Military vs. Citizens in the Arab Zone: An Assessment from Political Philosophy

Military vs. Citizens in the Arab Zone: An Assessment from Political Philosophy

Stéphane Valter (University of Le Havre, France)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9675-4.ch007
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All the political systems of the Arab-Islamic zone are authoritarian, with the exception of Tunisia where fair elections recently took place and political alternation was accepted. Lebanon is another exception in the sense that state prerogatives – shared between antagonist religious communities – do not enjoy sufficient power to exert coercive policies. But apart from these two cases, this global authoritarian environment is of no avail vis-à-vis any initiative that would aim at forging some idea of citizenship – with its obligations and privileges – amongst the population, and particularly among the military. The present analysis will concentrate on the links existing between authoritarianism and citizenship, with an emphasis on Arab armed forces considered within their sociological contexts, since these entities are as much the emanation of the people(s) as the physical manifestation of the regimes' strength. The issue will be addressed through two perspectives: politics and philosophy.
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It has to be admitted that the Arab political systems do not globally suit the criteria of the accomplished State in the sense that the different civil services do not function according to competence, that is, with a full participation of all citizens. On the contrary, through nepotism and corruption, when it is not terror, the general reinforcement of the administration (including the armed forces) aims mostly at increasing the repressive ability and resources monopolization, for the sole benefit of a small group. This model fits all the Arab world, except the two aforementioned cases. Doubtlessly, the re-examination of some philosophers who pondered over what links warrior’s condition to citizenship will help us comprehend, within the framework of (Arab) authoritarian and despotic systems, the reasons behind: the refusal to govern men through the acquiescence of their free will; the systematic use of violence against the people; the enrolling of soldiers separated from society; the absence of any ethical finality among the political elite; and the instilling of distrust between citizens to prevent any coordinated action. It seems impossible, within the limited scope of this chapter, to go through all the philosophical literature that has been written on the subject. If exhaustivity remains impossible, it is also certainly useless since few good and relevant references suffice, as the stoic Seneca (Nero’s tutor) used to say.1 Secondly, the classical philosophers do not appear to have been surpassed on fundamental issues by neither modern nor contemporary ones, who have finally just reformulated in their own terms their predecessors’ analysis. Thirdly, it would seem curious if a given political philosopher arrived at totally different conclusions than another one, especially if we take for granted that reason aims at apprehending the truth, which can only be one (even if it can be perceived and expressed differently according to diverse cultural contexts). In this sense, since we are dealing with human experience, we have relied on authors whose ideas seem particularly appropriate for our purpose.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sunnism: The main trend in Islam (some 90% of all Muslims). The Arabic word signifies ‘those who follow Muhammad’s tradition (words and deeds)’ and do not think that ‘Ali (and his descendants later on) had any particular right to the succession.

Muslim Brotherhood: A confessional and (non-overtly) political organization created in Egypt in 1927, with social, educative, religious, etc., aims. Always in conflict with the political power (first during the monarchy, and then from 1952 onwards).

Kurds: An ethnic and (Indo-European) linguistic group leaving in the Middle East, deprived of statehood by the 1923 Lausanne treaty. Some 40 million people today.

Nasserism: Ideology (vaguely) articulated by Nasser and based on Egyptian patriotism, Arab nationalism, African commitment, and non-aligned sympathies, with a non-negligible amount of (late) socialism.

Huthis: A Shiite (from the Zaydi subdivision) group operating in Yemen which carried out a coup d’État in 2014.

Shiism: A split in Islam dating back to the time of the Prophet’s succession, more precisely after the assassination of the third caliph in 656. The Arabic word means ‘party’ (that is, of ‘Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law).

Alawites: The Alawite ‘religion’ can be considered as a medieval split from Imami (mainstream) Shiism. Their specificities are considered as grave anomalies by conservative Sunnism which brands them as evident proofs of irreligiousness.

Jihad: Koranic word meaning ‘effort’ (personal, piety-related, defensive, or offensive effort, according to the context).

Baathism: An Arab nationalist, secular, and more or less socialist ideology, created in Syria in the 1940s by people hailing from all religious communities (Alawites, Christians, Sunnis, etc.).

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