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Researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Political Studies

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies Seminar hosted Abdou Moussa, a Researcher at the ACRPS, to present his lecture "An Approach to the Concept of Sovereignty in Authoritarian Contexts," on Wednesday, January 15, 2020. Opening his remarks, the Egyptian researcher outlined the general features of the research project on sovereignty and the state, addressing developments that contribute to the interdependence of the two concepts in the Arab context, and noting the various legal, political, and social dimensions of this study. Clarifying his research goal, he affirmed a need to formulate an in-depth understanding of the issues of the independence of the Arab state and the efficiency of governance within it, from the standpoint of sovereignty.

The researcher reviewed the research project planning, with a first section geared to incorporating theoretical and conceptual approaches and tracing developments in the theory of sovereignty up to the Arab Spring with their implications for Arab constitutional and political though, in order to highlight the extent to which Arab perceptions of sovereignty relate to observed transformations of the Arab state. More generally, the project's approach included an analysis of the sovereign capacity of the Arab state, based on actual political practice and showing the difference between the latter and law and legal discourse, towards establishing a model for interpretation and understanding. A third section included a comparative approach analyzing divergences and commonalities in the prime templates internal and external sovereignty in the Arab countries. In concluding, Moussa ended with a proposal to re-establish the concept of sovereignty in the Arab world along democratic and independent lines.

The concept of sovereignty has two functions that distinguish it in the Arab world, the researcher reminded seminar participants: controlling the population and dominating the territory of the state. He then noted the widely shared conviction that the concept of independence sets the standard for assessing the modern Arab state and its history. The efficiency of the state stems from a criterion of proximity to, or distance from, this independence standard.  However, this extent of state efficiency cannot be measured or understood without understanding its roots in the concept of sovereignty.

Moussa affirmed that the concept of sovereignty in Arab thought is formed from the classical view of the concept, but ignores its Arab world reality, which is one of supplying necessary mediation between authority and power. Arab writings describe sovereignty as merit-based and denoting the state's eligibility for independence from any other authority, meaning that sovereignty is space guaranteed to the state for the exercise of its power: its superiority, its primacy over all else, the non-fragmentation of its powers, not to be shared with other parties. This suggestion may be criticized as being normative or stereotypical, found only in books and legal textbook, and not reflecting the reality of the exercise of sovereignty in the Arab region, or the whirlwind of political interactions around it.

In his review of the case of Egypt, within a cross-Arab comparison, Moussa set out from an approach to sovereignty as a "state ideology," claiming that the importance of the Egyptian case lies in the failure of most of the theories of the Arab state in circulation (e.g. the tribal state, the artificial state, the state of divided identities) to find be reflected convincingly in reality. He then considered a number of controversial issues arising in the Egyptian case. These include the contradiction between the personal rights of the citizen versus the rights of the group, and a constitutional struggle that dates back more than a century that has resulted in two intellectual traditions about the meaning of sovereignty: a constitutional tradition that fights the sovereignty of the nation, by regulating authority, and a statist tradition that defends the sovereignty of the state (thereby shrinking the authority of the ruler or master), concerned with regulating members of society. The researcher pointed to the importance of refuting two illusions devoted to statist legal thought, namely upholding group rights opposing sovereign rights on the one hand, and upholding the existence of group rights opposing the individual rights, on the other.

In conclusion, the researcher proposed the possibility of restoring the meanings of state independence and power through a hypothesis based upon prioritizing Arab-Arab sovereignty in an Arab-Arab cross-border exchange, and thereby reducing the internal authoritarian burden of sovereignty in any one country.