The Middle East: Senior Research Fellow Papers

Civil Society in the Arab World: The Missing Concept

The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 9, Issue 2, April 2007

By Sa’ed Karajah 1


Civil society 2 has recently gained importance. Its legal as well as material influence has increased, and much Arab study and research have been devoted to understanding the nature of this society and identifying its characteristics. Although some have reacted with skepticism to the sudden increase in Arab interest in this sector 3, most researchers agree that the civil society has an important and active role to play in the Arab world. 4 Some studies even have introduced definitions of civil society from outside the Arab world. These studies evaluate the elements and characteristics of civil society in the Arab world as they measure up to western standards and ideals.

This article follows a different path. It argues that Western and Arab notions of civil society are quite different, and to enable a vibrant civil society in Arab countries, one must approach the task with historical and cultural sensitivity. The article questions whether civil society is actually gaining importance in the Arab world and, indeed, whether it can be said to exist at all. This inquiry necessitates a search for the meaning of the term in the Arabic language, and the concept as it is applicable to the Arab society.

The article contains five sections. The first section addresses the definition of civil society and its elements. The second section tackles the emergence of civil society and its relation with the state. The third section discusses civil society in Islamic states. The fourth looks at the relationship between civil society in the Arab world and democracy. The fifth, finally, examines the development of civil society.

Section One: The Definition of Civil Society, Its Concept, and Its Elements

Does Arab civil society actually exist? Is the increase in the number of registered civil society organizations (CSOs) an adequate indication of its existence? Does the increased attention on civil society in the last two decades reflect an internal mobilization (belief in the cause) or an external one (market interest)? Is the increase in social organizations and conferences a result of funding from the World Bank and external donors, or a result of a historical accumulation of social organizations that after previous struggles are now finally gaining momentum?

These are legitimate questions that arise when talking about civil society. These questions also underscore the importance of searching for civil society’s concept and definition not within the Western and European contexts but within the Arab social environment. Reference to the European model can be useful for comparison, to highlight similarities and differences between the Western and Arab notions of civil society, in both their theoretical definition and their historical existence. Such a comparison is a necessity, as it gives the Arabs a further understanding about where they stand and can help provide a new framework that is culturally sensitive and is applicable.

Many Arab researchers have proposed definitions of civil society. 5 These definitions, in context, indicate a misunderstanding of the concept. The definitions rest on a compilation of elements and concepts of civil society as they exist outside the Arab world. That is, they do not seek to find the origin of the concept in the society itself. To do so, we must examine its meaning in the Arabic language and, more importantly, how the concept has been applied.

Civil Society in the Arabic Language 6

In the phrase civil “al-mujtama,” the word “al-mujtama” stems from “Mujtama,” which refers to the place and time where the meeting “itjima” amongst society members (mujtame) took place. The concept itself, by contrast, alludes to a group of people living under general rules and regulations. What is most notable about this definition is that it does not include any reference to an interaction or interrelation that posits civil society as an intermediary between the individual and the different organizing forces of the society, 7 as is the case in the Western definition. 8

Civil “madanee” in Arabic means transformation from the state of primitiveness to a state of familiarity and delight and holding the values of the cities. 9 Hence, civil society in Arabic refers to assembling in cities, in contrast to Bedouin and rural life. The term does not connote any political function for this assembly. Thus, it does not reflect any political or social mobilization or collective action to organize or influence the life in the city. It is simply a transformation from one cultural stage (Bedouins and rural) to a hypothetically more developed stage.

Both linguistically and conceptually, the Western situation is rather different. “Civil” is not derived from civilization but rather from civic and “civis” and “civitas,” the old city in Latin. In each case, it is a concept related to citizenship, or the individual’s legal position in the state as a citizen – an active member of civil life, regardless of whether he lives in the city or in the village. This reflects the development of the concept of civil society in the modern western experience starting with Thomas Hobbes and ending with Gramsci. This evolution has concluded with civil society as a collective political mobilization (civitas) that can influence the state. Scholars have viewed civil society as carrying the values of the society: individual freedom, a state governed by the rule of law, and neutral taxation, among others. Civil society according to humanists promotes a civil style of life. 10

This is spelled out in the social contract theory that starts with the individual, who envisions the community as a society and an intermediate between individuals of free will. Society is a contractual relationship 11 between active individuals stemming from the mutual benefits to be achieved, both morally and practically, by ceding some of their rights to government. 12

Each of the definitions discussed above reflects some dimensions of civil society. Two critical observations, however, can be made about these definitions. First, they are neither conclusive nor precisely accurate. Second, they lack a base of cultural understanding. These definitions are merely adopted from western culture with the assumption that they also apply to the Arab context.

Two main elements of the new modern Western society lie in the individual’s initiative and his effectiveness as an active citizen. The modern state is built on the elimination of class distinctions, first of the feudalists and later of the bourgeois, in favor of a state that gains legitimacy by guaranteeing, among other things, equality under the law. Accordingly, the individual stopped looking to the family or class in order to understand his place in society, and started looking instead to the state as the originator and protector of his individual rights and freedoms. 13

A quick glance reveals that the historical development of the Arab states has not produced an adequate environment for the emergence of civil society as known in the West. 14 The history of Arab states is that of states and inspired leaders. Enhancing the state and the status of the regime is considered more important than providing individual rights and freedoms, and also more important than enhancing the contributions and private initiatives of individuals in political life.

Moreover, even as late as the 1990s, civil society organizations in the Arab world were still mostly charitable organizations in the simplest sense. They provided direct material assistance to the less fortunate, which includes a very wide swath of Arab society. Other CSOs were related to the state and could even be considered semi-official institutions. 15 This further highlights the vast difference of the civil society concept, in both its understanding and its application, between the West and the Arab world. The environment and the activities of these organizations as understood in the West still do not exist in most of the Arab world.

Hence, the Arab notion of civil society in light of the environment in which it functions is compositional and not comprehensive. In other words, the definition specifies the elements that should be present in order to have such organizations, rather than spelling out the elements that actually exist. This is important for two reasons.

First, the definition includes elements that are ideal rather than attainable. If we include voluntarism as an element of the definition, we say this not in the sense that this element already exists. Voluntarism in the Arab society is still at its lowest level. Hence the definition includes social elements that should be created in Arab civil society.

Second, this approach to the concept of a true Arab civil society attempts to move beyond the discussion of whether it is a Western or Arab concept and instead work toward creating a civil society specific to Arab culture and sensitivities. This is not an intellectual effort but a constructive one, drawing on elements known in different environments, yet nonetheless a local process.

Based on the prior discussion, the definition that we seek should include the following compositional elements:

1. Active Individuals

The presence of active individuals is the major element of civil society. This refers to the citizen who is aware of his individuality yet takes active part in organized collective activity. The mere fact of membership in a civil society organization does not imply that the individual is an active member or a supporter. The way the individual perceives and understands his role and the fundamental importance of his participation in a political process – which he considers as part of his basic rights – is the major guarantee of the emergence and development of civil society.

2. Freedom

Freedom is not only the basis for civil society’s emergence, but also a pillar for its continuation and stability. Freedom includes the freedoms of association and work. Here it should be emphasized that the institutionalization and activities of civil society are a form of political work par excellence. Although it differs from the work of political parties, which aim for power and authority, civil society’s work is the mature expression of the concept of a state based on the rule of law. This work allows individuals to abandon undeveloped political and social structures and to move toward the notion of the state not as sacred entity but as legal guarantor of rights and freedoms.

3. Independence

The establishment of civil society is not an inevitable outcome of the development of the state. It is an autonomous structure independent of the state. It encourages good governance in the modern state and mobilizes the power of democracy, namely public participation in decision making. It is, in sum, a measure of democratization.

4. Volunteerism

Volunteerism means providing moral and financial support by free will and without seeking profit or distributing profit among participants in the civil society organizations.

5. Transparency (Good Governance)

This dimension reflects the commitment of civil society to the principles of good governance and the use of modern management methods. Good governance here refers to the transparency of accounts, the effectiveness of public resource management, and the stability and transparency of the economic and regulatory environment for private sector activity. 16 Civil society organizations should be accountable to their members and the general public. They should have governing documents that establish the roles and responsibilities of their officers and directors. The governing documents should prohibit conflicts of interest as well as mandate duties of loyalty, diligence, and confidentiality.

6. Legal Status

Civil society is organized pursuant to the rule of law, and an up-to-date legal framework and respect for the rule of law are important to its operation. Civil society must abide by principles of transparency and the rule of law in achieving its aims. The government should provide a legal system that guarantees the freedom of association while at the same time promoting accountability. The law governing civil society should be clear and unambiguous. It should establish the rules for establishing civil society organizations and the guarantees for their existence and for the rule of law.

Taken together, these elements suggest the following proposed definition of civil society:

Active, organized social structures, seeking, on a voluntary and non-profit basis, to achieve general aims for the group, using good governance methods within legal frameworks that guarantee transparency and freedom of association.

Such a definition is based on the understanding of the context of the civil society concept in the Arab world, the dearth of actual civil society, and the legal framework necessary for civil society to be activated from within.

Section Two: Civil Society and its Relation with the State

Civil society functions to expose the failure of the government to respond to the needs of citizens. Civil society, through its institutions, plays the role of an intermediary between the individual and the state, and performs an organizational task within the society. From this perspective, civil society can be seen as a rational formula to organize the society and its relationship with the state. Liberal values place the society in opposition to the state. The state, however, is neutral with regard to the society. It implements laws that express the will of the society, and protects wide freedoms of the individual. Democratic procedures take place through civil institutions such as political parties, associations, and the like.

In countries with an active civil society sector, CSOs play a vital role in limiting the state’s control over society. 17 The state which continuously seeks to enhance its stability and security will seek to restrict opposition groups. Unchecked, this pressure increases and ultimately the state becomes authoritarian – a dictatorship, controlling all social activities.

Hence, civil society seeks to create equilibrium between the authorities of the state and the rights of the society. Civil society organizations play a vital role in maintaining social stability in developed countries. These organizations are independent of the state, with their freedom guaranteed by the country’s constitution. 18 Accordingly, developed countries have diversified professional unions, labor unions, charitable societies, religious organizations, free clubs, cultural and technical associations, and neighborhood and area societies. In addition, they have advocacy groups of all kinds, youth and women’s organizations, and private-sector trade and industry associations. Neither the aforementioned groups nor the press is subjected to unreasonable state intrusions.

European nationalism needed three centuries to prove its capability and gain the confidence of Western citizens. 19 It had to demonstrate respect for human rights and the rule of law. 20 Only then did citizens begin to abandon their loyalty to their classes and the feudalist system, and to develop loyalty to the nation. The European state became sacred by achieving national loyalty rather than loyalty to the state.

In contrast to the west, Arab countries did not have a history of class loyalty. 21 What is sacred in the Arab state remained connected to the ruler and the regime. Despite rising Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, loyalty to the state and regime remained sacred. Citizens’ rights were continuously sacrificed for the welfare of the state and the worship of its leader. To counterbalance this force, the Arab state became the model for commitment to tribal and family ties, as they were seen as the only guarantor of protection from the state. Thus, regional nationalism, a major element in the development of Western civil society, was completely absent in the Arab case. Moreover, the Arab state continued to claim omniscience and the capacity to solve all citizens’ problems. It continued to position itself as the sole protection against the dangers of European colonization. Hence, any loyalty to other entities was considered to some degree a betrayal of the state. At the same time, sacrificing family and tribal ties was considered a grave risk that only few could undertake. This explains the weakness or absence of civil society in Arab states. Some scholars have argued that the current interest in civil society results from the intellectual bankruptcy of the Arab left wing and the fall of its idol, the Soviet Union. 22

We can summarize the above discussion with the following points.

First, civil society is generally no substitute for the state. Civil society represents an alternative to the state only in one case, when the state becomes authoritarian and stops offering anything in return for the society’s support for its agenda. Such is the case in the Arab world.

Second, one cannot talk about democracy without civil society. Hence, there is no democracy without civil society.

Third, civil society is the mediator that enriches the democratization process. Without it, democracy becomes Bediuncracy in tribal societies, sectocracy in ethnic societies. 23

Finally, an active civil society is a major contributor to good citizenship. One who cares for his society without the interference of the state is a good citizen. 24

Hence, civil society, as opposed to the state, enjoys the following characteristics.

First, civil society enjoys an independent status with regard to the state. This does not imply weakening the state, but merely limiting its practices within the framework of the constitution and the law. The emergence of civil society will put an end to authoritarianism and give individuals a meaningful role to play.

Second, civil society consists of institutions independent from the political authority, institutions that organize relations among individuals on the one hand and between individuals and the state on the other. These institutions perform an intermediary role between the society and the state. Through these institutions, which are a kind of a societal defense, the individual can express his aims and his ambitions.

Third, under the principle of voluntarism, the individual is not obliged – as is the case with family and hereditary institutions – to affiliate with any institution. Because it is voluntary, his participation becomes more effective. Also, the individual does not feel a top-down relation that limits his aspirations.

Finally, civil society is connected to human rights, political participation, freedom of expression, citizenship, peaceful circulation of authority, and pluralism.

Section Three: Civil Society and the Islamic State

For forty years of Prophet Mohammad’s life (peace be upon him) and the rightly guided Khalifas, there was an active and influential Islamic civil society. 25 The Prophet Mohammad was practicing his rule through the Quranic verses sent to him through the angel Gabriel. Muslims used to consult Mohammad on issues related to their lives and Quranic verses were sent to him in reply. In some cases he himself was ruling in light of Quranic verses. But what he provided were enlightened religious judgments based on consultation (direct democracy). He consulted with his followers, who would agree with him and give him their consent (popular referendum). Sometimes they disagreed with him (Baya’a – Aqaba consent, as an example). Mohammad even said, “You know more about your worldly affairs.” After his death, Muslims practiced real democracy. The civil Islamic society in the Saqifet Bani Saeda selected Abu Bakr to be the prophet Caliphate (successor), who declared that he succeeded Mohammad and was not his heir. By this, he declared that heaven will no longer interfere in affairs related to governing.

The same happened with all the four caliphates. Muslims voted and the opinions of all people were accepted, even those of women, as in the case of Ali Bin Abi Taleb. The Islamic democratic honeymoon ended when Muawiyah came to power and transferred the rule into a kingdom to be attained by the sword. He practiced all kinds of political authoritarianism, including that of obliging people to approve the appointment of his son Yazid by the use of the sword. Since then, we have returned to the religious state of the Middle Ages, the state that governs under the shadow of God – a state where the governor is the shadow of God and his will on earth. The same continued in the Abbasi era and in subsequent stages of the Islamic state, or states that claim Islam, even in the Ottoman Empire. Poverty, illness, authoritarianism, and the absence of the rule of people and that of Quran principles have all transformed the Islamic state to an authoritarian model lacking human rights and civil society. The situation grew even worse than before Mohammad’s existence, and there was a shift back to allegiance to tribe over allegiance to a larger society.

These historical facts do not deny that the Quran, the book of God, based on justice and charity, contains the most important human principles of good governance, justice, and even democracy in the western sense. When we talk about the presence of civil society in Islam and the Islamic state, the only real model available is the first forty years of Islamic rule. This justifies the saying, “The fault lies not in Islam but in its followers.” The reality is that principles of justice, equality, and participation in decision making exist in the Quran but they are still only theoretical. These principles were not applied for an adequate period, given that the modern Islamic state does not represent democracy and human rights under Islam. In the view of some Islamic researchers, Islam is the religion of a nation and not that of a state, and no Islamic ruling system exists in the modern legal and political sense.

The reader should consider the modern Arab state in a historical light, based on the rejection of the Ottoman Islamic State, threatened by the danger of European colonization that represented a contradiction between science (Napoleon’s library) and colonial aspirations, the occupation of Egypt, and dividing the Arab countries among colonizing powers. One can readily imagine the consequences in these states that lack civil society and human rights.

Given the above analysis, history suggests that civil society in the Arab world will not emerge until it is supported by a continuous struggle for democracy and the rule of the people. Therefore, the view of civil society as an alternative to democracy reflects a lack of real understanding in the Arab world of civil society’s role.

Section Four: Democracy and Civil Society

Whether you call it democracy or popular rule, the fact remains that citizens’ participation in government, the peaceful change of rulers, the separation of powers, and the rule of law have become essential for modern civil society. Accordingly, civil society cannot be established if democracy is missing in whole or in part because of the false pretenses of rulers or totalitarian ruling parties. Democracy and civil society are inseparable; apart, both the state and the civil society lose their legitimacy and the state becomes a tool for dictatorship in class societies, totalitarian regimes, and pseudo-democracies. 26

When it comes to democracy, Arab states are on a different level.

Undoubtedly freedom is the essential foundation of any effort to establish a democratic state where the rule of law is respected and the work of civil society interacts with and complements the work of other institutions. Accordingly, civil society is a catalyst, even a building block, for any democratic infrastructure. Some thinkers even see civil society as democracy’s lifeline and hence the caring mother that assures the growth and prosperity of democracy, protecting it from obstacles and setbacks. Hence, there is no democracy without civil society and no civil society without democracy. 27

Based on the above, building civil society depends on individuals, their awareness and organization, which cannot materialize in a non-democratic authoritarian state. Individuals must have the freedom to express themselves for society to become an organized power. If state authority alone governs and individuals are afraid to pursue their goals, burying their minds and thoughts, they will not organize, and civil society will not be established. To talk of civil society is surely to talk of a developed, civilized, and democratic society.

Hence, preparing the proper political and economic environment for establishing civil society must be the first priority for certain Arab States that are actually or purportedly undergoing political reforms. In my opinion, civil society is the most important vehicle to political reform. Modern countries, including developed countries, have shown their inability to meet citizens’ needs, which should pave the way for civil society to represent the interests of the people. 28

Section Five: The Development of Civil Society

Urban societies have grown in proportion to rural societies. This has diversified and complicated people’s needs, demands, and interests. As we all know, the more developed, modernized, and industrialized a society grows, the more a citizen needs the support of consumer protection, charitable, social, entertainment, cultural, and professional organizations – i.e., organizations built on a collective identity. Diversity in social life leads to diversity in social needs, pushing to the forefront organizational structures built around common interests and aims. Such diversity in social life may be accompanied by an explosion in organizational styles and shapes as well as in scope and depth. With urbanization have come advances in communication technologies, the media, and levels of education. An economic, social, and cultural interdependency has also emerged, resulting in the growth of societal networks that expand and branch out according to the diversity of needs and demands on local levels, with their international and global extensions, in the form of organizations, unions, and coalitions. 29

An organization establishes rules to meet collective interests. Some organizations aim to respond to people’s needs and interests. Hence, the development of organizations should respond to changes in the social structures. They should operate as social units with specific purposes within a wider institutional framework.

Hence, civil society plays an active role by influencing social and political change toward enhancing political awareness, collective work, political skills, and expertise in defending general rights and achieving collective benefits. Developing civil society is a major pillar to inducing change and influencing the level of awareness and the potential of teamwork. It is a major component of the sustainability and the development of the democratic system. Democracy is not a political aim that can be achieved immediately. It is an active process that should be maintained and developed continuously. 30

Thus, in order to talk about developing civil society in the Arab world, we must consider the others pillars that should be available. These include the following:

First, as a strong cornerstone operating on cultural knowledge, members of society are entitled to adequate information regarding their rights and duties under the constitution and other laws. This will diminish their uncertainties about their rights and enable them to join associations, unions and parties without fear.

Second, liberties need adequate protection, so that individuals confident in their beliefs have the freedom to express themselves and to seek to persuade others.

Third, the economic environment must permit individuals to meet their basic needs and to seek the financial freedom that allows them to consider issues beyond poverty or economic want. When an individual believes that he can satisfy his basic needs of health, food, and income, he starts developing himself and his ideas.

Fourth, a real democratic society must provide for freedom of expression, regardless of political pressure brought to bear by any governmental body. Individuals must have the intellectual independence to express themselves on social and political questions and to affiliate with any groups.

Fifth, greater participation of civil society in political life at all levels will allow CSOs to participate in making government policies and thereby safeguard the achievement of a democratic society governed by equality and social justice.

Sixth, civil society and the ruling authority must develop an enhanced relationship, characterized by mutual respect and cooperative contributions to progress.

Finally, a sound legal environment is necessary to foster the establishment and development of civil society organizations. These laws are the constitutional umbrella for CSOs. The laws protect the organizations’ legal status, institutional structure, and insulation from the government. Law is the main principle in developing civil society.


Throughout the previous five sections, this article has aimed to provide components for a framework that is culturally sensitive, through which civil society in the Arab world can be activated. In order to set up such a framework, we must recognize that the Arabic language defines civil society in a way that differs sharply from the Western definition. Furthermore, civil society in the Arab region differs historically from that in the West. In the Arab region, its development was stifled by the predominance of the rule of the state and people’s loyalty to their tribes and family ties. Nowadays, interest in civil society has dramatically increased, as a result of the rise of CSOs, which have helped publicize the concept, and the failure of the state to provide for its citizens. Civil society can achieve its promise as a revolutionary force toward democracy in the Arab world, but only if we understand the social and cultural dynamics that will shape its application.


1 Sa’ed Karajah is Senior Partner at Karajah & Associates Law Firm, based in Amman, Jordan. Mr. Karajah was a Middle East Senior Research Fellow during summer 2006 at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). This article was edited by ICNL staff.

2 Terms such as civil society, people’s organizations – as in Egypt – and sometimes the third sector are used as if they are synonymous. I think that this research will reveal that these terms are not the same and that they carry different interpretations and meanings.

3 See Azmi Bsharah, Civil Society, Center of Arab Unity Studies, Beirut, 1998. Azmi Bsharah relates the doubts raised regarding the sudden interest in civil society to the relaxation of the political elites who found themselves living in a state of political unemployment after the collapse of the communist and socialist bloc. He considers civil society as a process of dissolving the political struggle for democracy and forming an alternative to it. In this sense he considers it a process of political abortion.

4 Indeed, some researchers have called this century the “civil society century.” See Dr. Abdul-Aziz Bin Naser, Deputy Minister of Social Affairs, Ahlan Wa Sahlan Magazine, January 2006.

5 There are many definitions of civil society. See Mansour Al-Jamari, Lessons of Political Concepts, Arab Press Freedom Watch, May 2003 (defining civil society as “a wide range structure of labor unions, nongovernmental organizations, religious groups and societal institutions and organizations in the civil society”). See also Jamil Hilal, The Complexities of Civil Society Concept, April 10, 2004, Nusus (defining civil society as “a group of civil and social institutions and a series of channels and means by which the modern society expresses its interests and purposes and is able to defend itself when opposed to the authoritarian rule of the political institution represented by the state”). The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Cooperation of Civil Society,, defines civil society as “[a]ll groups working outside the framework of governments such as societal groups, nongovernmental organizations, labor unions and organizations that express the interests of social groups and raise awareness on major issues in order to influence public policies and decisions.” See also Amani Kandil, Middle East Transparency, June 22, 2004 (defining civil society as “any entity that is nongovernmental, not an extension of the family and not an extension of the state”); Mohamad Hilmi, The Role of Civil Society in the Democratic Development, Civilized Discussions, No. 1496, March 21, 2006 (defining civil society as a “group of free voluntary organizations filling the public space between the individual and the state. Its aim is to provide citizens with services or to achieve their interests or to practice different humanitarian activities.”); Lary Daymond, Iraq Center for Democratic Information, Middle East Senior Research Fellow Conference Papers, No 2, June 2005 (defining civil society as “a space of organized social life characterized by voluntary, self motivated work independent from the state and governed by a set of laws and common rules”); Farid Basil Al-Shani, Strengthening Civil Society in the Arab Region: Model for Legal Reform,, Beirut 2006 (defining civil society as “[a] group of political, social, economic and cultural organizations working in different fields with a relative independence from the state and the profits of companies in the private sector, i.e., civil society is civil institutions that do not practice authority and do not aim at economic profits. They contribute to the formulation of policies outside the political institutions and have professional aims such as the protection of the economic interests, upgrading the level of the profession and expressing the interests of their members. Some have cultural aims such as writers and intellectuals’ associations and cultural societies and clubs that aim at spreading awareness according to the aims specified in the society programmes.”).

6 Almunjid fi l-lugha wal-a’laam: Arabic Dictionary.

7 Dr. Muhamad Abed Al-Jabiri, Intellectuals of the Arab Civilization, Center of Arab Unity Studies, Beirut 1995, 35.

8 I.e., a society that depends in its formation and development on civilization and, based on that, conducts collective practical, social, cultural, and economic relations, based on initiatives and individual activities through organizations of a certain historical context.

9 Almunjid fi l-lugha wal-a’laam: Arabic Dictionary.

10 The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001-05.

11 Dr. Sauod Al-Mawla, on citizenship and civil society and the Lebanese experience, discussion notes, October 2005.

12 See note 5, above.

13 Dr. Burhan Ghalyoun, lecture at the seminar on civil society and democracy, Qatar University 2001, The Emergence and Development of Civil Society,

14 Azhar Muhammad Ilan, Al-Naba’, Mechanisms for Building Civil Society in the Arab World: A Model, Issue Number 671, July 2004.

15 See Adnan Al-Halfi, The Establishment of Civil Society, First Edition, 1997, Al-Barq Publishing House (stating that “there has been a blossoming of non-profit or royal organizations related to the governing families or their members and these usually enjoy huge financial and moral support”).

16 Camdessus, Michel.1997. Address to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

17 Examples can be found in Dwayne Woods, Civil Society in Europe and Africa: Limiting State Power Through a Public Sphere, Vol. 35, No. 2 (September 1992), 77-100.

18 The concept of civil society dates back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. John Locke was probably the first to use this term after the English revolution of 1688. Many philosophers, social scientists, and Western politicians analyzed the concept, including Hobbes, Rousseau, and Hegel. Civil society was born in the midst of a complete transformation that occurred in Europe from the Dark Ages to the age of modern states and systems. It later contributed to the transformation in Eastern Europe, emerging in Poland in 1982, when the Solidarity trade union, a civil society organization, undertook a leading role in the liberation of Poland from communist rule. Political figures in the Arab world, however, did not contemplate the concept of civil society until the 1990s. Arab political leaders then recognized civil society as a force, because of dissatisfaction among the political and intellectual elites with the lack of progress in instituting democratic practices, including wider dispersion of authority and free expression.

19 Dr. Burhan Ghalyoun, The Emergence and Development of Civil Society, 2001.

20 Azhar Mohammad Elan, Mechanism for Building Civil Society Organizations in the Arab World, published on AN Naba’a Website, No. 671, April 2004,, states that no political links exist between the individual and the state. There is a war of everybody against everybody. Hence, transformation to civil society represents the outcome of a clash between opposing powers within the natural state over the right to private property, the right to life, and the guarantees of these rights. The members of society agree to organize in a state, where individuals voluntarily (or supposedly) cede their rights to protect their lives and property to a third party, the new sovereign, which can be an individual or an entity.

21 The importance of the idea of civil society, from a regional Arab point of view, is not limited to the definition of political life in European societies. It also represents an opportunity for comparing Arab and Western societies. In this context, we could say that the expressions that philosophers and intellectuals employed since the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, and until the prison memoirs of Gramsci, have largely reflected ideological comparison between the East and the West. This expression articulated the common perception that the East historically has embodied the state more than it has the society. In other words, the history of the East is that of the state, and the history of the West is that of the society. The East, according to this theory, lacks intermediary organizations between the individual and the state. The weakness or absence of civil society presented a suitable environment for the rise of authoritarian political rule in the East. This ideological stance that talks about the absence of civil society in the East and its religion, Islam, is unfounded.

22 Azmi Bchara.

23 Abdul Al Ziz Bin Mohammad Al Khater, Cannot be Imported Literally, Civil Society and State are Extensions not Opposites, in Arab Renewal, May 2, 2006.

24 Peace and Hope website, What Is Civil Society?, July 14, 2005.

25 Ahmad Hasan, Political Islamic Groups and Civil Society, First Edition, 2000, Al Thaqafiyah Publishing House.

26 Mustafa Mohammad Gharib, Al-Hiwar Al-Motamad-den, Civil Dialogue, No. 585, September 8, 2003,

27 Mohammad Bo ‘Azazah, Al-Sharq Al-Qatariah Newspaper, This Missing Civil Society…Is It the Future Alternative for Political Society, October 7, 2003.

28 Based on a study conducted by the International Centre of Charity Law, in 2000 the revenue of NGOs reached $939 billion and their assistance $2 trillion. International Charity Law Comparative Seminar, Beijing 2004.

29 Dr. Ahmad Bo ‘Ajilah, Afkar: “Civil Society in the Social Project for Change: Perspectives…Outcomes and Future.”

30 Farid Basil Al-Shani.