The Challenges of the Civil State in the Arab and Muslim Worlds - Insights from The Mirage

The Challenges of the Civil State in the Arab and Muslim Worlds – Insights from The Mirage

  • 19 October 2015

The term “civil state” was frequently used during the series of uprisings and revolutions that unfolded across the region during the so-called “Arab Spring.” It was utilized by a number of different actors, including: demonstrators against ruling regimes; regime supporters; intellectuals and academics from different social and political backgrounds; religious scholars; Islamist activists; and tribal elders. The term was central to tabled demands that called for the establishment of a new political system and a new social contract. Like any widely used concept, the notion of the civil state has become a floating signifier in the sense it used to describe multiple ideas related to the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, justice, security and good governance, as well as the relationship between religion and the state.

However, the notion of the civil state was in fact a prevalent feature of public debates held in the Arab world almost two decades ago and was adopted by Islamist movements and intellectuals on the one hand, and secular leftist and liberal parties and intellectual currents on the other hand. In other words, the idea has been adopted by the two traditional rival blocs, which blurs the margins of understanding of the concept of the civil state further still.

Questions marks over missed opportunities to build a modern civil state in the Arab world are often raised; as are queries surrounding the perceived difficulty and prevalent challenges that have prevented the building of a civil state in the modern Arab world.

The importance of this dilemma has motivated socio-political movements throughout the Arab world, and, as has been claimed by a number of researchers, arguably represents one of the most divisive, contemporary issues across the region, whether played out at the level of intellectual and political elite, or among the general public. Addressing this problem requires a reexamination of some of the most important issues that have dominated Arab thought since the Renaissance, such as the relationship between religion and state, and the debate about tradition and modernity, democracy and secularism.

This paper shall incorporate a specific framework of analysis that aims to facilitate attempts to solve the associated problems tied to the concept of the civil state from a regional perspective. With this in mind, the paper is divided into three main sections: the first section outlines the concept of the civil state, and draws a distinction between other concepts that are often directly associated with the notion of the civil state—as illustrated by the way in which the terms “secular state” and “civil state” are used with accompanying Islamic references. The second section focuses on the missed opportunities for the establishment of a civil state in the Arab world from the second half of the twentieth century onwards. Finally, the third section analyzes the current challenges that prevent the construction of a modern civil state in the Arab world.

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Monday 19 October 2015

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Monday 19 October 2015

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