Arab revolts and 'Civil State': a new term for old conflicts between Islamism and secularism


  • Barbara De Poli Ca' Foscari University Venice


Africa, North, Islam, Secularism, Democracy, Arab Spring, 2010-, Tunisia, Egypt, Politics and religion, Politics and Islam


The Arab revolts that erupted in late 2010, forcing from power the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and dragging Syria through a ferocious civil war, reactivated the public debate on government in Islamic countries. In all those countries, after removing the authoritarian regimes (or fighting against them), the political arena saw a division into two main camps: Islamic parties and secularists; both claiming to stand for democracy. Within the political discourse of both sides a new concept began to play a pivotal role: that of the ’civil state’ – dawla madaniyya –  a term which, however, renders different semantic interpretations according to the political actors involved, meaning both ‘no military or theocratic (but Islamic) State’, and ‘secular State’. We’ll especially analyse the usage of the term ‘dawla madaniyya’ in Tunisia and Egypt since the beginning of the Arab revolts and up until 2014 and, for the same time period, the political practices of Islamist and secularist parties (government experiences, constituent assemblies) focusing on the effectiveness of the dawla madaniyya paradigm for building a democratic state. 

How to Cite

De Poli, B. (2014). Arab revolts and ’Civil State’: a new term for old conflicts between Islamism and secularism. Approaching Religion, 4(2), 95–104.