drafting of which was carried out by the same authors of Alternative Arab Futures, chaired by the late Ismail Sabri Abdullah, the late Ibrahim Saadeddine[2], and Ibrahim al-Issawi. Egypt 2020 was theoretically innovative, addressing a range of fields and mathematical modelling techniques. Moreover, it was spearheaded by an academic civil society organization free of government control. The freedom from governmental oversight enabled the report to explore eventualities and possible scenarios that official government organs would not have dared to envisage, such as a prospective Islamic state. This was also a result of the influences that various political, ideological, and social forces had on the institution which drafted it.

Of equal merit is Syria 2025, another country-specific publication that was carried out by roughly 260 experts and researchers drawn from a variety of fields. The Syrian report provided three separate visions for the future path of the country up to 2025. Other comparable attempts include Qatar National Vision 2030; Jordan 2025, which was supported by the private sector, but was never implemented. In many of these and similar cases, their declared academic potential has yet to be fully realized. While these last three studies utilized fieldwork and evidence from a range of disciplines and interests, most of these studies remained closely tied to government action plans. As a result, they were characterized by an overly optimistic view, with none of them attempting to envisage any less-than-ideal scenarios emerging, or to prepare for adverse outcomes.[3]

The field of forecasting studies has taken shape fairly recently, but, just like all social sciences, it continues to grow and its parameters continue to take form. The novelty of the field, and its early acceptance of an interdisciplinary approach, however, have made these shifts particularly true when compared to other fields in the social sciences. The combination of descriptive quantitative and qualitative techniques is no longer unique within the social sciences. What marks forecasting studies out from other fields, however, is that the adoption of quantitative modelling methods has, to a large extent, shaped the field and its uses.

This raises questions about the ways in which planners and forecasters adapt forecasting studies for their needs. It is with that knowledge in mind that Istishraf will work to understand programmatic Arab attempts at forecasting within an academic perspective. In this regard, Istishraf will be more than a publication. It seeks to be a project in its own right, one which helps to formulate the definitive research questions as they relate to development and the relationship between forecasting and planning, strategy-making and policy formulation. Such questions have been raised before both regionally and globally, particularly within French academia, where forecasting studies have long been associated with strategic planning.

Previous projects dedicated to forecasting within the Arab region, particularly Egypt 2020 and Syria 2025 which are committed to specific developmental aims, reveal that similar concerns have polarized opinion in the past. Arguably, this polarization is a reflection of the conflict between planners situated within the centers of power and those proposing and seeking to understand alternative futures. Nonetheless, an equilibrium allowing for a stable relationship between forecasting studies and strategic planning has taken shape, the evolution of which has been influenced by the dominant development models adopted by Arab states.

This conflict is evident in the intense debate between free market ideologues and proponents of statist interventionism, although this debate, of paramount importance to Arab planning, was largely marginalized in public discourse. The result of this marginalization is that interactions between the various disciplines within Arab academia have been limited. Such discussions, however, will continue to be salient, not only for theoretical reasons, but also because of the fact that the state’s role in the fragile Arab economies continues to warrant academic attention.

Istishraf seeks to overcome such problems by bolstering the methodological foundations of forecast studies, partially by ensuring that the technical and methodological aspects of forecasting studies receive their due attention.

In summary, the areas of interest that Istishraf seeks to cover in its future editions include:

  1. The methodologies and theoretical framework of forecasting studies and future studies. Within this, the annual review will seek to compare forecasting and future studies with planning and strategic planning;
  2. “Future history” as a concept within forecasting studies and future studies;
  3. The use of forecasting studies, along with questions on the relationship between the vast social changes in Arab societies and the need these present for forecasting;
  4. Arab pioneers in forecasting studies and future studies;
  5. The Arab Human Development Reports and the state-level reports from a critical, forecasting studies perspective;
  6. A prospective Arab Development Agenda post-2015;
  7. The Millennium Development Goals: Prospects and challenges from a futurist perspective;
  8. The adoption of a future-oriented perspective toward management, and the tension between crisis management and administering of affairs;
  9. The history of forecasting studies and the way it evolved away from “predictions studies”;
  10. Forward-looking studies that predate the rise of forecasting studies as a discipline, which nonetheless provide a turning point in the history of the formation of a separate discipline;
  11. Concepts within the framework of forecasting studies;
  12. Forecasting, planning and strategic planning;
  13. Strategic forecasting, and issues arising from the relationship between forecasting and strategy;
  14. Sustainable development as a challenge to visions of the future including both comprehensive examinations and case studies;
  15. Forecasting and demographics: population projections and questions of regional and urban development;
  16. The role of historians, planners, policy professionals, and forecasters;
  17. Applications of forecasting studies to political science and international relations;
  18. What the visions of the future reveal about the transformation of Arab states from the simple state model to more complex states, since such a transformation has consequences for the legal-constitutional structure of Arab states, especially as this relates to regionalism, sectarianism, and other sub-national identities. This has particular application in states like Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and Libya, but also in countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria and Sudan;
  19. Post-oil—after natural resources;
  20. Forecasting and inter-disciplinary methodology;
  21. The complex relationship between the disciplines of history and forecasting studies;
  22. Discovering the past through its possible impact on the future;
  23. The future and historicism: the re-production of historicist philosophies and visions in the shape of visions of the future, examples of which can be found in the Egypt Vision 2020 and Syria 2020 reports;
  24. Forecasting techniques, and descriptive-quantitative techniques, which currently number around 26, in particular;
  25. The conceptual basis of a scenario as envisaged in forecasting studies;
  26. The status quo as a reference/benchmark for scenarios of the future;
  27. Contributions that assess the success or failure of previous Arab forecasting studies. Istishraf will carry such evaluations in each of its issues, and similarly welcomes contributions that seek to constructively correct the errors made in previous forecasting studies published in Arabic;
  28. Contributions that examine previously published non-Arab forecasting studies that were interested in forecasting the future of the Arab world. Such contributions would focus on one of two points:
    1.  Assessments of the accuracy of predictions in previously published, non-Arab forecasting studies concerned with the Arab world; and
    2. Analyzing the causes for any errors contained within those reports, particularly where doing such serves to improve future performance of Arab forecasting studies;
    3. Translations of seminal works in forecasting studies;
    4. Book reviews and readings of either seminal works or recent, cutting-edge publications that deal with forecasting studies; and
    5. Coverage of seminars, symposia, conferences, and similar academic meetings devoted to forecasting studies.

The above list is not exhaustive as to the topics Istishraf will publish. The editors of Istishraf seek to expand the scope of issues covered, provided that they are relevant to the fields of forecasting and future studies. Submissions are welcome as of this announcement; submissions of material intended for the first edition of the yearbook must be submitted by the end of November 2014.

All correspondence should be directed to Ayat Hamdan, ACRPS Research Assistant and Secretary of Istishraf: ayat.hamdan@dohainstitute.org

The ACRPS would like to acknowledge the early pioneers who have made considerable contributions to Future and Forecasting Studies in the Arab region. These include Ismail Sabri Abdullah and Ibrahim Saadeddine; we also mention here Almahdi Almanjara, who has contributed to the field within the region and globally; Ahmad Sedqi al-Dajani; Antoine Zahlan; and Walid Abdulhay.

Contributors to this background paper included: Mohammed Breich, Walid Abdulhay, and Jamal Barout.

[1]Istishraf translates here as “forecasting”.

[2] Not to be confused with the Head of the Ibn Khaldoun Center in Cairo

[3] Another work which combines elements of both forecasting and long-term planning is Israel 2020, compiled by the Israeli Society of Architects and Planners has also been translated into Arabic. While it is also an overly optimistic work and exceedingly ambitious, it deserves critical attention for what it reveals about Israeli strategic machinations towards Palestine and the Arab Homeland.