Director's Address 2018

The OIB is looking back at a both fruitful and eventful year 2018. So is Lebanon
at large. After the severe crisis of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's forced resignation
while in Saudi-Arabia had been solved, preparations for the long awaited elections
could resume, amidst a rather severe economic crisis, which prompted one out of
three Lebanese to think about leaving the country, according to polls.

The parliamentary elections finally took place on 6 May 2018. This was the first legislative
election held since 2009, after the poll had been postponed in 2013, 2014 and
2017 for different reasons. An electoral law adopted in 2017 introduced proportional
representation in the country for the first time in history. Elections went smoothly,
by and large, with a voter turnout of about 50 percent. Many women voters could be
seen in the streets, and 111 female candidates out of a total of 976 were campaigning
for seats amidst a number of challenges.
After 9 months of negotiations, a new national unity government was finally
announced. The new government, headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, includes
30 ministers from most Lebanese political factions. For the first time in the Arab
world the Ministry of the Interior went to a woman, Ms Raya Haffar El-Hassan.
Within the realm of international politics, Lebanon saw two high profile political visits
from Germany during the year. In January, President Steinmeier's visit marked the first
state visit of a German head of state after Emperor Wilhelm II came in 1898. Mr
Steinmeier gave a lecture at the Lebanese University to students and faculty
during his visit. He was accompanied by the DAAD president, Margret Wintermantel.
Only 5 months later, Chancellor Merkel headed an economic delegation and was
accompanied by members of the German parliament. Both visits show the importance
Lebanon is given in German (and European) politics.

In terms of its scholarly and in-house activities, the OIB stepped up its efforts to devise
new activities and projects. A prolonged discussion process among the long-term
researchers of the OIB in the previous year had yielded the new broad research profile
of "relations" in order to generate innovative research questions and fields among the
institute's wider research community. Instead of adding up existent research topics
into "clusters", this approach has the advantage of creating a common, rather broad
discursive space, thereby giving researchers the chance to link their research in various
ways to these broader fields of enquiry.
At the same time, the profile is also broad enough to simply house research projects
and discuss them within wide parameters.
We divided the broader research profile of "relations" into the four sub-fields of
"humans and their relations with other humans", "humans and their relations with the
environment", "humans and their relations with their own productions", and "humans
and their relations with the divine". These subfields allow for both a focused and
wide-ranging conversation between the OIB's research community, which is made up
of its very own researchers as well as its visiting fellows, and also some of the scholars
giving public research seminars. At the same time, the mesh of the four subfields
creates overlaps, thereby enabling dynamic links between the sub-themes of the larger
research profile while creating new webs of enquiry. The graphic makes the approach
and the various projects and overlaps visible (see p. 10).

Best exemplifying this new approach is perhaps the topic of "neighborhood–neighborliness"
as the research topic of the year 2018, which generated its own activities and
brought members of the OIB's research community into close contact and exchange.
A group of several research associates, a visiting fellow, and the director travelled to
the World Congress for Middle East Studies in Seville, to present their research within
this framework (and, as an added bonus, to take the opportunity to inform participants
of the Congress about the OIB's mission and scholarly work and meet up with the
Institute's alumni). The neighborhood topic was taken further in the format of a Weber
World Café later in the year in Berlin, city of "Kietzes", in cooperation with the
Max Weber Foundation, the Zentrum Moderner Orient, and the Forum Transregionale
Studien.

Combining the neighborhood perspective with the topic of reconstruction, a three-day
international conference on Reconstructing Neighborhoods of War was held at the
OIB. It brought together the OIB's research community and international presenters.
The rather unusual combination of the two concepts, neighborhood and reconstruction,
made for an interesting (inter)disciplinary mix of participants and generated
quite some interest in Beirut, Lebanon and the region at large.
The neighborhood-neighborliness theme also attracted applications from international
and regional scholars who brought their own research into this conversation.
CHAFIKA OUAIL joined us from Algeria, working on a project called "neighborliness
as a spiritual paradigm". SHERIF YOUNES from Cairo gave a talk on neighborly relations
in the political thought of Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Interest in the neighborhood topic
was so vivid that some activities (a conference with the University of Balamand, for
example, and the Stiftungskonferenz of the Max Weber Foundation) will carry over
into the next year.

For its Cairo office, the OIB's research focus is "humans and their relations with the
environment". A conference was organized on Knowledge of Nature and Intangible
Cultural Heritage. Interdisciplinary approaches to nature and environmental history
in Arabic and Islamic discourses, financed and co-organized by the DAAD's Cosimena
program. Co-operations with Egyptian universities are in the making.
This broad profile on "relations" and its four sub-fields thus created academically
innovative and intellectually productive overlapping webs. All in all, a circle of
resonating conversations and fields of enquiry provided an integrative framework and
a chance for everybody to relate to the new research profile in different degrees
of intensity.

In house, we also tried out new forms of working together, for example in a gardening
event, where both researchers and all other staff members rolled up their sleeves to
make the OIB's famous garden even more attractive by planting colorful flower pots.
A little later in the year, we also had to redecorate the terrace and its gazebo, as the
library's storage premises underneath the terrace had been penetrated by tree roots
and water had leaked in. MONIQUE BELLAN and NIRVANA GHANDOUR helped the director
in choosing a modern design that plays on older Arabesque patterns.
Before these works started, the OIB took the opportunity to organize a summer
festival for soccer and world championship enthusiasts who first listened eagerly
to a public talk about the history and politics of Beirut's very own Nejmeh football
club (which was temporarily coached by a German trainer who attended the event).
Among the new activity formats was a trip to Erfurt University by a group of the
associate researchers from the OIB to take part in the first joint workshop with the
Max-Weber Kolleg there.

The OIB has long been an important partner on the Lebanese research scene. This role
was further enhanced when it took the lead in cooperating with the DAAD and the
Lebanese University in order to initiate a DAAD longterm lectureship position at the
LU's Doctoral School for Humanities and Social Sciences, the first foreign position
there, with an organizational connection to the OIB.

Together with the Arab Council of Social Sciences (ACSS), the Rosa Luxemburg
Foundation, and Lebanon Support (a local NGO), the OIB admits and welcomes the
holder of a new postdoctoral fellowship to participate in its research community.
Last but not least, we are proud to announce that our new research project, "Relations
in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern students in the Eastern Block (1950s–1991)", which
is part of a project of the Max Weber Foundation on "knowledge without borders",
will receive generous funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research
and will begin in 2019. Hans Robert Roemer fellow OLGA NEFEDOVA and public lecture
presenter ZAUR GASIMOV will bring their research to this project.
Two more applications were submitted in 2018 to funding agencies and we await
their decisions.

Needless to say: None of all this would have been possible without the hard work of
each and every member of the OIB throughout the year for which I am very thankful.

Birgit Schäbler

(From the yearly report 2018)