The Civil State - The New Political Term of the Arab World

The Civil State - The New Political Term of the Arab World

Amer Katbeh
1 June 2012

Aftermath the Arab Spring and nowadays during the transitional period we are witnessing the emerging of a new political term in the entire Arab region or maybe in the world. The observer of the Arab politics will notice directly the remarkable use of the term “Civil State” from both the ordinary people and the politicians and from both sides the left and the right parties. Tahrir protesters called for civil state, end to military rule. They chanted slogans such as, "No terrorism, no sectarianism, Egypt is a civil state," Mahmoud Ghazlan, spokesman for the Muslims Brotherhood, said in an interview "We believe in a civil state rather than a military or theocratic state as like the situation in the Middle Ages in Europe," The Syrian national council, which gathers many dissent parties from left and right, seek to establish a democratic, multi-party, and civil state. But what they mean by a civil state? Is it a new political term of an old political and social concept? What is the different between the civil and secular state?

Indeed, the civil state term as a form of state has not yet to pass into mainstream academia, which suggests the vagueness surrounding this term, and the only definition available to us is what the current activists make of it, like the definition of Amr Hamzawy, the Egyptian political researcher. Hamzawy defines it as a state by which authority is transferred from the military establishment to elected civil bodies, the relationship between religion and politics is arranged, and equal rights are guaranteed for all citizens. In general, it is a state of law which builds upon the principle of the citizenship.

The academic interpretation of the civil state and the secularists’ point of view

From the intellectual point of view, the Syrian researcher Jad Al Karrem Al Jebaei argues that the term “civil state” is a local and not a political or a juristic one. He adds that the term was invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1950s, considering it as the state’s form which represents the real Islamic state, but today the term’s meaning is different and controversial everyone understands it in his/her way. George Tarabishi, the Syrian Intellectual also argues that the secularists accepted to replace the term “secular state” in their programs and statements with the new term “civil state” in order to get more supporters from the majority religious society. The people will understand from the civil state as an opposite to the military state which ruled or is still ruling without any relation to the secularism, which is a taboo for many religious people.
A prominent Syrian dissident Louay Hussein stated “I do not deny that we used the term intentionally instead of the secular state and maybe we, who started to pitch this term”. He adds that there is no difference in the context between civil and secular state but because secularism is a controversial term in the Syrian culture, which means atheism or anti-religion for many religious people, we “the secularist dissidence” tried to replace it with a more acceptable term.
The Islamists’ understanding of a civil state
While the secularists think that there is no difference in the context between the secular and civil state, for the Islamist the concept holds a different meaning. Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa stressed in an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm that the concept of a civil state doesn’t contradict Islamic law, but conforms to it. He stated “In Egypt, a civil state means a modern nationalist state that is compatible with Islamic provisions … Egypt did not import the civil state model from the West and that the model has existed for about 150 years.” He explains the state as it relies on its constitution, institutions, parliament, and administrative and judicial systems — all consistent with Islamic Sharia — to adopt the civil model.” He adds also “Egypt’s Islamic identity does not clash with its civil system, which defends citizens’ rights regardless of their faith.”
Khairat Al-Shater deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt explained that the group’s main objective is to peacefully establish a civil state based on Islamic references. Another Salafi said that they accept a civil state but the president should not be a Christian or a woman as they believe that the non-Muslim should not rule the Muslims and the woman should not rule the men.
In short, the meaning of the term is too broad and controversial. It is a term open to interpretation. The secularist are trying to be pragmatic in order to get more supporters in a majority religious society and the Islamists try to appropriate the term as they might be convinced that their old motto “Islam is the solution” is no longer acceptable in an increasingly politicized society.
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1. If you google the term civil state in Wikipedia, you will find information only in the Arabic language.
2. Tahrir protesters call for civil state, end to military rule. http://articles.cnn.com/2011-08-12/world/egypt.tahrir.protests_1_mi...
3. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood says to seek civil state. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2011-12/22/c_131322003.htm
4. Syrian National Council. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/files/fp_uploaded_documents/110916_Abo...
5. In Transition: Amr Hamzawy on Civil State. http://www.arabist.net/blog/2011/10/21/in-translation-amr-hamzawy-o...
6.The betrayed secularism in Syria. A report is written in Arabic by Mohammed Debow. http://www.adabmag.com/node/439
7. Egypt's grand mufti: Civil state not at odds with Islam. http://www.egyptindependent.com/node/595296
8. Al-Shater: MB calls for civil state based on Islamic references. http://www.ikhwanweb.com/article.php?id=28450
9. The statement is mentioned in an article, written in Arabic by Anwar Prof. Anwar Mogeith. The secular state and the civil state, is there any difference? http://www.youm7.com/News.asp?NewsID=396736

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