Re-Imagining Citizenship in the Arab World

Dr. Simon Kachar & Dr. Tania Haddad

The concept of citizenship has been long debated and analyzed in the literature.  Yehya el al (2013) argue that Citizenship is a basic pillar of democracy, and its principles extend beyond the basis of participating in elections. Active engagement in citizenship serves the basis of democratic communities as it encourages constructive relationships, productive economic progress and growth and creating a space for peaceful opposition (Yehya et al. 2013). Moreover, citizenship involves not only the relationship that develops between citizens and the government but also the relationships between citizens themselves. Indeed, this relationship contributes to the development of a cohesive political, social, and civil community.

To better understand the contemporary history of the Arab world it is important to focus on citizenship and the complex relationships that developed between the citizens and the state and the citizens themselves. Such an approach will help us  understand how  the Arab Uprisings were  a major  turning point in Arab politics.

The crisis between the state and citizens in the region goes back to the early 19th century with the rise of the modern state (Meijer, R. 2019). These newly established regimes, as opposed to empowering citizenship, led to the development of passive mode of citizenship (Meijer, R. 2019). Moreover, while domestic dynamics affected modern citizenship regimes in the Arab world, external factors also played a significant role, as foreign and regional interventions undermined the sovereignty of the states and threatened the development of a common identity as well as an inclusive shared sense of responsibility (Meijer, R. 2019).

Within the Arab region, citizens have limited access and relationship with their government. Even when they do attempt to influence the policy making process, their efforts are frequently undermined by corrupt practices such as patronage and clientelism (Meijer, R. 2019); thus, abolishing the essence of citizenship.

When examining the region, several challenges must be addressed to ensure the effective promotion of the ideals of citizenship. One of the major approaches to understanding citizenship in the region is to focus on the educational system as a crucial component for nation-building, as civic education is essential to developing an informed and engaged citizenry. According to Muasher (2014), the curricula in many Arab states do not focus on the development of responsible, informed, and civic-minded individuals through education.

Indeed, the educational system in the Arab world is facing many challenges.  in many Arab countries, civic education is limited to  memorization rather than critical thinking, active participation, and democratic values (Muasher, 2022). Although education has improved significantly in the Arab world over the past few decades, many children and youth, particularly girls and refugees, still face significant educational challenges. Indeed, Gender inequality remains a significant challenge in the Arab world, with girls and women facing discrimination and limited opportunities in education and civic life. This hinders their ability to fully participate in civic life and contribute to nation-building; in turn it hinders the efforts to promote citizenship and nation-building.

Another challenge in the citizenship education is the concept of identity; indeed, Faour & Muasher (2011,18) argue that “In the Arab region, a citizen has multiple identities that vary from one country to another, but the most common are religious, tribal, ethnic, and national identities. Any citizenship education program needs to address each of these identities that exist in its social setting”.

Setting the research and teaching agenda on revisiting citizenship and nation-building in the Arab world requires a comprehensive approach that reflect on the challenges facing citizenship and the educational system in the region.  Thus, we need first to address and analyze these challenges in the region and then develop inclusive solutions. This can be done through incorporating advocacy in research and teaching; engaging with civil society organizations, policymakers, and community members to ensure that research findings and teaching content are accessible, and relevant to the region.


Faour, M. and Muasher, M (2011)  Education for citizenship in the arab world key to the future. The Carnegie Papers

Meijer, R. (2019). Active and Passive Citizenship in the Arab World. The Middle East Journal 73(4), 607-627.

Muasher, M.  (2022) approach Arab Educational Reform Creatively. Carnegie Middle East Center

Muasher,M. (2014) The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism. Yale University Press

Yehya et al (2013) The Promise of Spring:  Citizenship and Civic Engagement in Democratic Transitions. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia


Simon Kachar, Ph.D., Lecturer in Political Science, Fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs – American University of Beirut.

Tania Haddad, Ph.D., Associate Professor for Public Administration at the American University of Beirut.

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