Focused Discussions, Race & Society, Regional Studies

Science and Scientific Production in the Middle East Working Group II


On March 17 2019, the Center for International and Regional Studies held the second working group under its research initiative on “Science and Scientific Production in the Middle East.” This was a one day meeting where the convened scholars presented and critiqued papers that tackled a wide array of issues, among which: access to science and technology in the Middle East; Islam and bioethics; consumerism and scientific innovation; the sanction regime in Iran; the inheritance debate in Tunisia; and the military-industrial complex in Israel.

Abdelkader Djeflat started the working group discussion with his paper, co-authored with Labo Clersé, on “Science, Technology and Socio-Economic Inequalities: What Inclusive Model for Arab Countries?” In his paper, the authors argues that minerals, such as oil and gas, have generated enormous wealth in Middle Eastern countries, particularly the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. However, inequality prevails and large portions of the populations in the Middle East live in poverty. While most of the scholarship on the rising economic inequality in the region focuses on income distribution, political regimes, and social fragmentation, there is a gap as far as inequality of access to science and technology is concerned. The paper fills this gap by tackling three main questions: first, how have social inequalities hampered access to science and technology? Second, how does the elitist access to science and technology work in the region? And to what extent has it been obstructive to the advancement of science and technology? And third, what would be the impact of a more inclusive and sustainable science, technology, and innovation system?

Hatem M’henni focused the discussion on “Economic Policies, Consumerism, and Scientific Innovation in the Middle East.” In his paper, M’henni clarifies the theoretical underpinning of the relationship between consumerism and innovation, and examines this relationship in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Based on his study, M’henni introduces five main arguments. First, he states that innovation in the MENA region is still linear in nature. Second, the Middle Eastern companies continue to treat the consumer as a customer. Third, successful innovation experiences are, for the most part, the result of individual initiative rather than state policies. Fourth, economic and social needs are the main drivers of innovation. Finally, as the average level of education in the region is improving significantly, consumerism will inevitably contribute to innovation in the MENA region.

Ayman Shabana shifted the discussion to “Reproductive Genetic Counseling and the Burden of Choice within the Islamic Context.” In his paper, Shabana examines the process of genetic counseling within the framework of assisted reproduction. The paper investigates the moral burden associated with the choices that modern genetic applications have made available in this area of medical practice from an Islamic perspective. Shabana suggests that the moral consequences of genetic testing have to be analyzed at two related yet distinct ethical-legal and theological levels. At the ethical-legal level these moral consequences have to be evaluated in light of important principles such as procurement of benefit and avoidance of harm. At the theological level, however, assessment must reach beyond mere notions of benefit and harm to include core theological concepts such as divine creation and decree. This two-way analysis may help explain and guide the process of genetic counseling within the Muslim context.

Sari Hanafi presented his paper, co-authored with Azzam Tomeh, on “Beyond Religion and Secularism: Gender Equality in the Inheritance Debate in Tunisia and the Formation of the Non-Authoritarian Reasoning.” The paper discusses the current debate about equal inheritance for both men and women in Tunisia. It challenges many clichés, such as the religious versus the secular discourse, and examines whether those binaries hold true in the Tunisian context. The authors argue that the mapping out of the inheritance debate has shown three different logics: jurisprudential/textual, sociological, and legal. The authors conclude the paper by highlighting that the discussion occurring in Tunisia over inheritance uses common language, which allows for the reduction of authoritarian tendencies and polarization through means of dialogue.

Elizabeth Wanucha presented Parviz Tarikhi’s article: “Sanctions and the Scientific Community of Iran.” Tarikhi’s article sheds light on the main operatives and interlinks of sanctions and the Iranian scientific community. Although it is hard to estimate quantitatively the impacts of sanctions on the Iranian scientific community, Tarikhi claims that sanctions, particularly those imposed in the recent decade, have negatively impacted the Iranian community and subsequently the scientific community. Sanctions have also contributed to the growth of the Iranian scientific community in diaspora fleeing restrictions at home. Tarikhi also claims that the sanctions regime strengthened extremism and stimulated totalitarianism in the Islamic Republic.

Islam Hassan presented Tariq Da’na’s paper entitled “A Cruel Innovation: Israeli Military and Security Production.” Da’na argues that the Israeli army, which is the main source feeding Israeli militarism, is by virtue an instrument of organized violence. Ever since the violent birth of the State of Israel in 1948, militarism constituted the backbone of its body politic, national identity, society, economy, culture, foreign policy and worldview. The institutionalization of Israeli militarism is rooted in Political Zionism. With the formal initiation of the Israeli state-building in 1948, Zionist leaders espoused a militaristic-nationalist paradigm to underlie the process of nation-building. Hence, the Israeli military is not solely an institution concerned with external security, defense, and war. It was designed to play multiple social and economic functions and promote the culture of militarism. As a result, Israeli society is a militarized one, where citizens are actively involved in military activities, and the military is actively involved in non-military activities. Da’na provides an overview of Israel’s military industries and technologies, highlighting the interrelationship between Israeli military industries and technological development. He then moves on discuss the characteristics of Israel’s military and security innovation focusing on the dependency on the American system, the development of unethical technology, the military industry, and the complicity in worldwide atrocities. He concludes the paper with a discussion on the testing of weapons on the Great March of Return.

Participants and Discussants: 

  • Ameena Almeer, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Zahra Babar, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Rana Dajani, Hashemite University, Jordan
  • Tariq Da’na, Doha Institute of Graduate Studies, Qatar
  • Abdelkader Djeflat, University of Lille, France
  • Mohammed Ghaly, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar
  • Sari Hanafi, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
  • Islam Hassan, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Mehran Kamrava, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Hatem M’henni, University of Manouba, Tunisia 
  • Suzi Mirgani, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Irene Ann Promodh, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Ayman Shabana, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Jackie Starbird, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Parviz Tarikhi, Space Science and Technology Specialist, Iran
  • Elizabeth Wanucha, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar

Article by Islam Hassan, Research Analyst at CIRS