Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Tamim Ben Hamad Al Thani, Crown Prince and Heir Apparent of Qatar, the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies began the First Arab Annual Conference on the Social Sciences and Humanities on Saturday, 24 March. The Crown Prince, together with ACRPS Director General Dr Azmi Bishara also awarded the Arab Prize for commissioned work to the eight selected researchers whose work was selected for recognition at the meeting.

Opening remarks were delivered by the well-known Palestinian physicist Prof Antoine Zahlan, and Tunisian liinguist Abdulsalam Masnadi. Prof Zahlan gave a sweeping address to the audience taking in the history of empiricism within Arab culture and the inability of Arab states to compete with Europe in terms of maritime technology. The theme of the limitations, or otherwise, of the Arabic language was also taken up by Masnadi.

With several hundred attendess coming to Doha from over a dozen Arab countries, and from further afield, the ACRPS conference will be focusing on two main themes: Development policies which will improve the status of Arab economies; and the relationship between the Arabic language and the concept of a common Arab identity.

One of the more well-attended discussions was delivered by the prize-winner Omar Razzaz of Jordan, who spoke of the historical development of the concept of rentier states in Arab countries. To a packed audience, Razzaz, a Jordanian economist who works with the World Bank, spoke of the threat which the culture of rentierism posed to the development of a free-standing democratic culture.

Speakers in the afternoon sessions also took in the ideas of colonialism and language. Abdulrahim Sheikh, a lecturer at Palestine's Birzeit University described the imposition of Hebrew placenames onto the geography of Palestine and how it fit into the "Columbus syndrome" of the need for colonialist powers to impose their way of thinking on the natives. Speaking immediately after was Dr Latifa Al Kondouz from Morocco, who described efforts by the French colonial authorities, dating from the 1930s, to both impose French as the main language in the Arab Maghreb and to divide the population of Morocco along linguistic lines, with Arabic and Amazigh speakers ("Berbers") on opposite sides of the divide. 

This first conference is part of the ACRPS' efforts at creating a common research culture and a collective agenda for priorities in the fields of social science and humanities research in the Arab Homeland. The events will continue over March 25 and 26, at Qatar's Doha Sheraton. Interested individuals can follow coverage live on Twitter through @ACRPS_English in English and @Dohainstitute in Arabic.