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.


It includes analyses of the transformations, changes and challenges to the proper understanding of the term ‘Dawla Madaniyya’ (civil state) in these countries.

There have been a number of different interpretations of the term ‘Civil State’ in these countries both during and after the Arab spring.

For example, the anti-regime protestors, regime supporters, liberals, politicians, intellectuals and academics from diverse backgrounds, Islamic scholars (ʿulamāʾ), Islamist activists, and tribal shaykhs used this term when framing their demands for the creation of a new political system and social contract.

Different parties, groups and individuals from these countries used the term Civil State (Dawla madaniyya), investing it with multiple notions and interests. I seek, therefore, to understand the links and relationship between those governing and the governed, with regard to the use of this term in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

This paper will consider cultural, social and political factors and contexts, in order to understand the different interpretations of Dawla Madaniyya (civil state) and to what extent the different factors have contributed to challenges facing the civil state of Arab Spring countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.


How does the Arab Spring affect the classical concept of the state in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya? I argue how the fall of the regimes in this countries have contributed to debate a number of concepts including (Dawla madaniyya) civil state that might suit the new political structure.

This includes the impact and the engagement of all secular and religious movements and groups to build a new democratic and pluralistic system. However, the new actors had raised their worries that stemmed from their ideologies 1and backgrounds about the nature and function of their states in the new era.

How did political discourse affect the concept of the civil state during the Arab Spring by the new political actors? I argue that number of various political, cultural and academic debates raised very serious debate over the future of Madaniyya (civil state).

Is secularism against religion?

In this paper, I discuss the challenges facing Madaniyya (civil state) in the Arab countries of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. This question is examined with the help of a number of examples that contributed to the emergence of a new concept of Madaniyya (civil state) in the post Arab Spring era.

The liberal Islamists use the term ‘Civil State’ to avoid using the term ‘Secular State’, although both terms have the same meaning. The term civil state emerged during the Arab spring after the peaceful youth revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East that ousted the dictators of Egypt and Tunisia brought new hope and optimism to the Arab World in early 2011.

In these countries, youth played a major role in the non-violent protests against dictatorship, which came to be known as the “Arab Spring”. The themes and achievements of youth in the Arab Spring countries were always present at the various activities, actions and discussions at different civil society meetings.

Arab youth representatives attended activities and regional meetings in Tunisia and Egypt to listen and learn from the experiences of other colleague.

The Arab youth in some countries, for instance Syria and Libya, were inspired to follow the changes in Tunisia and Egypt that ousted the dictators. The main slogans of the Arab Spring, “bread, freedom and dignity” and “the people demand the fall/change of the order” were the flames for demonstrations and protest in these countries.

In 2011 prior to the Arab spring, the countries of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya shared a number of accumulated social, economic and political problems and circumstances that pushed youth to rush into the streets and protest against long term dictatorship regimes that had lasted more than 30 years.

People in these countries had been deprived of genuine political participation and engagement in the decision making process. A very limited number of politicians and businessmen controlled the public life.

Absence of real democracy, freedoms and social injustice present everywhere in these countries, at all levels.

In addition, governments and security agencies of had been engaged a long term conflict with the liberal and Islamist groups. The response of the citizens, civil society activists, liberal and Islamic groups to the crises and setbacks post the Arab Spring, however, differed from one country to another due to leadership factors and a number of culturally specific issues.

I have also reviewed a variety of literature written on the Arab Spring and using a database of interviews, for examples, from activists from Libya.

This comparative study is mainly based on existing literature and databases of interviews to identify the complexity of shifting political environments and their impact of the Civil State in the post Arab spring countries of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

I have also used my experiences and culture in the region by observing the impact of shifting political structures and violence on the Arab spring. During this period, I talked and listened to many activists from different groups.

The sensitivity of this question might be a criterion the Civil State in the post Arab spring and political discourse for most political parties and social groups to advance research conceptually, methodologically, theoretically and empirically.

Conceptually, the changes of political landscape often generate new political concepts that suit the democratic environment; however, the absence of culture of dialogue, and tolerance complicates the process of change as happened in the Arab Spring countries.

Methodologically, this means that I need to investigate the differences and distinctions of these cases in term of the Arab Spring. I need to investigate the shifting political structures and discourse that highlighted the complexity of civil state in these environments.

I also need to investigate surveys and polls that examined changes in the attitudes and behaviours of various activists towards the Arab Spring.

The investigative, comparative approach and descriptive analytic methods of the research map the impact of the pre and post Arab Spring on the civil state.

Theoretically, the study shows more differences between two areas in terms of political structure and historical backgrounds. It shows, however, a number of changes in perceptions and attitudes in the same area – for example, the differences between young generations and old regimes’ guards owing to the shifts of political structure and sharing powers.

Sharing power between Islamists and liberals brought a significant development for civil state in Tunisia. However, the conflict in Libya made the state fragile or in a worse circumstance.

The attitudes and perceptions of various groups, however, have been unsolved and unchangeable due to the failure of dialogue process and the absence of democracy.

Finally, the study makes a contribution to the literature on comparative politics of the impact of the Arab Spring on the civil state. Distinctions of differences between the concepts of civil state suggest various complexities of political environments.

The changes of political environments have proposed various interpretations of civil state in the light of religious beliefs, regional politics, civil and cultural rights and sharing powers.

The paper considers different actors and their interpretation of Madaniyya (civil state) and compares different examples that might influence understanding what the term means in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Tunisia Civil Sate

In 2011, the people of Tunisia inspired the Arab World with their peaceful revolution that presented a unique model of dictatorship regime change in the contemporary world?

Tunisia had been a model of enlightenment, liberty and progress in the Arab world since its independence. Regime change brought a number of political, security and economic challenges that shook the stability of the civil state in Tunisia, after the engagement of political Islam in governance for the very first time.

Ennahda’s government faced a number of crises including the violent opposition of radical Islamist groups; drafting a new constitution, and in particular, the setbacks of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya.

Continues in part 2


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


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