The Notions of Citizenship and the Civil State in the Egyptian Transition Process

in Middle East Law and Governance
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This article deals with two notions that have become central in the Egyptian political and constitutional transition process since 2011 – citizenship and the “Civil State” – and presents the struggle to define them that took place during the 2012 writing of the Constitution. Even though the principle of citizenship is not seriously contested by any of the important political players, its scope and relationship with Islamic normativity (subordination, preeminence, or independence) have both been fiercely debated. As for the notion of the Civil State, it is characterized by an important semantic haziness, which results in a political tension around the issue of its definition, although there is relative consensus in Egypt regarding the term itself. The political and legal struggles around the writing and the adoption of the 2012 Constitution reveal how the tension related to these two notions has been embodied in the discussions surrounding several constitutional articles.

Middle East Law and Governance

An Interdisciplinary Journal




Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron, “Egypt’s Path to Transition: Democratic Challenges behind the Constitution Reform Process,” Middle East Law and Governance 3 (2011): 43–59.


Jack M. Barbalet, Citizenship. Rights, Struggle and Class Inequality (London: Open University Press; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 2.


Alfred Stepan and Juan J. Linz, “Democratization Theory and the ‘Arab Spring’,” Journal of Democracy 24:2 (2013): 19.


Clément Steuer, “The Role of Elections: The Recomposition of the Party System and the Hierarchization of Political Issues,” in Egypt in Revolution(s), ed, Bernard Rougier and Stéphane Lacroix (London: Palgrave Mcmillan, forthcoming in 2015).


 See for instance Amel Ahmed, “Revolutionary Blind-Spots: The Politics of Electoral System Choice and the Egyptian Transition,” Middle East Law and Governance 3 (2011): 3–12; Sahar F. Aziz, “Egypt’s Protracted Revolution,” Human Rights Brief 19:3 (2012): 2–9; Atef Said, “The Paradox of Transition to ‘Democracy’ under Military Rule,” Social Research 79 (2012): 397–434; David J. Sarquís, “Democratization after the Arab Spring: The Case of Egypt’s Political Transition,” Politics & Policy 40 (2012): 871–903; Nathan J. Brown, “Egypt’s Failed Transition,” Journal of Democracy 24:4 (2013): 45–58; Ayfer Erdogan, “From the Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe to the Arab Spring,” Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations 12:3 (2013): 17–31; Anthony F. Lang Jr., “From Revolutions to Constitutions: The Case of Egypt,” International Affairs 89 (2013): 345–63; Paolo Gerbaudo, “The Impermanent Revolution: The Organizational Fragility of the Egyptian Prodemocracy Movement in the Troubled Transition,” Social Justice 39 (2013): 8–23; Marcus Mietzner, “Successful and Failed Democratic Transitions from Military Rule in Majority Muslim Societies,” Contemporary Politics 20 (2014): 435–52; Brecht de Smet, “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Egypt,” Science & Society 78 (2014): 11–40; Ann M. Lesch, “Troubled Political Transitions: Tunisia, Egypt and Libya,” Middle East Policy 21 (2014): 62–74; Federico Battera, “Perspectives for change in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria,” Contemporary Arab Affairs 7 (2014): 544–64. We should also notice a paper focusing on the economical aspects of the ideological struggles: Benjamin MacQueen, “The Political Economy of Transition in Egypt,” Middle Eastern Studies 4 (2012): 9–25.


Peter Hill, “‘The Civil’ and ‘the Secular’ in Contemporary Arab Politics,” Muftah (February 26, 2013), url: The term also spread across the Arab world, and was used in political battles in Tunisia, Syria and Iraq. Rachel K. Feder, “The ‘Civil State’ in Political Discourse after the Arab Spring,” Tel Aviv Notes 8:10 (2014): 3–6, url:


R. K. Feder, op. cit. 1.


Linda Bosniak, The Citizen and the Alien: Dilemmas of Contemporary Membership (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 17.


Abou Khaled El Fadl, Speaking in God’s Name: Law Authority and Women (Oxford: One World Publications, 2001).


Zaheer M. Quraishi, Liberal nationalism in Egypt. Rise and fall of the Wafd Party (Delhi: The Jamal Printing Press, 1967); Louis ʿAwad, “Histoire de la laïcité en Égypte,” Égypte Monde arabe 2 (1990): 185–97; Numʿān Jumʿa, ed., Tārīkh al-Wafd [History of the Wafd] (Cairo: Dār al-Shurūq, 2003).


Jacques Berque, Égypte, impérialisme et révolution (Paris: Gallimard, 1967).


Amira Ibrahim and Jailan Halawi, “Nasserism, 90s Style,” Al-Ahram Weekly (November 9, 1995).


Carrie R. Wickham, “The Muslim Brotherhood and Democratic Transition in Egypt,” Middle East Law and Governance 3 (2011). For further details, see also, from the same author, The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).


Mariz Tadros, The Muslim Brotherhood in Contemporary Egypt. Democracy Redefined or Confined? (Oxon: Routledge, 2012), 50.


Chris Harnisch and Quinn Mecham, “Democratic Ideology in Islamist Opposition? The Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘Civil State’,” Middle Eastern Studies 45:2 (2009): 189–205.


On March 30, 2011.


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