By Ibrahim Natil

This paper studies the different concepts, notions and visions of the Civil State in the post Arab spring countries of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.



3. Modernism v Illiteracy

Egypt has a very special position as an Arab state because of its geopolitical location, its population, and its influence in Middle East politics. It also has a very strong culture of an ancient civilization and history for circa seven thousand years. The Arab world from the east to the west always finds Egypt a place for cultural orientation and inspiration, moderation and tolerant religion of Islam.

Egypt is famous for its well-known University and mosque “Al Azhar” that has remained a destination for many scholars from various Islamic countries. Al Azhar University has as its graduates many well-known scholars and intellectuals on the moderate civilisation of Islam.

Those scholars have contributed to and transferred the moderate thoughts and knowledge of Islam to different generations in their countries around the globe. Muslims and Christians live side-by side for centuries.

Egypt has always inspired a variety of Arab generations with its liberal cinema, theatre, song, poetry, publications. Egypt also has a very strong civil society represented by syndicates, unions, NGOs, political parties, and students unions. Egypt is famous for the largest and significant Library of Alexandria. The illiteracy rate, however, is very high with 17 million Egyptians considered illiterate according to official bodies in Egypt.

In March 2011, Vodafone launched a five years program in partnership with UNESCO to involve 17 million Egyptians. The high rate of illiteracy is very worrying and has imposed enormous challenges to the promotion of democracy, social justice and effective grassroots participation in the decision making process.

It also affects the rate of development and growth in Egypt, and influences political life, as those who are considered illiterate represent a very important block of voters in the general elections.

I think, however, that the nature of Egyptian society and its historical and cultural dimensions would prefer the state identity to be one of openness, liberty and modernism. The composition of society and the huge differences between the rural and urban; the intellectual and illiterate, and the low and middle classes have played an essential role in affecting the conflict between MB and the state.

The cultural heritage and its historical character also play a role in maintaining the civil state of Egypt. The public, therefore, rejected MB’s government policies of society Islamisation in 2013.

Egypt should thus consider an efficient and effective transparent political system in order to activate and raise awareness of the different rural areas so that people living there are able to participate actively in the democratic process. The system also should operate educational programmes in order to raise awareness of rural areas that suffer from very high levels of illiteracy.

Tribalism and Islamism

Prior to the Arab spring, Libya had a strange and special state structure under al-Qaddafi’s rule of more than 42 years. It also had a particularly tribal and conservative society without any political participation at all.

These conditions made rebuilding the state, after the revolution of February 2011, virtually impossible without genuine third party intervention. It is essential at this point to discuss a number of issues that complicated and deepened the conflict over the state’s identity and resources, as follows:

1. Political Awareness and Expertise

Prior to the Libyan Spring of 2011, the absence of political awareness and its practice of regulating the relationship between the ruler “governor” and the ruled “citizen” imposed a serious challenge to rebuilding a civil state in Libya.

The lack of political awareness would play a very significant role in influencing and directing the revolution post Muammar al-Qaddafi’s rule. Libyans had not been engaged in real politics and the relationship between the ruler Gaddafi and the ruled citizens had existed since 1969.

The term and definition of politics did not exist and had not been practiced in Libya for more than four decades. Gaddafi promoted only his own invented concept of politics, “Gaddafism” as Libyan activist Fathi Tommi described it.

Gaddafi introduced his own system, a Jamahiriya, translated as a “state of the masses” and its reference, the Green Book, was promoted as an alternative to both Communism and Capitalism.

He introduced his own system of “revolutionary committees” that controlled all scopes of life Gaddafi did not allow citizens to form political parties or civil society groups.

Civil society was non-existent under Gaddafi’s rule, as he banned all forms of civil society activities such as free press, trade unions and political opposition. The Libyan masses, however, were inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian protestors who succeeded in ousting their long -term rulers in early 2011.

The Libyans went onto the streets to demand “Al Gaddafi regime to go”. Gaddafi’s forces used excessive violence against the protestors when the UN Security Council authorized NATO to assist Libyan rebel forces on the ground in August 2011. Libya was left without any institutions at all when Gaddafi’s regime was overthrown.

Libya was left in vacuum and the state collapsed. The new Libyan politicians, who mostly lived, were educated in and oriented towards the West, however, also failed to transfer or lead the country into developing a civil state. They failed to adopt a model of governance, maintaining the state’s civil character, such as that adopted by Tunisian politicians.

They did not compromise their differences under one parliament or government. Each group has sought to remove the other group from the political scene. They were not able to engage in a process that promoted politics as a language to manage their differences and violence.

2. Division and Radical Groups

Libyan society is tribal by its nature and very conservative and religious. It is a very large country, and the desert composes the majority of its land mass.

The nature of society and its inhabitants play a very serious and significant role in reshaping and rebuilding the state in the post revolution era.

The conservative elements of Libyan society could challenge the formation of the Madaniyya (civil state). Libya today is divided with Islamist groups and nationalist groups in dispute over power- and the identity of the state.

The conflict today between the coalition of Dignity Operation and Dawn Coalition also imposed another threat challenging the unity, security and rebuilding of the civil state in Libya. Dignity Operation includes coalition forces from the eastern tribes, ex Qaddafi officers, and the Zintani militia of the west.

Dignity Operation is led by the retired general Khalifa Hifter to restore security to the troubled cities. Dignity Operation is supported by the House of Representatives (HOR) and the internationally recognized government based in Tobruk led by Abdullah Al-Thni.

Dawn operation, (do however, is included in the militia of Misrata while the Islamist groups of Tripoli and Berber or Imazighen rejected HOR and installed their own parliament and government. The conflict between Dawn and Dignity Operations is not only ideological, but has also been caused by the inclusion of ex Qaddafi officers in the political process.

3. Political Isolation Act

The transitional council governing Libya after the fall of Gaddafi’s rule enforced the Isolation Act in 2011. It did not allow for all statesmen of Gaddafi’s rule to become engaged in the new political life and building the new Libya.

Gaddafi’s officers were not only a few officers; there were hundreds with very close tribal connections to the societal ranks of Libya. It was not easy to eradicate them from Libya’s social and political life. The Gaddadfa clan, for example, is considered the biggest in Libya where tribal connections and family ties are highly considered and respected.

This law deprived an important segment of society contributing to the new Libya. It created a tense relationship between the former regime’s loyalists and guards of the revolution. This law has led the country into a severe political crisis leading to violence over interests and power.

Conflict of interests and power has been galvanized by political differences and religious ideology. It has led to violent confrontation and now a civil war because they failed to use dialogue and solve the conflict peacefully as in Tunisia. Libya has no civil society organizations to play a role or well-established army to lead the country. It is now divided between two governments and parliaments.

4. Regional Intervention

A number of key players in the regions have engaged in Libyan politics and conflict over political, security and economic interests. They have trained, equipped and funded various groups in Libya in order to attain their hidden and declared agendas of supporting “rebuilding Libya”.

Libyans have, however, become lost and trapped between different key players without an explicit plan supported by the UN Security Council. Rebuilding a civil state in Libya needs to put Libya under the UN for a transitional period, as in East Timor.

Nevertheless, the international envoys who mediated between the rivals have divided the Libyans into tribes: secularist, Islamist, eastern, western and so on. The international community has, therefore, failed to assist Libyans in solving the conflict so far.


The Arab spring opened the platform for Arab intellectuals, politicians and civil society leaders to discuss thoroughly the concepts of “civil state” and to avoid the use of the term “secular state”. Arab spring countries were challenged by the governance of political Islam groups.

Development, therefore, and the emergence of new concepts of civil state in the Arab spring countries of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were tackled from various historical, cultural, political landscape and power balance perspectives.

Moreover, Tunisians dealt maturely with the challenges and needs of citizens whose demands to preserve the civil state were inherited from former regimes. Tunisians also succeeded in solving their political rifts peacefully by dialogue and holding elections. It is a modern revolution, introducing a new school of politics that preserved the character of the civil state of Tunisia.

They shared a common interest in the use of dialogue to solve their rifts, despite the fact of enormous security, economic and political challenges imposed after the revolution.

The Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) Party and the Muslim Brotherhood affiliation group represented a mature model of cooperation with the secularist and liberal groups who do not have share their political ideology.

MB, however, did not offer opportunity for dialogue in order to solve the accumulated problems of governance in Egypt when they failed to deliver a similar model to the Islamist Ennahd party’s model in Tunisia.

MB missed the opportunity to provide a number of concessions and tolerate the old conflict with the military ranks in Egypt, as the Ennahda party did. It is, however, not too late.

MB could benefit from the reconciliation process between Qatar and Egypt that has taken place recently. MB should also give opportunities to the younger ranks of its leaders to become engaged in the political process and contribute to civil state empowerment in Egypt.

Libya will also need a long journey of rebuilding a new modern civil state based on the rule of law, women rights, democracy promotion, and respecting and including all of its citizens.


Dr Ibrahim Natil is currently a lecturer at Centre for Talented Youth Ireland, and a fellow at Institute of International Conflict Resolution, Dublin City University.


Source: The Arab Spring, Civil Society, and Innovative Activism (Author: Ibrahim Natil) affiliated with School of Politics and International Relations University College Dublin Ireland