The chapter explores the euphoria and optimism that the events of 2011 spread among Arab liberals, whose long and stubborn struggle to expand the sphere of personal freedom and democracy was confirmed as not being pointless and unproductive. It also examines the disappointment and frustration in their ranks in light of the success of Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Nahda in Tunisia in harvesting the political capital generated by these events.

in Arab liberal thought in the modern age

Arab liberal thought in the modern age provides in-depth analysis of Arab liberalism, which, although lacking public appeal and a compelling political underpinning, sustained viability over time and remains a constant part of the Arab landscape. The study focuses on the second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century, a period that witnessed continuity as well as change in liberal thinking. Post-1967 liberals, like their predecessors, confronted old dilemmas, socioeconomic upheavals, political instability, and cultural disorientation, but also demonstrated ideological rejuvenation and provided liberal thought with new emphases and visions. Arab liberals contributed to public debate on cultural, social, and political issues, and triggered debates against their adversaries. Displaying such attributes as skepticism, ecumenism, and confidence in Arab advancement, they burst onto the public scene in questioning the Arab status quo and advocating alternative visions for their countries. Their struggle for freedom of religion, secularism, individualism, democracy, and human rights meant more than a rethinking of Islamic tradition and Arab political culture. It aimed rather at formulating a full-fledged liberal project to seek an Arab Enlightenment. This book fills a major gap in the research literature, which has tended to overlook Middle Eastern liberalism in favor of more powerful and assertive forces embodied by authoritarian regimes and Islamic movements. The book is essential reading for scholars and students in the fields of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, intellectual history, political ideologies, comparative religion, and cultural studies.

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Oriental despotism

This chapter discusses the liberal endeavor to reduce the power of the state, and liberals’ intensive engagement with personal liberties and the empowerment of individualism in the Arab landscape. The defying liberal discourse regarding Arab politics also revealed internal tensions on such issues as the individual’s relations with the collective, the features of the socioeconomic structure, and the inclusion of Islamists in the democratic process.

in Arab liberal thought in the modern age
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The concluding chapter summarizes the Arab liberals’ alternative agenda for relations between individual and state, religion and politics, Islam and the West. The confidence of the liberals in the rightness of their path did not dispel doubts about whether the contemporary Arab peoples were ready for enlightenment. However, these liberals still sought internal renewal and continued to search for Arab enlightenment.

in Arab liberal thought in the modern age

The chapter sketches a portrait of liberal writers after 1967, mapping their sources of inspiration and ideological emphases, and their contribution to Arab political thought. The chapter also places liberal writers in a historical context and identifies continuities and differences between them and the liberals of the early twentieth century.

in Arab liberal thought in the modern age
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Debating Arab liberalism

This chapter provides a theoretical framework for defining liberalism and its features, criticizing prevailing attitudes in Western historiography, and reframing Arab liberalism.

in Arab liberal thought in the modern age
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Toward an ethical vision

This chapter analyzes the attitudes of liberal thinkers in relation to Islam, with an emphasis on the Qur’an and the Prophet’s era, the hard core of Muslim collective memory throughout the ages. Liberal writers provided rich scholarship and dynamic interpretations of the sacred sources, based on scientific exploration of the historical, social, and cultural contexts in which Islam emerged in the seventh century

in Arab liberal thought in the modern age
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An inspiring model

This chapter deals with liberal writings on Western culture, perceived as a source of inspiration and not only as a reservoir of conspiracies; on globalization, which was defined as a lever for Arab economic modernism; and on peace and coexistence with Israel, presented as an essential component in the promotion of Arab humanism.

in Arab liberal thought in the modern age
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Approaching the Other

The history of Algeria provides here a kind of archetype of all that has been encompassed by the relationship between “Islam and the West” in terms of “extremism.” In the Algeria of the 1970s, the author’s political consciousness became shaped relatively late, not in response to the disparity in wealth distribution—but when, within the field of colonial history, he discovered the scale of the distortion between the arguments and tropes of his “inherited culture” and the ones that developed from his own initial scholarly readings in history.

in Understanding Political Islam

Research centers dedicated to the study of the Arab world have long cultivated a kind of emotional block with respect to the key figures of political Islam. Often, whosoever wishes to speak on Islamists must invite their most bitter opponents (whether those in power, or from the left)—and … those opponents only. Countering these instincts, this chapter covers the author’s formative encounters with the key Tunisian figure Rached Ghannouchi, and its role in building the foundations of his approach to theorizing political Islam. It analyzes the reasons behind his divergence with the rejection of the all-but-undifferentiated rejection of Islamism, and their likely origin in the fact that the author’s first contacts in the field of political Islam were sociological and human—rather than merely reading based and theoretical.

in Understanding Political Islam