Through its initial programs, the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies aspires to achieve intellectual stimulation and research products, aiming to identify and analyze the social, economic, political, and cultural challenges faced by Arab societies in the wake of the third millennium. The center strives to foster a more uniform and coherent discourse among Arab intellectuals regarding the policies and means to be adopted for the advancement of all Arab countries. Thus, it seeks to surmount the conventional role of research centers in order to assume a more influential and effective role in policies adopted by Arab state and non-state stakeholders. Consequently, and in an effort to achieve the last aim, the center plans to launch an Arab Opinion Index to measure trends in Arab public opinion since "until now, one just depends on polls carried out by western institutions," according to Dr. Azmi Bishara, general director of the center.
He pointed out that the "Arab Agenda Century for the 21st Century," will engage hundreds of potential Arab intellectuals and researchers over a period of four to five years. The project will be based on the "the experience of Arab Human Development Reports, which were published by the United Nations Development Program, but will be formulated from an Arab perspective and founded on Arab agendas." Hence, it will overcome "some agreed-upon constraints necessary for international sponsors". The report will be written in a totally different spirit compared to those grievance-based reports that strive to impose on the Arab public opinion the concept of "a wayward development," and are keen to cause despair and self-flagellation.
Twenty Arab intellectuals and researchers attended the "Advisory meeting," including Dr. Jalal Amin, Dr. Georges Corm, and Dr. Azmi Bishara. Unlike the prevailing aspect of conferences and scheduled lectures, the advisory meeting featured mainly brainstorming and open discussion sessions. It started with the discussion of the conference background paper. Then the discussions dealt with the conceptual framework, research methodology, issues, areas of concerns that were proposed as research agendas, as well as descriptions, analysis, proposals, and mechanisms of action.
Dr. Azmi Bishara, the general director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, introduced the center in his opening speech, describing its objectives and methodology, emphasizing the importance of the formulation of the "concept of Arab public opinion," as well as the inception of development programs. He highlighted the necessity of promoting specialized studies, pointing out an acute shortage of Arab specialized researchers, namely in Iran and Turkey affairs. Dr. Bishara determined the role of intellectuals in identifying the challenges in order to later translate them into tasks.
Dr. Taher Kanaan focused his intervention on "the conceptual framework" for research. He attempted to determine the meanings, connotations, and contexts of used terminology. This was among the most important topics raised in later discussions. He underlined the necessity to explore issues of globalization and technological revolution, in addition to their impact on development and on both national and regional security. He emphasized the significance of regional integration and unity. Kanaan also called for the "rejection of grievance-based discourse" and stressed the need to search for "strength components" instead in order to build upon and develop a path to renaissance. He urged a re-read of the history of Arabs since World War II in order to differentiate between liberation forces and reactionary ones.
Dr. Youssef Choueiri, the director general of the "Center for Arab Unity Studies," was the first speaker in the open discussion. He focused on the importance of setting the historical context, as well as identifying the dominant forces and current challenges, before engaging in the political and cultural analysis. He called for the "dismissal of grievance-based discourse that does not reflect the reality". He asked, rather, to focus on "achievements of the national state" during the last century, pointing out negligence within that area. Dr. Choueiri concluded by asking about the "social leverage" which is necessary to implement project proposals and to execute evoked tasks.
The minister, Dr. Adnan Hussein, focused on the importance of enhancing the research team role, and highlighted the necessity of follow-up and good administration as a working method. Moreover, he stressed the significance of "knowledge communication" and staying abreast of the communications revolution. He also praised the "rationality" of the research project, attributing the long decline of Arab and Muslims to "suppressing" rationality, on the one hand, and to fomenting emotional and sectarian tensions on the other.
Dr. Kamal Abdel Latif opined that "the Arab battle today is a battle that ought to break with traditions, adding that it is a battle we have been fighting for since the nineteenth century."
Dr. Galal Amin noted the importance of controlling the global changes that have occurred in the past forty years which explained the changes in the Arab world. Furthermore, he mentioned "the difficulty to reach a consensus" at the end of the meeting because of the diversity of intellectual references and methodologies, as well as analysis and evaluation tools. Amin asserted that "the insistence on reaching consensus produces weak data". He added that "the renaissance will not be achieved through consensus," but, rather, through "a driving force." Amin inquired on how to translate research into hard data which in turn will leave an impact on social and political life and rendered it more dynamic.
George Corm expressed his aversion to the false distinction between rationality and religiosity as mutually exclusive categories. He emphasized that each society has its own rationality based on its conditions, challenges and culture. Religiosity is not static; it is, rather, a dynamic process through time. Dr. Corm asserted the necessity of "a problematic thinking" as opposed to certainty. He insisted on the need for critical thinking and a debate between opposite thinking. Dr. Corm highlighted the importance of a research "conceptual framework" due to the prevailing confusion regarding concepts in the Arab world. However, this task should be a separate project because of its importance.
Later, Dr. Saad Naji Jawad alerted the participants to the destruction of the research centers in Iraq, and notified them about the assassination of researchers and scientists. In addition, he said that it is true that the Iraqi, Palestinian, and Tunisian youth are resisting; nevertheless, he asked about their school of thought. Thus, he called for rationality, whether Islamic nationalist or leftist, as it serves the cause of the nation renaissance.
Dr. Basma Qadmani invited those who play an effective social and political role to be "intellectually equipped" in order to formulate practical "mechanisms of action". She reduced the significance of the international reports, which described the symptoms without specifying the responsibilities. According to Qadmani, these reports do not raise the core issues, especially the real causes. She called to raise the following questions: how were Arab states' resources used? Who is fomenting sectarian divisions? What is the role of political authorities? What is the role of business men in politics?
Dr. Munir Hamash warned against the ongoing socio-economic policies which caused a concentration of capital and wealth, and produced "a community at risk". Thus, these risks threaten the identity and citizenship. He also alerted the participants to the "buyout" of the Syrian economy for a "market economy," thus becoming dependent on European economy through partnership. He mentioned the events in Tunisia as an indicator of the fall of this social and economic model, namely, the neoliberal one. Hence, he called for an alternative development model which has a state and rule of law, as well as human and environmental dimensions.
Mohamed Jamal Barout asked for a "political discourse" while formulating reports, as opposed to a purely theoretical or academic one. He called on adopting a development approach that is different from the stereotyped approaches known as "empowerment," "support to small and medium enterprises," and others. Barout defined the task to be performed by the center in "getting rid of" the jargon used by international experts.
Dr. Ali Kadri backed the above-mentioned view, calling for an Arab critique of development experiences in which responsibilities are identified, without projecting stereotyped concepts, such as "good governance" and "social responsibility," in addition to others on our reality.
Dr. Azmi Bishara opined that the comparative advantage of the center lies within "the state theory" and its relation to identity as "modernism comes before post-modernism". He explained that defining the issue of identity, and its role, is a task performed by nations which have intellectuals theorizing about "postmodernism," where identities, nationalisms, and the nation state comes to an end. Bishara asserted that modern concepts and tasks take priority over democracy since the legitimacy of the Arab states or entities and their experience evaluation is still under discussion. He considered that, today, the issues of identity and citizenship are areas of concern for youth.