25.03.2020 Arab Spring – and now?

Prof. Dr. Rachid Ouaissa, Philipps University Marburg, is co-ordinator of the new Merian Centre for Maghreb research

Delegation of Tunis University and Philipps-Universität Marburg standing together
Photo: Gabriele Neumann
Prof. Dr. Habib Sidhom, President of the Université de Tunis, and Marburg University President Prof. Dr. Katharina Krause (foreground) signing a Memorandum of Understanding between the two Universities. MECAM Co-ordinator Prof. Dr. Rachid Ouaissa (middle, back row) and representatives of both Universities were present at the signing ceremony.

The future of the Maghreb – to which Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Mauretania belong – is not just important for this region alone. Academics around the world look to the Maghreb when researching some of the most burning issues of our times: migration, distribution of resources, religious and identity conflicts. April 1st 2020 will see the launch of a Merian Centre, initiated by Philipps Universität Marburg, in Tunisia. The development of the Maghreb after the Arab Spring will be the topic of research. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will provide the Merian Centre with over 1.7 million euros in funding during an initial three-year period.

The “Merian Centre for Advanced Studies in the Maghreb” (MECAM) provides Maghreb studies and research with an international platform. The focal theme is “Imagining Futures – Dealing with Disparity.“ The Centre is co-ordinated by Prof. Dr. Rachid Ouaissa of the Marburg Centre for Near and Middle East Studies (CNMS). Partners in Tunisia are the Université de Tunis, the Université de Sfax as well as the Institut Tunisien des Études Stratégiques in Tunis. Other participants are Leipzig University, the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg und the Forum Transregional Studies in Berlin.

“The Merian Centre will make a major contribution to the ongoing internationalisation of the research profile in the humanities and social sciences in participating countries. It is integrated into our strategic aims to further develop and strengthen selected research areas together with German and international partners”, declares Prof. Dr. Katharina Krause, President of Philipps Universität Marburg.

“Research on the Maghreb will enable us to make further progress in regional studies. With the foundation of the Merian Centre under the direction of the University of Marburg we are creating a unique focus point within regional studies of the Near and Middle East in Germany”, said Prof. Dr. Ouaissa.

From the point of view of Prof. Dr. Ouaissa, Tunisia is an ideal location. This is not due solely to the location of the country in the heart of the Maghreb. It offers academics from Germany, Tunisia and several other countries an ideal research environment. “Tunisia is the country where the Arab Spring was born and the only country in the region with a successful transition to democracy”, declares Ouaissa: “Academic freedom, freedom of opinion and freedom of the press as well as a civil society engaged in lively debates in culture and politics create a fertile ground for our research work.”

“Imagining futures” is a main topic of research for MECAM. The focus of research is on how societies in the Maghreb can renegotiate models for the future of their region. This process is characterised by a profound inequality. In the course of history, islamification and colonial domination meant that Western North Africa became an area of intense interaction between Africa, the Middle East and Europe. It is here that several different ethnic groups, cultures, languages and religions come into contact with each other. The social differences in these countries are enormous. There are prosperous regions along the coast, in the capital cities and in some economic centres. In contrast, in the rural areas in particular, there is unemployment and a lack of educational opportunities, health care and security. The results are migration, social unrest and extremism. How do societies deal with inequality? This is the focus of the second aspect of MECAM’s research: “Dealing with Disparity”.

Questions dealing with the future of the Maghreb are reflected in the five key areas of MECAM’s research. These address the consequences of migration by the younger generation, obtaining justice for past human rights violations and repression, the artistic representation of experiences and visions for the future, the quest for sustainable economic systems, and the question as to how the plurality of identities in the Maghreb influences the debate about future models.

The Merian Centre will be integrated into the Université de Tunis. It is planned to open further branches of the Centre in Casablanca and Beirut. MECAM will also maintain close links with the Philipps Universität liaison office in Cairo. The cornerstone location of the Centre remains Tunis, however, where a further Philipps Universität liaison office will be opened. This will serve as a meeting point for researchers from Germany and Arab countries, Ph.D. students, Postdocs, and young professors from all over the world to collaborate on joint projects.


“Maria Sibylla Merian Centres for Advanced Studies“ are international research colleges funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Their aim is to promote the internationalisation of the humanities and cultural and social sciences. The Merian Centres are located at an academic institution in the host country. They are established and run by German research institutions in partnership with the relevant host institution. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has already provided funding for the establishment of Merian Centres in India, Mexico, Brazil and Ghana. They are named after the naturalist and artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717).

Further Information: https://www.uni-marburg.de/de/cnms/mecam

Contact persons:
Prof. Dr. Rachid Ouaissa
Centre for Near and Middle East Studies
Philipps-Universität Marburg
Tel.: +49 6421 28-24956

Petra Kienle
Department of International Affairs
und Family Service
Philipps-Universität Marburg
Tel.: +49 6421 28-26120