Sadik J. Al-Azm - „The Civil Society Debate in the Arab World after the Revolution“


In my paper I deal with three main subjects:

  1. The political origins and context of the civil society debates in the Arab World. I try to explain the meaning, significance and function of the concept of “civil society” in contemporary Arab culture, discussions and politics. I also compare and contrast this conception with the conventional “Western” definition of civil society.
  2. I present the Arab Spring in terms of civil society manifesting itself in the various Tahreer squares of Arab capitals with special emphasis on Cairo. I also try to shed some light on the violent revolutionary form that the spring took in Syria and to explain some of the special features, peculiarities and innovations of the on-going revolution in Syria today.
  3. I try to explain something about the phenomenon of the “return of Islam” that has become associated with the Arab Spring and to give an account as well of the current contending parties fighting fiercely over the definition of this “returning Islam” and over the control of its meaning.


Sadik J. Al-AzmSadik J. Al-Azm, Syrian-born philosopher and intellectual, was primarily influenced in his thought by secular occidental authors. Following his studies at the American University of Beirut, he was conferred a doctorate degree in modern European philosophy in 1961 by Yale University. He then returned to Beirut to assume a teaching obligation. In this time, his well-regarded book “Self-criticism after the Defeat” (1968) was created, wherein he deals with the effects of the Six Day War, and which remains forbidden in all Arab states, with the exception of Lebanon. After teaching and researching in the University of Damascus as professor for modern European philosophy (1977 to 1999), Al-Azm was visiting professor at various European and American Universities, including Berlin and Hamburg, where he was conferred an honorary doctorate degree in 2005. His thought centers on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx, which he particularly applies to Arab societies. Next to his numerous essays, important works include "The Origins of Kant's Arguments in the Antinomies" (1972), "The Mental Taboo: Salman Rushdie and the Truth within Literature" (1992) and "Self-Criticism After the Defeat" (2011).

Since October 2011, he is Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”.