Alma Abou Fakher on the first edition of the Insaniyyat Forum in Tunis: International Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences on Africa, the Maghreb and the Middle East

12 November 2022

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Alma Abou Fakher, a doctorate in literature and civilization from INALCO and associate researcher at CERMOM, recently attended the Insaniyyat Forum, the first international forum for the humanities and social sciences, which took place in Tunis from September 20 to 24, 2022, and was attended by researchers from a wide range of backgrounds and generations.
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Photo de l'exposition du Forum Insaniyyat, 2022 © Photographes Insaniyyat, 2022.‎
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This forum, co-organized by the Universities of Manouba (UMA), Tunis (UT), Tunis al-Manar (UTM), the Institute for Research on the Contemporary Maghreb (IRMC Tunis), the GIS (Groupement d'Intérêt Scientifique) Moyen Orient et Mondes Musulmans and the Society for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Worlds (SEMOMM), in partnership with other academic and cultural institutions and organizations associated with the event - has one main ambition, that of "to contribute to improving the conditions for the circulation of scientific production between North and South, between Maghreb and Mashreq, so as to facilitate communication between academic heritages and institutional situations". Rooted in the contemporary history of the Arab world, the Forum succeeded in reflecting on the origins and impacts of crises (health, societal, political and economic), opening up a space for debate and fostering exchanges between researchers, academics and artists from different linguistic and cultural spheres.

Insisting on the major role played by the human and social sciences in deciphering the mutations produced by crises throughout the Arab world, this Forum brought together specialists from several disciplines (literature, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, Islamology, ethnology, musicology, political science, among others), while offering an extremely rich cultural program built around the Crises symposium (film festival, book fairs, art exhibitions, musical performances, craft and ecological exhibitions, training workshops organized in collaboration with civil society associations). This brief account will highlight the key events that brought together a diverse range of attendees keen to promote research representative of the crises theme. In addition, Alma Abou Fakher will touch briefly on her contribution to the Forum, highlighting her commitment to cultural dynamism.

Several internationally renowned guests of honor took part in the event, alongside professors from a number of universities. At the inaugural session, Jocelyn Dakhlia, historian and director of studies at EHESS, Centre de Recherches Historiques in Paris, outlined in her talk entitled, Les coudées franches: parcours d'émancipations en sciences sociales, "the major moments of construction and scansion of the social sciences relating to Maghrebian societies since decolonization, and more generally relating to Islamic societies and Islam" while highlighting the impact of political issues on scientific research circles. For his part, Hassan Rachik, anthropologist and professor at Mohamed 6 University in Rabat and Hassan II University in Casablanca, spoke about the challenges and limits of human and material resources in the social sciences.

These conferences attracted a large audience. The exchanges during each session were dynamic and engaging. Alma Abou Fakher participated passionately in the many public events that took place during the Forum and, due to the density of the program, missed several scientific and cultural appointments. Her presentation - as part of the "Literature and Crises" panel held on September 22 at Manouba University, on the subject of her thesis to be defended in December 2021 at Inalco - focused on the impact of political power on human corporeality in contemporary Arab novel production. She set out to demonstrate how contemporary Arab novelists invest the body with the aim of denouncing the foundations of dominant ideologies and questioning the prerogatives of political power in the Arab world. Writing about the impact of power on the body was analyzed with a view to problematizing individuality and belonging in a country ruled by a dictatorial regime, where the body, a unit charged with feelings and values, is transformed, under the effect of subjugation and manipulation, into an undifferentiated, dehumanized body stripped of its identity. Sobhi Boustani, professor emeritus at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) and former director of the Centre de Recherches Moyen-Orient Méditerranée (CERMOM), did him the honor of attending this panel and moderating it with a debate based on the paradox established by the abundance of literary and artistic production in times of socio-political crises which, instead of negatively influencing the cultural movement in the Arab world, only serves as fertile ground for creativity.

Several INALCO researchers and CERMOM members took part in the event, including Michel Bozdémir, Emeritus Professor of Turkish Language and Civilization, who spoke on the issue of translating "sacred" texts in the Turkish-speaking world; Julie Duvigneau, Associate Member of CERMOM, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Persian Literature, who presented her research on travel narratives to the Arab world in contemporary Persian literature; Augustin Jomier, lecturer in modern and contemporary history of the Maghreb, who took part in a round-table discussion on digital development in the humanities and social sciences, and two ATERs from INALCO; Sarra Zaïed, who spoke on the language practices of women in southern Tunisia, and Laura Monfleur, who gave two presentations, the first focusing on authoritarian and protest performances in public spaces in Cairo during the 2019 referendum, and the second aiming to raise the issues of doctoral research in a context of multidimensional crisis.

On the occasion of this large-scale scientific event, - in which Alma was able to participate thanks to the financial support of CERMOM, whose management she thanks for the encouragement and support it gave her to take part in this Forum - over one thousand three hundred researchers, academics and artists from thirty-five countries in the Maghreb, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and elsewhere discussed reflections, presented research work, and saw contemporary film and artistic productions that germinate thoughts and projects for the future.

During the closing session, the "shared knowledge prize" was awarded to Professors Muhamed Slaheddine Chérif and Hammadi Redissi, and the "Insaniyyat prize" awarded to Professors Jocelyne Dakhlia and Olga Lizzini. During the same session, Alma Abou Fakher attended a ceremony held at the Palais du Baron d'Erlanger in Sidi Bou Saïd, attended by the Minister of Cultural Affairs, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the Head of the Tunisian Government, who in her speech praised the ambition, richness and density of the Insaniyyat Forum, expressing the commitment of state authorities to this international event. A malouf show was presented immediately afterwards by the Théâtre de l'Opéra troupe. In conclusion, this international Forum provided a space for scientific, cultural and artistic dialogue, enabling us to understand and decipher the deregulations that have taken place in the Arab world over the last two decades.