MIDDLE EAST AND
The first Middle East and North
Africa Regional Conference of Psychology (MENA RCP) was held in Dubai, United
Arab Emirates, December 13 – 18, 2003, under the auspices of the International
Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS), the
International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), and the International
Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP). It was organized by a local Conference
Committee and by the
Le premier Congrès régional de psychologie du Moyen-Orient et de l’Afrique du Nord (MOAN) s’est tenu à Dubai, Émirats Arabes Unis, du 13 au 18 décembre 2003, sous l’égide de l’Union internationale de psychologie scientifique (UIPsyS), de l’Association internationale de psychologie appliquée (AIPA) et de l’Association internationale de psychologie inter-culturelle (AIPIC). Ce congrès a été organisé par un comité local et par l’Association de psychologie du Yémen (APY), en collaboration avec l’Association égyptienne d’études psychologiques (AEEP). Les participants à ce congrès provenaient d’un total de 35 pays, et jamais auparavant on n’avait retrouvé autant de psychologues de la région (en provenance de 17 des 21 pays du MOAN ) assistant à un même congrès. Les délégués choisis pour assister à un atelier offert par lUIPsyS sur le développement associatif, lesquels, pour la plupart, occupent des fonctions de direction au sein de leur association nationale, ont profité de l’occasion pour endosser une Déclaration officielle, à l’effet de créer au cours de l’année à venir un Conseil régional des associations arabes de psychologie et de voir à organiser un deuxième congrès régional à Amman, en Jordanie, en 2005.
Se realizó en Dubai, Emiratos Árabes Unidos, del 13 al 18 de diciembre de 2003, la primera Conferencia Regional de Psicología del Oriente Medio y África del Norte (CRP-OMAN), bajo los auspicios de la Unión Internacional de Psicología Científica (UIPsiC), la Asociación Internacional de Psicología Aplicada (AIPA), y la Asociación Internacional de Psicología Transcultural (AIPT). Un comité local y la Asociación Psicológica de Yemen (APY) la organizaron en colaboración con la Asociación Egipcia de Estudios Psicológicos (AEEP). Uno de los mayores logros de la conferencia fue la gran participación de delegados de 35 países, incluyendo 17 de los 21 de la región del Oriente Medio y África del Norte. Los delegados, muchos de ellos líderes de su respectiva asociación psicológica nacional, quienes también participaron en el Taller de Construcción de Capacidad Nacional, organizado por la IUPsyS, firmaron una Declaración oficial para crear un Consejo Regional de asociaciones psicológicas árabes en el curso del siguiente año y organizar una segunda versión de esta conferencia regional en Amman, Jordania en 2005.
The present regional conference was hosted by
the Yemen Psychological Association and the Conference Organizing Committee in
Historical Background of Psychology in the Region
An interest in psychology has been present in the Muslim and the Arab world since the 9th century, when Muslim scholars began to propose more or less scientific explanations concerning a wide variety of modern-day psychological concepts. But even in more ancient times, the Egyptians had already attempted to explain phenomena like hysteria, epilepsy, delusions and dreams by using psychological and philosophical concepts, and they had even attempted to treat some mental abnormalities.
Hence, for many of the present-day nations in
The scientific study of psychology commenced in
the early decades of the 20th Century, building on the context of
this ancient heritage.
Current Economic and Political Conditions
The countries from which the conference delegates came varied considerably in terms of economic prosperity, from developing economies to highly developed economies. Thus the mix of fields represented was not even, although by international standards most participants worked in developing economies. This may help to explain the relative absence of fields such as organizational psychology, the moderate development of private practice which was not broadly represented across the region, and the fact that there were few presentations from areas such as cognitive psychology or neuropsychology which require laboratory facilities not readily available in most countries of the region.
There were many presentations focused on conflict and conflict resolution, not surprising given that a number of the countries in the region had experienced or were caught up in states of war and terrorism, with devastating effects upon the physical and psychological welfares of populations enmeshed in these traumatic situations. The theme of conflict and conflict resolution was also reflected in the general theme of the Conference – Psychology for Peace and Sustainable Development.
The Scientific Program
The Scientific Program was structured around several principal themes: Clinical and Health Psychology in the Middle East, Educational and School Psychology in the Middle East, and Peace Psychology and Conflict Resolution. Other smaller but clearly identifiable themes included the psychology of women, Islam and psychology, Cyber-psychology, special issues in the region, and Cross-cultural psychology. Two days of workshops concluded the Conference. The following is a review of the Scientific Program and the workshops. Although not exhaustive, the goal of the review is to capture the essence of the presentations included in the major themes.
Keynote Address at the Opening Ceremony
The opening ceremony keynote, titled “Globalization for the Common Good: Economists and Psychologists Building Cultures of Peace” was delivered by Dr Kaman Mofid, an economist. Mofid discussed that he has spent most of his academic life lecturing on the standard neo-classical model of economics which, in his words, has ‘squeezed almost all psychological content out of economics’. Along with an increasing number of other economists, he has realized that the assumption that people act as rational selfish maximisers is no longer tenable. He described how current models of economic decision making are more complex than this and assume that people act in accordance with personal and social preferences, which are, in turn, affected by their cultures and their identities. Mofid's address drew upon the work of Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002, for his work toward changing the nature of economic thinking through fostering an understanding of behaviour at the individual and group levels as well as at the level of culture, politics and ethnicity. The themes of understanding globalization in its human and its economic dimensions were echoed by many of the topics comprising the Conference’s Scientific Program.
Clinical and Health
Psychology in the
Keynote Addresses and Symposia dealt with two aspects of clinical and health psychology. One concerned psychological challenges experienced by patients such as mental, emotional, school, sexual, domestic violence, stress, anxiety, burnout, neuroticism, self-harm and drug abuse problems; problems experienced by patients with special medical conditions such as epilepsy, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, hyperthyroidism, AIDS; and problems of patients with special mental conditions such as schizophrenia, phobia and depression.
A second set of presentations addressed the
challenge of changing the health care system to give attention to the
psychological dimensions of physical illness and recovery, including the role
of a healthy lifestyle in the prevention of disease and illness. One example is the medical undergraduate
degree at the
Educational and School
Psychology in the
This sequence of Keynote Addresses and Symposia primarily addressed issues at school and university. At the school level presentations examined the connection between time management and performance anxiety, a trial program for talented children, and the impact of co-education on the educational achievements, behaviours, and cultural beliefs of teenagers.
Research presentations on the university included topics such as students’ attitudes toward marriage to a relative; the effect of military service on students’ personality, social adjustment, and political, religious and national orientations; a comparison of the educational achievement of combatant and non-combatant students; the orientation of students toward violence; and changing attitudes of students with psychological disorders to using the services of a psychological clinic.
A third sequence dealt with special problems in education such as stuttering, learning disability and parental adjustment of children with such a disability, the issue of inclusion and whether or not children with disabilities should be placed in general education classrooms at pre-kindergarten and primary school levels, and information and parental acceptance of child handicaps.
Peace Psychology and Conflict Resolution
Peace Psychology and Conflict Resolution constituted a distinctive part of the Scientific Program. These themes assumed particular relevance in a region affected by wars between and within nations. One aim of the Conference was to contribute toward preventing fighting and violence. In one sequence of this theme, Keynote Addresses and Symposia examined issues such as the psychological health of victims of war and terrorism, both of which create psychological states of extreme fear, anxiety and depression. In addition, war and terrorism profoundly alter relationships and frequently lead to increasing violence within the family. Women are especially affected by these traumatic circumstances and a very moving and powerful account was given of women who are expected to rejoice in the martyrdom of victims on behalf of the state, even when they experienced devastating physical, psychological and economic consequences in their personal lives, due to the loss of husbands and sons.
A second stream of presentations addressed therapeutic techniques to foster recovery from trauma as well as ways to develop skills in integrating seemingly opposing cultural values wherever the conflict occurs. For example, Western approaches and methods of treatment (e.g. cognitive behaviour therapy, a changing emphasis from post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth) were compared with Eastern techniques of healing (e.g. those based upon ancient Hindu tantric concepts of love and the Buddhist concept of compassion). A novel method of ‘street therapy’ was described and illustrated, as well as other models of community healing around the world and unique model of integrating Western and Eastern approaches with the aim of achieving both inner and outer peace.
Psychology of Women
In a number of the countries within the region
Other presentations examined special problems
faced by women including low levels of literacy, unwanted pregnancy and
domestic violence. For example, research
Other presentations addressed unwanted pregnancy and family planning programs and issues such as concerns about contraception side-effects and health and alternative methods, including psychopharmacology. Studies addressing domestic violence presented research under ‘abnormal’ social conditions on families that lived continuously in the violent circumstances of prolonged war. One study reported that one consequence of this was an increase in family disintegration and in sexual violence within the family. A second study described the role of women in such war-torn countries where women participate as warriors, combatants, spies or carriers of messages, as well as support groups to mobilize communities to spread messages of peace and work toward developing a culture of peace.
Other studies concerned domestic violence in ‘normal’ societal conditions. These reports addressed the paradoxical fact that most abused wives blamed themselves for the abuse and continued to stay within the marriage.
Islam and Psychology
Many psychological practices utilized in Western societies are based upon empirical methodologies which, from an Islamic perspective, neglect the Islamic teachings and tenets on psyche, mental health and spiritual values. Thus, the challenge facing Muslim psychologists is to identify courses of action that integrate psychological techniques with their religious beliefs as formulated by the Qur’an and the Doctrines, Statements and Acts of the Religion of Islam.
While the development of an Islamic or Taassil psychology is still in the making, specific examples of how this is being achieved in professional practice were illustrated in the areas of guidance and counselling as well as in the treatment of anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As was pointed out, Islam also advocates the practice of self-reliance in bettering individual and societal welfare, as the following quotation illustrates: “Verily! Allah will not change the (good) condition of a people as long as they do not change their state (of goodness) themselves,” (Qur’an, Surah ).
Another study examined the attitudes of young women to Islamic and Western cultures where it was found that an overwhelming majority held the belief that the culture of Islam offers more respect toward women than do Western cultures, with these women also wanting to keep the practice of wearing the veil.
The technological advances which have being
made with the advent of the internet and allowed for broad communication
have affected psychology in many positive ways. For example, it was reported that a primary
health care initiative in
Another major development discussed was the creation of Islamonline.net over three years ago in order to take advantage of privacy and interactivity that the internet affords, and its special suitability for conservative communities. It currently has attracted over 1,000 inquiries from all over the world covering a long list of issues as diverse as drug addiction, interfaith marital issues, self-development, homosexuality and identity crisis.
The internet has also been used in an educational setting where, it was reported, a WebCT Interface was established enabling students from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East to discuss didactic and personal issues among themselves, with a view to enhancing learning, fostering the development of a diversity of viewpoints, promoting cross-cultural communication and understanding, and contributing towards the prevention and resolution of conflict.
Special Issues in the Region
In addition to the impact that technology and the
internet is having on the way psychology is practiced in the Middle East and
North Africa, other issues arise in this region of the world which, although not
specific to it, are typical of it. One
concerns the experience of expatriation, which is now common in many countries
as a result of the increasing globalization of the world’s economy, and is
particularly widespread in many parts of the
A second paper dealt with problems in the expatriate workforce due to the fact that the majority of expatriate employees have different national and linguistic backgrounds. Because they all work in the same organizational units, their managers are faced with special difficulties in establishing effective levels of communication and developing effective team spirit within the work groups.
A third paper in the area of environmental psychology described aspects of the rapid degradation of the global environment and the need to develop programs of sustainable development that bring together psychological, social, economic and political issues. The psychological aspects identified in the paper included needs, attitudes and values, and social issues involving conflict and aggression.
to a number of the papers referred to above which dealt with the emic (a perspective that uses the concepts and categories
that are relevant and meaningful to the people studied in organizing and
interpreting data) aspects of culture in North Africa and the Middle East, one
group of Keynote Addresses and Symposia in cross-cultural psychology continued
this theme by examining differences between individualistic and collectivistic
cultures. As was noted, much of
main-stream psychology has been developed in the individualistic cultures of
A second stream of Keynote Addresses and Symposia approached the question of culture from the opposite direction and examined etic (using an outside observer’s pre-established categories for organizing and interpreting data, rather than categories established within the culture being studied) differences between various countries. In perhaps the most comprehensive pieces of research conducted in this area to date, a map of over 70 cultures around the world was presented in which eight cultural regions were identified, each distinctive in terms of seven cultural value orientations. Each of these regions was characterized by a coherence of culture, and each differed from the other in systematic ways. This has important implications for another piece of research dealing with the policies and practices of multinational companies that are at the heart of the current movement of globalization. Issues discussed included whether or not these multinational organizations operate in similar or different ways at their widely different locations, and the extent to which work motivation, team work and leadership vary from one location to another.
The question of similarity and difference between cultures also spanned many other issues. For example, it was reported from a comprehensive study involving over 60,000 school children that there were no differences in cognitive ability across the 30 countries included in the sample. This is important information, given the media attention this question attracts, and counters some of the opinions sensationalized in the press that are derived from hearsay and prejudice rather than systematic empirical research.
In other areas of psychological testing, however, the situation is more complex, raising
the question of the utility of Western tests (and intervention programs) beyond their cultures of origin. It was also observed that the quality of the research in the area depends upon the soundness of the methodologies that are used.
On the second day of the conference, a
special 5-hour workshop was held with invited representatives of the national
psychological association or societies (current or in development) of the MENA
region. Most participants held
leadership or administrative positions.
This workshop was organized under the initiative of the International
Union of Psychological Science and coordinated by Prof. Ype
Two days of workshops following the Scientific Program offered delegates the opportunity to work in small groups in close collaboration with the workshop presenters. The workshop program dealt with three specific issues: the identification of talent, balancing life demands and avoiding stress and burnout, and debriefing after critical incidents in order to increase the validity of eyewitness testimony.
Successful conferences such as this do not happen without much work on the part of a dedicated few. It is fitting to pay tribute to the Conference President, Raymond H. Hamden, the Chair of the Scientific Program Committee, Hassan Kassim Khan, and Eva Bruyninckx-Gerard, the Chair of the Secretariat Committee, as well as all the committee members. In addition, the Conference organizers acknowledged the support of the members of the Scientific Advisory Council and those acting as Liaison for the three sponsoring international organizations: Michel Sabourin, Treasurer of IUPsyS, Mike Knowles, President Elect of IAAP, and Klaus Boehnke, Secretary General of IACCP. Appreciation is also extended for the financial contributions of the American Psychological Foundation, German Federation of Psychological Associations, IAAP, IACCP, IUPsyS, and a private donor.
As mentioned above, this Regional Conference,
initiated by the International Union of Psychological Science and fully supported
by both the International Association of Applied Psychology and the
International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology, was organized to
gather together psychologists mainly from the Arabic speaking world and to
foster the development of academic and professional psychology in all countries
of the Middle East and North Africa region.
The quality of the papers presented at the conference, the active
involvement of so many participants in the many discussion periods, and the
spirit of goodwill that prevailed throughout the conference, all attest to its
outstanding success. Time and again
participants commented upon the benefits they obtained from attending such
informative sessions and the professional support they derived from meeting,
getting to know and networking with colleagues from their own and other
countries. There were two indicators of
just how effective the conference was.
The first was to consider it worthy to dedicate the conference to
Professor Fouad Abu Hattab
The 1st MENA Regional Conference of
Psychology was held in
All through the Conference, issues related to the development and improvement of psychology through the Arab world were highlighted and emphasized. This led to the need to coordinate the efforts among the national psychological associations already in existence or in the process of formation in different Arab countries. Therefore it was decided to establish a professional body to strengthen collaborative work across these associations.
The following points were adopted:
All the participants of the National Capacity Building Workshop who have signed this Declaration would like to thank the international and local psychological associations for the organization and the hosting of the 1st MENA RCP.