The Maghreb in International Relations: Diplomacy and Crises.

Sarah Adjel's picture
Call for Papers
August 10, 2015
Subject Fields: 
Arabic History / Studies, Geography, Nationalism History / Studies, Political Science

International Symposium co-organized by the Contemporary Maghreb Research Institute (MCRI), the Institute of Africans Worlds (IMAF), University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and the University of Manouba (Tunis), 20 and 21 November 2015 in Tunis.

The Maghreb, located at the crossroads of the Arab world, as well as Mediterranean, African and European civilisations, is a privileged location that links Africa, the Mashreq and Europe. An extensive network of exchanges marks this region, which is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the North, and by the Sahara in the South. The history and geography of the region have given rise to an intense flow of cultural transfers as well as an interlocking set of memories and legacies. At the same time, the Maghreb is a “a constantly threatened structure.”1 As Pierre Vermeren points out: “It is not a question of establishing the history of this region in totem, but it is important to consider it as such, because it cannot not reduced to the Arab identity of the Middle East.”2

The intention of this conference is to encourage a reflection of the Maghreb’s place in the history of international relations. It also seeks to build on recent archival developments, namely the fact that contemporary Tunisian archives have become much easier to access and Moroccan attempts to collect and classify their national archives since 2012. The publication, last September, of a Livre Blanc des études françaises sur le Moyen-Orient et les mondes musulmans of the Groupement d’intérêt scientifique (GIS), reflects the interest of the CNRS, which stresses the need to renew the history of the Maghreb and “exit the reading grids and the analysis instruments of a region too often at the margin,”3 is also a goal of this conference. Indeed, we seek to foster a new outlook on the historiography of the colonial and post-colonial Maghreb.4 In so doing, we hope to fill a particular lacuna in the French historiography of transnationalism and international relations.

By designating the Mediterranean as a subject for social scientific inquiry, some works have been able to demonstrate the interconnection and interdependence of states. Yet, historical analyses of this space often continue to bear the mark of older colonial relationships. In addition, studies on the relations between the Maghreb and its geographical environment tend to be structured by bilateral issues that center on the themes of anti-racism and anti-imperialism. At the same time, very few works study the interactions between various sub-regions and tend to overlook the links between the Maghreb with the Mashreq, Sub-Saharan Africa, or Asia interactions.

Furthermore, these studies are often static. As Robert Frank emphasizes, it is important to account for the “dynamics” that mark history. By this he means both the operation of power and force, but also the “movement that it describes, a movement that characterizes changes across borders as much as the force that generates.” Dynamics also designate “flows” that cross over the spaces, transform societies. Many of these dynamics are at the same time national, international and transnational.5


This conference is therefore an opportunity reflect upon these nascent themes.

The proposed periodization extends from the beginning of the twentieth century to the “Arab Spring.” We are interested in the period that begins with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which inaugurated the construction of modern Arab states, to the struggles for independence, which includes the challenge of the French presence in Algeria as well as the theorization of Arab nationalism.6

In recent years, a wide range of international or transnational crises has profoundly affected the Maghreb countries and generated new political, economic, diplomatic and cultural dynamics. Due to the wave of revolts in the Arab world, 2011 was a watershed year for Maghreb. It initiated a break in what was generally regarded as the prevailing balance of power in the region. In 2015, the situation is even more critical; Libya’s descent into chaos, the sensitive political transition underway in Tunisia, and Algeria’s uncertain future all highlight the need for new approaches to the study of the Maghreb.

This context calls for in investigation of the diplomatic response to crisis in the Maghreb. One useful definition of diplomacy is “a full range of actors and methods working together in order to help and, in the same time, shape the foreign policy of a given country.” According to L. Badel and S. Jeannesson in Diplomaties en renouvellement,7 styles of diplomacy have experienced profound changes linked to the “temporary disruptions” that have occurred within the international framework.8 Moreover, we have also seen certain “long-lasting structural developments” take hold, such as the increased area in which diplomacy is practiced, an increase in the number of actors involved and the rise of multilaterialism.9 Moving from a bilateral framework to multilateral approaches, the field of international negotiations has evolved considerably 10 .The notion of crisis introduces a breach in this field and reveals new realities. It highlights the loopholes and points of vulnerability that exist in the system, and it also points to the factors that threaten the established order. Moments of crisis generate risks for national, regional, and international security. They also make it imperative to act in new ways, even while the long-standing frameworks have given way to uncertainty and chaos.11

Finally, this conference seeks to evaluate the position of Maghreb within the frame of international relations to illuminate how it is integrated with various the regional and international orders. Discussions will question the nature of diplomatic practices as well as their development over time. We will consider the circulation of elites as well as new public and private actors such as NGOs, international organizations, and economic actors. This will shed light both on the balance of power in the region, as well as the process by which political alliances evolve.


We propose the following (non-exhaustive) list of possible topics:

  1. The end of empire

  • Memory, history, and the dynamics of post-colonialism;

  • Colonial violences and systems of control, the construction of nation-states, wars of independence;

  • Authoritarianism(s) and the democratic process;

  • Political change and the reorganization of institutions.

  1. Crises and territorial reconfiguration in the Greater Maghreb

  • Territorial transformations and border tensions; the question of the Sahara, relations and crisis among Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Sub-Saharan Africa; tensions between the Maghreb and Europe (example: Ceuta-Melilla).

  1. Regional organization, a tool of economic, political and cultural regulation

  • Changes in power relations over time, the evolution of alliances and regional organizations such as: The Committee for the Liberation of the Arab Maghreb (1948), The Permanent Consultative Committee of the Maghreb (1964); The Djerba Declaration (1974), The Oujda Treaty, the non-aligned movement, the Tricontinental Conference, The Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (OSPAAAL), etc.

  • The regulation of crisis by international and regional organizations such as: The League of Arab States, The Organization of African Unity (OAU, then AU), OPEC, The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), the UN, and the CEE.

  1. Economic and Cultural Cooperation between the Maghreb and its “environments”

  • Studies on the practices of cooperation and regional organization in the Maghreb, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe;

  • Policies of development aid;

  • Technical, financial, economic, cultural, or energy cooperation.

  1. New actors, diplomatic practices, and networks in the Maghreb

  • Genesis of Institutions (MAE); sociology of the actors involved in public diplomacy;

  • Appearance of new public or private actors: lobbying groups, economic elites, non-governmental organizations, multinational organizations, intergovernmental and/or supranational structures;

  • The evolution of diplomatic practices.


Researchers who are interested in these themes should send a resume of their paper (500 words maximum) before 10 August 2015 to the members of the organizing committee (Sarah Adjel, Houda Ben Hamouda, Clément Perarnaud et Fayçal Chérif) : This should be accompanied by: the title of the paper, an indication of the envisaged sources that will be used, and a short CV. The conference will be conducted in French, English and Arabic. We also foresee the eventual publication of an edited volume based on the conference.

The scientific commission is headed by Pierre Vermeren (University Paris 1) and includes, Tewfick Aclimandos (University of Cairo) Mohand-Amer Amar (CRASC, Oran), Aomar Baghzouz (University of Tizi-Ouzou), Kmar Bendana (University of Manouba), Alain Beltran (CNRS IRICE), Michel Catala (University of Nantes), Georges Corm (University of Saint-Joseph à Beyrouth), Matthew Connelly (University of Columbia), Sylvie Daviet (University of Aix-Marseille), Karima Dirèche (Institut de Recherche du Maghreb contemporain), Robert Frank (University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), Giuliano Garavini (University of Padue/NYU Abu Dhabi ), Jérôme Heurtaux (University of Dauphine, IRMC), Choukri Hmed (University of Dauphine), Hédi Jallab (Archives nationales de Tunisie), M’hamed Oualdi (University of Princeton, INALCO), Fredj Maatoug (University of Tunis 9 April), Elikia M’Bokolo (EHESS), Alain Messaoudi (University of Nantes), Kahdija Mohsen Finan (IRIS University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), Jenny Raflik (University of Cergy Pontoise), Malika Rahal (CNRS-IHTP), Mathieu Rey (Collège de France), Todd Shepard (Johns Hopkins University), Fritz Taubert (University of Bourgogne), Antonio Varsori (University of Padue), Massimiliano Trentin (University of Bologne), Catherine Wihtol de Wenden (Sciences Po Paris/Ceri).

A definitive program based on the propositions received will be established during the month of August 2015.


Robert Frank, “Préface”, in Houda Ben Hamouda, Mathieu Bouchard (dir.), La construction d’un espace euro-méditerranéen Genèses, mythes et perspectives, Bruxelles, Peter Lang, coll. “euroclio n ° 61”, 2012, p. 11.

2 Pierre Vermeren, Misère de l’historiographie du “Maghreb” postcolonial (1962-2012), Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2012, p. 214.

3 On this point, read the Livre Blanc des études françaises sur le Moyen-Orient et les mondes musulmans, GIS Moyen-Orient et Mondes musulmans, CNRS, published in September 2014: 2204/files/2014/12/Livre_blanc_GIS_Moyen-Orient-texte.pdf.

4 Pierre Vermeren "Misère de l’historiographie du « Maghreb »", op. cit., p. 214-215 ; Malika Rahal, “Comment faire l’histoire de l’Algérie indépendante ?” , La Vie des idées, 13 Mars 2012,

5 Robert Frank (dir), Pour l’histoire des relations internationales, Paris, PUF, 2012, p. 187-215.

6 Daniel Rivet, “The emergence of nationalism in the Maghreb: the end of the XIXe century on the eve of World War II”, Materials for the history of our time, 1993, N. 32-33, Colonization in Africa, p. 18-22.

7 Guillaume Devin, « Les diplomaties de la politique étrangère », dans Frédéric Charillon (dir.), Politique étrangère. Nouveaux regards, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2002, p. 217.

8Laurence Badel, « Introduction », dans Laurence Badel, Stanislas Jeannesson (dir.), Diplomatie en renouvellement, Paris, Les Cahiers Irice, n°3, 2009, p. 5-19,

9 This study uses the timeline of international relations suggested by R Frank in Robert Frank ; « Les systèmes internationaux au XXe siècle », dans Robert Frank (dir.), Pour l’histoire des relations internationales, Paris, PUF, 2012, p. 187-215 : first an international system based on imperialim and on the bipolarisation of the european system (1880-1941), then « the giants rule period » (1941-1973) and finally, a new type of international unrest following 1973and again 1989.

10 Stanislas Jeannesson, « Conclusions », dans Laurence Badel, Stanislas Jeannesson (dir.), Diplomatie, op. cit., p. 137-143,

11 Général Loup Francart, Bilan de dix années de gestion de crise, IFRI, 2001, cfé le 26 janvier 2015.


Contact Info: 

Houda Ben Hamouda (IRICE, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Sarah Adjel (IMAF, Université Paris 1 Pathéon-Sorbonne et IRMC)

Clément Perarnaud (IRMC)

Fayçal Chérif (Université de La Manouba, ISHTC)