The Battle over a Civil State

Egypt's Road to June 30, 2013

By Limor Lavie

Subjects: Political Science, Middle East Politics, Religion And Politics, Political Sociology
Hardcover : 9781438470436, 252 pages, July 2018
Paperback : 9781438470429, 252 pages, July 2019

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


1. Bottom-Up: The Concept of the Civil State in Egyptian Intellectual Discourse (1970–1992)

2. Top-Down: The Institutionalization of the Civil State Discourse in the Rival Platforms of the NDP and the Muslim Brothers (1992–2011)

3. Arm Wrestling (Round 1): Contesting Egyptian Identity in the Aftermath of Mubarak (2011–2012)

4. Arm-Wrestling (Round 2): Civil State vs. Civil State with Islamic Source of Authority (2012–2014)

5. “Civil State” in the New Tunisian Constitution (2014)– What's the Difference?


Traces the genealogy of the Western philosophic concept of the civil state, how that concept was assimilated into Egyptian political thought, and how it affected the 2013 coup against President Mursi.


How is the concept of the civil state understood in Arab countries? In The Battle over a Civil State, Limor Lavie examines how this important concept, which originated in Western philosophy, became incorporated into Arab discourse. The civil state as understood in Arab political discourse, Lavie argues, attempts to bridge Islamic history and culture with modernity. It is an attempt to forge a middle ground between a purely theocratic rule and a purely secular rule, and a solution for the tensions between a desire to catch up with global modernization and democratization processes and the desire to reject those same processes. In the political discourse of most of the Arab Spring countries, the concept of the civil state played a pivotal role. In the public debate over the character of Egypt, in particular, following the January 25, 2011 uprising, the demand to establish a civil state was shared by all the political currents. However, when these currents sought to set out basic guidelines for Egypt's future, it soon became clear that they were far from reaching a consensus, and that the concept of the civil state was at the heart of the controversy between them. The struggle over Egypt's civil character in the post-Mubarak era was the main reason for the turbulence the country experienced on June 30, 2013—leading to the ouster of President Muhammad Mursi.

Limor Lavie teaches at Bar Ilan University.


"The book makes several contributions. First, it provides a fresh insight into a crucial concept that predominated public debates in Egypt at a critical historical moment. It also shows how meaning and interpretation of state identity by different groups can be the cause for political turmoil and instability. Third, it provides a fresh insight into what most Arab societies are going through, that is the tension between democratization (and secularism) while preserving their Islamic heritage." — Democratization

"Throughout, the book presents new insights on Egypt and Arab political thought. It's a welcome contribution to the study of modern Egypt, generally, and the history of concepts in the Arab world, particularly." — Rami Ginat, author of Egypt and the Struggle for Power in Sudan: From World War II to Nasserism