legitimacy in the arab world

Download Legitimacy in the Arab World

Post on 07-Apr-2018




0 download

Embed Size (px)


  • 8/4/2019 Legitimacy in the Arab World


  • 8/4/2019 Legitimacy in the Arab World


    The substance of government legitimacy, then, Coicaud argues, is norms and values, the very

    core of which makes up the societys identity. An abuse of those inalienable norms will be

    perceived as a grave psychological assault. As a way to institutionalise such values, and to ensure

    reciprocity, the societys identity must be reflected in lawat least as a credible aim of

    achievement.3 Furthermore, conformity to the law is more important than the exact application.

    As the base of authority, the sovereign leader has to be subordinated to the lawhis actions

    restricted. If not, and if laws are not reflecting identity, their rejection is plausible; worse, the

    societys identity risks being discredited. 4Although it may seem obvious that authority and law

    must reflect mass identity, it is clearly at odds with, for example, the Weberian approach, which

    declares that legality and solid institutions, rather than norms, drive government legitimacy.5 For

    Weber, however, the colonial assault and its full implications in the Arab World was unknown.6

    Because of the confusion, violence, and resentment towards government that ensued from it,

    Colonialism has demonstrated the necessity of a coherent normative foundation to achieve

    government legitimacy.

    The Analysis

    To analyse the relevance of Coicauds definition to the Arab World, the broad characteristics of

    the indigenous Arab identity must first be outlined. Generally, as far as a common language,

    traditional culture (very broadly), and religion (Islam) are concerned, people in the Arab World

    seem to share an identity. Most importantly, the Umma, religious community dating back to the

    prophet, still constitutes a pervasive Muslim collective consciousness of fundamental

    Gustav Mansson

    Student no: 41124235

    3Coicaud, Legitimacy and politics,pp. 15-18.

    4Ibid.,pp. 19-25.

    5 Max Weber,Economy and society : an outline of interpretive sociology (Berkeley: University ofCalifornia Press, 1978), p. 36; For a similar, more contemporary approach, see also: Samuel P.Huntington,Political order in changing societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), pp.


    6 Max Weber died in 1920 at the height of European Colonialism.

  • 8/4/2019 Legitimacy in the Arab World


    significance.7 The argument, however, is not that the population of the Arab World is

    homogenousthe cultural differences in the region are huge, demonstrated, for example, by the

    failure of the Arab-Unity project.8 Rather, given the predominance of Islam and its significant

    influence on the lives of Muslims, Islams great importance as a unifying, normative factor in the

    Arab World is stressed.

    But during European Colonialism, secular values, institutions, and leaders were brutally forced

    upon the Arab World, with little consideration taken to such an Islamic identity. The ensuing

    crisis in government legitimacy was further exacerbated by the lack of reciprocity between the

    new secular governments and the masses. Therefore, Paul Salem speaks of a psychological crisis

    precipitated by the challenge of Western secularism; William E. Shephard forewarns of

    secularisms weak roots in Islamic tradition; and Tariq Al-Bishri, an Egyptian intellectual, states

    that European laws "drove a wedge between governments and their people.9 But is this true even

    today, more than half a century later? That contemporary, still predominantly secular, Arab

    governments are increasingly forced to seek legitimacy from Islam suggests that. So does the

    challenge of radical Islamism, epitomised by the extraordinary rise of the Muslim Brotherhood

    a popular, Islamic movement in Egypt, Syria and Jordan, working to achieve a social justice that

    Gustav Mansson

    Student no: 41124235

    7 Michael C. Hudson,Arab politics : the search for legitimacy (New Haven: Yale UniversityPress, 1977), p. 37-39; Roger Owen, State, power and politics in the making of the modernMiddle East(London: Routledge, 2004), p.57; John L. Esposito, The Islamic threat : myth or

    reality? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 30, p.33. For another example of thestrong collective consciousness of contemporary Muslims, see: Lori Peek, Becoming Muslim:The Development of a Religious Identity, Sociology of Religion, Vol. 66, No. 3 (Autumn 2005),

    pp. 215-242.

    8 For example, see: Michael C. Hudson, Middle East dilemma : the politics and economics ofArab integration (New York: Columbia University Press, in association with the Center for theContemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University; 1999), pp. 1-32.

    9 Paul Salem,Bitter legacy : ideology and politics in the Arab world(Syracuse, N.Y: SyracuseUniversity Press, 1994), p. 15. See also: Shahram Akbarzadeh and Abdullah Saeed, Islam and

    politics, in Shahram Akbarzadehand Abdullah Saeed (eds) Islam and Political legitimacy(London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), p. 4. Tariq al-Bishri,Dirasat fi-l-Dimuqratiyya al-Misriyya(Studies in Egyptian Democracy) (Cairo: Dar al-Sharouq, 1987), pp. 174-175; William E.

    Shepard, Islam and Ideology: Towards a Typology,International Journal of Middle EastStudies, Vol.27, No. 3 (Winter 2002/03), pp. 323-324. See also: Hudson,Arab Politics,pp.123-125.

  • 8/4/2019 Legitimacy in the Arab World


    has been denied by the state.10 With a prevailing discrepancy between Arab governments and

    popular identity based on Islam, the substance of government legitimacy in Coicauds definition

    is undermined.

    Furthermore, popular rise of Islamism has often been brutally quelled. Syria, ruled by the

    secular Baath-party, has suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood; the same policy has beenand is

    used by the Western-backed Egyptian president Mubarak.11 The vicious circle undermining

    legitimacy becomes clear: To legitimise suppression, Coicaud stresses that governments require a

    strong consent. In fact, since it has been suggested that popular identity is poorly reflected in

    government, consent is weak. As discontent rises, more force is necessary to sustain the

    government, further eroding the basis for consent and, thus, government legitimacy. A more

    successful, reconciliatory approach towards Islamists is evident in Jordan; and in Kuwait, even

    more tolerant governments have contributed to a relatively legitimate, stable system with limited

    discontent.12 Clearly, to brutally quell discontent rooted in the substance of legitimacy, the

    Islamic identity, only undermines long-term prospects for government legitimacy.

    There is, however, a growing realisation among Arab governments that law has to reflect

    popular Islamic identity. In Egypt, the constitution has been amended, declaring Islamic law

    (Sharia) the principle source of legislation; in Syria, a bill to further secularise the constitution

    has been scrapped.13 But as suppression continues, such legal measures seem to have been only

    Gustav Mansson

    Student no: 41124235

    10 On the rise of Islamism and legitimacy sought from Islam, see: Shahram Akbarzadeh, Statelegitimacy, in Shahram Akbarzadeh and Abdullah Saeed (eds) Islam and Political legitimacy(London: Routledge Curzon, 2003), p. 169. See also: Ilan Papp, The modern Middle East(London: Routledge, 2005),p. 277. On the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, see: Esposito, TheIslamic Threat,p. 112; Owen, State, Power, and Politics, p. 164; Papp, The Modern Middle

    East,pp. 272-273; Hesham Al- Awadi, Mubarak and the Islamists: why did the "honeymoon"end?, The Middle East Journal, Vol . 59 No. 1 (Winter 2005), pp. 62-81, The Move toCoercion. About the prevailing lack of reciprocity in the Arab World, see for example: Aburish,A brutal friendship,pp. 70-72.

    11 On Syria, see: Papp, The Modern Middle East,p. 276. On Egypt, see: Esposito, The IslamicThreat,p. 244; Owen, State, Power and Politics,pp. 166; Sad K Aburish,A brutal friendship :the West and the Arab elite (New York: St Martins Press, 1998), p. 65; For a recent update on theEgyptian crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, see also:BBC NEWS: Egypt Islamists' wait forpower, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7335410.stm.

    12 On Kuwaits experiment with democracy, reconciliation with Islamists, and its welfare state,see: Hudson,Arab Politics,pp. 182-189. Modern Reconciliatory Kuwait: Katherine Meyer,Helen Rizzo and Yousef Ali, Changed Political Attitudes in the Middle East: The Case of

    Kuwait,International Sociology Vol. 22 (2007), pp. 289-324.

    13 Akbarzadeh and Saeed, Islam and politics, pp. 7-8; Papp, The Modern Middle East,p. 277.

  • 8/4/2019 Legitimacy in the Arab World


    aimed at thwarting the rise of Islamism. So their adoption will certainly not enjoy the same level

    of religious legitimacy as, say, the Sharia of Saudi Arabia (SA).14 In SA, however, the rulers

    conformity to the law is inadequate. While Coicaud stresses that law should define the

    sovereigns powers, in SA, as in many other Arab states, leaders are in practise above the law,

    wielding absolute paralegal veto powers.15 Interestingly, in 1992, a clergy sponsored reform

    memorandum made plain such lack of legal restriction.16 Similarly, in Egypt, prominent

    theological scholars are questioning and demanding their rulers accountability.17 Although much

    remains to be done for law to better reflect identity and to improve leadership accountability, the

    debate about conformity to the law in SA and Egypt is encouraging.

    All-Arab issues