11 December 2012
This meeting marked the first step of a journey throughout which different paths and tools that can be useful in our work will be explored. The diversity of perspective and positioning could enrich this collective work. We are all actors that have the will to create links between our countries. This will has been challenged by the current events. The main objective of this first meeting was to share our questions rather than find the answers.
The main points that were raised
1) Most countries in transition are facing tensions at three different levels:
– Society is very conservative and quite modern (secularised) at the same time.
– The Islamist parties come to power with their political agenda. At the same time, they seem to be willing to play the democratic game.
– Civil society (and cultural actors) is a countervailing element and a force for resistance. However, it is not so well prepared to play this role. There is therefore a continuous alternation of hope and despair. It seems that we’re going through a period where everyone is learning what democracy really is.
2) There is a certain widespread pessimism with regards to short-term and medium-term political perspectives: the real struggle to be led seems to be that of democratic culture (and culture).
3) Optimistic perspectives: the Islamists in power reproduce modes of government inherited from the past (corruption, greed, authoritarianism). However, there are also strong opposition forces including trade unions (the UGTT in Tunisia), workers, women, artists and journalists (even the employers’ trade unions).
4) In order to establish a cultural strategy it is important:
– To place ourselves in a long-term perspective (by detaching ourselves from the immediate present).
– To consider the major trends which are deeply and massively affecting Arab countries: urbanisation, literacy, increased life expectancy, declining birth rates (and other demographic factors), decline in patriarchy, secularisation processes, increasing gap between different generations.
– To accompany the major trends. The priorities of the cultural sector should be: the issue of “women” and the modernisation of the education sector.
5) The issue of freedoms (individual and collective) is crucial. When compared to Europe, the existing inequalities with regards to freedom are still very significant. However, undeniably, there is more freedom than before. Artists have more freedom. We are witnessing a re-appropriation of public space.
6) The West is not so powerful anymore. Both its model of society and of economy are being challenged everywhere: the issue of resources and the environment as well the issue of wealth redistribution are at heart of debate both at national and at international levels.
7) In the Arab World and in the South in general, what is very important is to stop being the exception when compared to other regions. The desire to live “normally”, to live “like the others” is irreversible.
8) The issue of a model of society implies another aspect: how to invent another type of society (and government) that would integrate the religious dimension within a new model of democracy (peaceful coexistence within societies). Is this a new model of democracy (that is not based on the Western model) that can be adapted to societies of the Southern Shore?
9) After this period of upheavals we note that stereotypes persist: in Europe, the image of Arab countries is still distorted and in the Arab countries, the image of the “West” is still very negative (Palestine, Islamophobia).
10) The current themes are present since the late nineteenth century (women, religion, politics and secularism) but they have remained confined to the elite.
Today, these subjects should be addressed in public debates allowing our societies to re-appropriate them. It is necessary to integrate them in our debates including all sectors of the population.
Some themes that can be tackled in the papers to be written by members of the group:
– What about the current freedom of creativity? What kind of public space appropriation is there since the fall of dictatorship in Tunisia?
– A small focus on the rapid evolution of our societies (put forward by sociologists), the major trends…
– The lack of independent media organisations and obstacles to the freedom of expression.
List of participants:
– Héla AMMAR / Tunis / Visual Artist
– Roland BIACHE / Paris / General Delegate, Solidarité Laïque
– Fanny BOUQUEREL / Palermo / Researcher, Specialist of Culturel Policies in Mediterranean, Amuni’
– Claire DUPORT / Marseille / Sociologist, University of Aix-Marseille
– Claudine DUSSOLLIER / Paris, Marseille / Geographer, Author, Multimedia and Cultural Project Manager, ZINC
– Ahmed EL ATTAR / Cairo / Theatre director, Founder and General manager, Studio Emad Eddin
– Chérif FERJANI / Lyon, Tunis / Political Scientist, Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée, Institut de Recherche sur le Maghreb Contemporain
– Elizabeth GRECH / Paris / Translator, Project Manager, René Seydoux Foundation
– Marion ISVI / Paris / Project Manager, Réseau Euromed France
– Mohamed Sghir JANJAR / Casablanca / Anthropologist, Deputy Director, King Abdulaziz Foundation
– Marc MERCIER / Marseille / Film Maker, Director, Instants Vidéos
– Kenza SEFRIOUI / Casablanca / Independent Journalist, Association Racines
– Giovanna TANZARELLA / Paris / General Delegate, René Seydoux Foundation