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Studies 25 September, 2013

On Justice in the Current Arab Context

Keyword

Azmi Bishara

Azmi Bishara is the General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS). He is also the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. A prominent Arab writer and scholar, Bishara has published numerous books and academic papers in political thought, social theory, and philosophy, in addition to several literary works, including: Civil Society: A Critical Study (1996); On the Arab Question: An Introduction to an Arab Democratic Statement (2007); Religion and Secularism in Historical Context (3 volumes 2011-2013); On Revolution and Susceptibility to Revolution (2012); The Army and Political Power in the Arab Context: Theoretical Problems (2017); Essay on Freedom (2016); Sect, Sectarianism, and Imagined Sects (2017); What is Salafism? (2018); The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Daesh): A General Framework and Critical Contribution to Understanding the Phenomenon (2018); What is Populism? (2019) and Democratic Transition and its Problems: Theoretical Lessons from Arab Experiences (2020). Some of these works have become key references within their respective field.

As part of a wider project chronicling, documenting, and analyzing the Arab revolutions of 2011, Bishara has also published three key volumes: The Glorious Tunisian Revolution (2011); Syria's Via Dolorosa to Freedom: An Attempt at Contemporary History (2013) and The Great Egyptian Revolution (in two volumes) (2014). Each book deals with the revolution’s background, path, and different stages. In their narration and detail of the revolutions’ daily events, these volumes constitute a key reference in what is known as contemporary history along with an analytical component that interlinks the social, economic and political contexts of each 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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