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Studies 25 September, 2013

On Justice in the Current Arab Context

Keyword

Azmi Bishara

General Director and Member of the Board of Directors of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. Dr. Bishara is a researcher and writer with numerous books and publications on political thought, social theory and philosophy, as well as some literary works. He taught philosophy and cultural studies at Birzeit University from 1986 to 1996, and was involved in the establishment of research centers in Palestine including the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy (Muwatin) and the Mada al-Carmel Center for Applied Social Research. In 2007 he was forced to go into exile after being prosecuted by Israel. In 2002 he won the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought, and in 2003 the Global Exchange Human Rights Award. He received his doctorate in philosophy in 1986 at Humboldt University in Berlin, having previously completed his master’s degree there in 1984.

Dr. Bishara has published hundreds of papers and studies in academic journals in various languages. His best-known publications include: On the Arab Question: An Introduction to an Arab Democratic Manifesto; Civil Society: A Critical Study; Religion and Secularity in Historical Context (two parts in three volumes); On Revolution and Revolutionary Potential; Is There a Coptic Issue in Egypt?; To be an Arab in our Times; The Army and Politics: Theoretical Problems and Arab Models; Essay on Freedom; Sect, Sectarianism and Imagined Sects; What is Salafism?; and The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Daesh): A General Framework and Critical Contribution to Understanding the Phenomenon. Some of these books have become seminal works in their field.

He also produced a series of three books documenting the Arab revolutions that broke out in 2011: The Glorious Tunisian Revolution; Syria: The Painful Road to Freedom; and Egypt’s Revolution (two volumes). These books deal with the causes and stages of the revolutions in Tunisia, Syria, and Egypt. These books are a rich contribution to the field of contemporary history thanks to their combination of documentation and narration of the day-to-day details of these revolutions and sharp analysis making connections between the social, economic and political backgrounds of each individual revolution.

Abstract

This paper explores the deep-rooted, transcultural history of justice and fairness, which has fluctuated and evolved into the contemporary concept of justice, which is linked to citizenship through the concept of rights after a long separation between the two. In this paper, justice and its evolutionary path are thus traced to Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Cicero, and Roman law; then to the Torah, Christian teachings, and the ideal Islamic conception of rule; and, finally, to the revolution of modern thought. Exploring justice, in the context of modernity, reveals the notion of "rights," upon which justice has been founded in the modern era.

This essay further examines the expansion of the concept of justice to include social equality, in addition to natural equality, and to take "freedom" into account as one of the components of justice. Starting off with John Rawls and Amartya Sen, the paper moves on to discuss the Arab's encounter with Western modernity-especially through Egyptian intellectual Rifaa al-Tahtawi-and the current challenges confronting Arab thought with regards to what constitutes "justice" in terms of the rights related to equal citizenship, social justice, and civic and political freedoms. The paper argues that transitional phases, such as the one currently witnessed in the Arab world, represent an opportunity to broach the subject of justice and to make theoretical and practical propositions around this question.

Central to this paper is also the question of identity, a notion that is key to the building of a modern state. Identity is even more crucial in the context of the Arab world, where the phenomenon of the politicization of sub-identities within the state emerges as part of the struggle against despotism. To the author, all these challenges must be dealt with from an enlightened perspective; in search of a theory that not only organizes the relationship between the principles of equality and freedom, but also explores the concept of "justice" as inclusive of all identity groups, though not at the expense of freedom and equality.


* This study was originally published in the fifth Edition of tabayyun (Summer 2013, pp. 7-26). Tabayyun, published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, is a peer-reviewed academic quarterly journal devoted to philosophical and cultural studies.

It was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version can be found here.

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