Factual Challenges to Trust State in the Arab World: A Concise Commentary
Massimo Campanini 28 September 2017

In his “A Treatise on Trust State for a New Arab World” (2016) Mohammed Hashas deals with a very sensitive issue worthy of reflection: the (re)-construction of a state in which citizens can put again their trusteeship. The necessity of projecting a new model of state is urgent both in the West and in the Arab-Islamic world. Actually, a great majority of people show no confidence in today state’s and political élites’ accountability. On the Western side, though, politicians and élites in power continuously repeat the refrain that present liberistic (not liberal) democracy is the unique viable model of governance: the nihilistic idea of Francis Fukuyama that history has attained its end unfortunately has not yet been overcome. Euro-American self-compliance cherishes the illusion that its values are “universal” and consequently “eternal”, to be exported even by force if necessary, while history demonstrates abundantly that no human construction resists the destructive effects of time. On the other hand, Communism is definitely over; socialism would need a full re-thinking of its objectives and identity; other models – like the Chinese – imply the same and multiplied shortcomings of both liberistic capitalism and collectivistic communism. The traditional democratic pattern, in my view, failed and it is necessary to find new ways of participation and a new communitarian sense. Hashas seems aware of this when in his second note says that “the so-called West, and its concepts which have influenced the world, and the Arab world more specifically, is no longer the master of the world as it used to be perceived. Its intellectual and political paradigm is no longer “the best” or “the right” in the world”. I agree with him completely.

The Arab world suffers today of an evident lacking of freedom and of political, more than economic, backwardness. Often this fault is surreptitiously attributed to religion, Islam, while many other factors must be considered: the heritage of colonialism, the geopolitical context, the weakness of civil societies, the rapacity of dominant élites, the heritage of the military which overwhelmingly managed the post-colonial transition and realized authoritarian or even tyrannical regimes which survived their decline. A number of prominent Muslim thinkers (Qaradawi, al-Awa, Ghannushi, Yassine, Ramadan) tried to formulate the new concept of dawla madaniyya or civil state grounded on shura (consultation), but their theory is still too vague and it is not clear what shura really means and works. The Moroccan philosopher Abed al-Jabiri identified it plainly with parliamentary democracy, but he was probably too optimistic. Rashid Ghannushi, leader of the Tunisian Ennahda party, recently spoke of a “direct” democracy with no vertical subordination between rulers and citizens.

Hashas proposes as new political model a “Trust State (addawla al-i‘timāniyya) for a new Arab world ruled by a pluralist ‘trust social contract’ (a-tta‘āqud al-ijtimā‘i al-i‘timāni). Its originality is that it is a concept that belongs to the Arab domain (al-majāl attadāwuli al-‘arabi) and its plural tradition”. The idea is in itself interesting, but I should like to emphasize a few points.

1) I feel a risk of idealism in the concept of trusteeship if it does not involve a really equal relation between rulers and ruled. Unfortunately, up to now, everywhere in the world, the Gaetano Mosca’s and Vilfredo Pareto’s “élite theory” had the upper hand, stressing the insuperable superiority of the rulers over the ruled. Therefore, how to avoid concretely the vertical subordination between directors and directed? I fear that trusteeship would not be enough.

2) In general terms, the concept of trusteeship seems to me akin to that of shura, and shura is not only Qur’anic (42:38), but characteristic of all Arab civilization, pre-Islamic too. It would be very interesting to understand if and how the two ideas converge.

3) Hashas writes that “new Arab political mind would gradually mature and extract itself from hostile oppositional dichotomies such as the “religious”, the “secular”, the “sectarian,” the “ethnic”, the “linguistic”, etc.” I agree insofar as it is an incentive to jump over the fences; I suggest, however, not to underplay the role of religion as ideology. Ibn Khaldun and Machiavelli shared the (right) idea of the powerful mobilizing effect of religion that must be recognized even though we assume a secular stance.

Credit Marwan Naamani / AFP