Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

From Reform of Thought to Reform of the State. | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In our complex and overloaded dialogue today concerning democratic transformation in Arab countries, we tend to ignore a social and theoretical problem that seldom captures attention, namely, the nature and composition of the Arab State itself. The naïve perception, lasting for several decades that the independent nation-state is nothing but a creation of colonialism that lacks both legitimacy and future, has now disappeared. Arab nationalist intellects have revised these outdated notions and replaced them with alternative ones about Arab integration. The new perspective, considers both the unique parochial particularity of each nation, as well as the lessons learnt from the experiences of contemporary successful integration in the world that vary between flexible federalism and functional integration.

However, what we attempt to address today is the shape of the present state, which remains a challenge to sociologists and political scientists in terms of the defining its features and characteristics. Social scientists oscillate between the Ibn Khaldoun concept of ”solidarity” and the modern political dictionary of Max Weber concerning the concept of ”legitimacy”. Undoubtedly, the problem lies in the overlap between old and new political patterns in the composition of the contemporary Arab state. According to some contemporary political sociologists, the modern state falls into three categories: pre-modern, modern and postmodern. We can say that the Arab modern state in fact merges the three patterns even if this is done in a problematic way that negatively affects the course of political transformation.

The pre-modern form is manifested in the presence and function of primitive structures and kinships in the very fabric of the political system. The modern form is apparent in the constitutional and legal legitimacy, based on the modern connotations of sovereignty and citizenship. Meanwhile, the postmodern form is present in the withdrawal of sovereignty both at the theoretical level (joint sovereignty as a replacement) and the practical level (due to the effects of Globalization).

Just as the French philosopher, Monique Castillo once clarified, what threatens the third world state is the alliance between pre-modern and postmodern components that will undermine and destabilize the developing post–independence state with its fragile concepts of citizenship and sovereignty.

Castillo argues that the dynamism of modernity encourages such an alliance by adopting the right to absolute individual differences as opposed to the global concept of the &#34self&#34. By this adoption, it supports and justifies all kinds of individuality and cultural-national identities. Such pluralism could also integrate various opaque fundamentalisms and sects, in the same way it does to diverse social and racial identities.

Returning to the Arab situation, we realize that this is the clear truth. The concept of national sovereignty faces three kinds of objections. There are the traditional primordial powers that reject the very concept of sovereignty. There are also the ideological formations that deny it from a perspective of a higher identity. Finally, there are the globalized civil society sectors as well as some opposition forces that do not refrain from using external intervention to assist in internal reform, who believe that human rights surpass sovereignty. So what should the Arab citizen expect from his state? Who is responsible for carrying out reform? In answering this question we should be remember that the state historically, has had two tasks: to spread religion and to exemplify the nationalist spirit. Therefore, religion had always formed the symbolical fence that protects the political system that in turn monopolized violence.

Since De Toqueville”s time, several prominent Western intellectuals have pointed out the lack of religious symbolism and that modern democracies are based on mutual consciousness despite the attempts of the modern political mind to present religion. Our problem in Arab political thinking, on the other hand, is breaking away from &#34the symbolical fence&#34 to quote Mohamed Arkoun, in order to be able to internalize and accept the modern political concepts.

If what German philosopher Karl Schmidt illustrated, that the modern political perspectives that revolve around sovereignty are in fact nothing but inverted religious perspectives that belong to theological dictionaries is true, then the Arab political discourse as well as the Islamic, are obliviously subject to continuous secularization. This secularization undermines the very foundation of this discourse in its perception of the relationship between religion and politics and between state and society. This was discussed in a previous article entitled ”Deluded Secularism”.

This interrelationship between forms of political organization and forms of legitimacy, in addition to political-religious concepts poses tough challenges for the political institutions. These institutions such as the state, political forces, and civil society organizations, vary in their responsibilities for the condition of political congestion. To escape this congestion, we should deeply reconsider the concepts and terminology of political transformation. Three main problems arise in this context, which are rarely dealt with away from ideological dispute. First, there is the connection between religion and politics. Is religion the basis of legitimacy, or is it a legislative framework of reference, or even just a cultural symbolical ground? What are the consequences of each choice on the state?

The second problem relates to the correlation between the state and the nation. Is the political structure of the state obliged to embody the national spirit, and the cultural identity of the nation as represented by the modern European model? Is this achievement realistic in light of the current strategic international and regional states?

Finally, there is the issue of the relationship between state and society. Will the state recreate the primordial social ties and authorities to reflect those structures that are still controlled by kinship and sectarian hierarchies, or will it be able to overturn these structures with the help of dynamic change that is embedded in democracy?

These three issues cannot be ignored or silenced in any serious dialogue concerning political reform and its prospects.