Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 16, No. 5, 2017
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Gary Olson
Howard Richler
Oslavi Linares
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Riaz Hassan Is Director of the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding at the University of South Australia and Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Flinders University and author of Inside Muslim Minds (Melbourne University Press) and Faithlines: Muslim Conceptions of Islam and Society (Oxford University Press).

In protest for being persistently harassed and humiliated by municipal officials, Tunisian street vendor Mohammad Bouazizi committed suicide by immolating himself in public in December 2010. His dramatic public act of protest led to a series of mass demonstrations in Tunisia and became a catalyst for the Tunisian revolution which toppled the country’s long serving president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Within months of the Tunisian revolution, mass demonstrations and riots engulfed other countries of the Middle East and North Africa in an outburst of popular protests against their autocratic rulers leading to the overthrowing of regimes in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and civil wars and unrest in Bahrain, Syria and other Arab counties. These events, unprecedented in recent Arab history, have come to be known as the ‘Arab Spring.’ Many hoped that this Arab Spring would bring in new governments that would deliver political reform and social justice. But that promise never materialized. Six years later the reality is more war and violence, and a crackdown on people who dare to speak out for a fairer, more open society.

Why did the popular revolution of the Arab Spring fail to deliver the promise of freedom and democracy? French historian Jean-Pierre Filiu in his new book From Deep State to Islamic State offers a provocative and compelling account of this failure. Filiu argues that what is happening now in the Middle East is a brutal counter revolution and a systematic war of the Arab regimes against their people. The Arab regimes are the new ‘Mamluks.’ The Mamluk form of government refers to slave soldiers who were the backbone of rulers’ coercive power in Egypt and Syria for several centuries. Their sole purpose was to serve and protect the interests of the ruling class. The military in the modern Arab world is now performing the Mamlukian role and in doing so claims political legitimacy as the sole defenders of the state and the people. The military has become part of the Deep State. The term Deep State originated in Turkish political history. It refers to an opaque alliance of politicians, army, police, intelligence, business leaders and leaders of criminal groups.

The military cliques in Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Syria and Yemen, in the name of serving national interests, control national economic resources. They see themselves as the custodians of the interests of the state. They regard themselves as above the law and engage in activities which would otherwise be regarded as criminal. Motivated by self-interest they feel they have the unqualified right to do whatever they choose. This belief is premised on a patrimonial view of the state and a paternalistic view of the people. The state and Deep State are one and the same thing. The Deep State, by its very nature, is counter revolutionary and this is so because it is ruled by Mamluks. The military cliques have usurped and high-jacked the original national revolutions in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. The dissidents who challenge them are subjected to brutal oppression and labelled as terrorists. This has allowed members of the Deep State to dominate the post-independence Arab states.

Filiu is not the first to offer this explanation. In 2012 Harvard economist Eric Chaney in a seminal study explored the question of the prevalence of autocracies and freedom deficits in the Arab world. His conclusions were broadly similar. He showed that the prevalence of autocracies in the Muslim Arab world was a product of the long-run influence of control structures developed in the centuries following the Arab conquests. He traced the development of this phenomenon to the ninth century, when rulers across the Arab region began to use slaves (Mamluks) instead of the native population to staff their armies. These slave armies allowed rulers to achieve independence from local military and civilian groups and helped remove constraints on the sovereign in pre-modern Islamic societies.

In this autocratic environment, religious leaders emerged as the only check on the power of the rulers. This historical institutional configuration, which divided the power between the sovereign backed by the ruler’s slave army and religious elites, was not conducive to producing democratic institutions. Instead, religious and military elites worked together to develop and perpetuate what Chaney calls ‘classical’ institutional equilibrium designed to promote and protect their interests. Rulers came to rely on slave armies, freeing themselves from dependence on civil institutions. Religious leaders cooperated with the army to design a system that proved hostile to alternative centers of power. This concentration of power and weak civil societies are the enduring legacy of this historical institutional framework in regions conquered by Arab armies and which remained under Islamic rule from 1100 AD onwards.

In regions/countries incorporated into the Islamic world after non-Arab Muslim armies, such as India and the Balkans, conquered them, and where Islam spread by conversion (such as Indonesia, Malaysia and sub- Saharan Africa) did not adopt this classical framework. Their institutions continued to be shaped by local elites, preserving their political and cultural continuity. Consequently, democratic deficits have remained an enduring legacy in the Arab world and in lands conquered by the Arab armies and remaining under Islamic rule since 1100 AD. But in Islamic countries incorporated into the Islamic world by non-Arab Muslim armies or by conversions, democratic developments have followed a more progressive trajectory.

The events that have unfolded in Egypt following the downfall of Hosni Mubarak illustrate the Deep State hypothesis. The election of the first democratically elected President in the Egyptian history, only to be toppled by the Deep State, followed by an even more repressive military regime elected by sham elections. Filiu is optimistic of the success of democracy in the Arab world in the long run, because ‘Arabs are not different.’ But his book offers a bleak outlook for the near future. As he puts it, the Arab struggle for ‘collective emancipation’ has been suppressed by regimes posing as guardians of regional stability and reaping the associated benefits of their self-appointed fictional roles. The Arab despots will never be part of the solution, since they stand at the very core of the problem.

The ubiquitous Deep State eventually nurtured the Islamic State and the Arab Mamluks succeeded in transferring to the rest of the world the responsibility for the monster they had helped to create. These consequences bear out what a US intelligence veteran told Filiu: that a defeat of the democratic movement would give a boost to jihadi subversion that will see the counter-terrorism budget tripled just to cope with the magnitude of such a threat. This is exactly what has happened across the Arab world which ironically is benefiting the Deep State clique. On 13 November 2014, the day ISIS released a video recording declaring its ‘Caliph’ on the Internet, a 22year old female Cairo activist Zeinab al-Mhadi hanged herself. In her suicide note she wrote: ‘There is no justice. Victory will not happen. We lie to ourselves in order to survive.’

What are the implications of Filiu’s and Chaney’s analyses for the popular uprisings now known as the Arab Spring? Is history the destiny? There are some optimistic developments that suggest that it may be possible for the Arab world to escape from its autocratic past. The region has undergone structural changes, such as increasing levels of education, urbanization and industrialization over the past 60 years, which have made it more receptive and conducive to democratic change than any time in the past. This does not preclude the emergence of political equilibrium in countries like Egypt, Syria, Algeria and Yemen, similar to the historical equilibrium, but there is one clear sign that Muslim countries will follow different trajectories. Countries like Turkey, Albania, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia are more likely to defy history than the Arab countries, but poverty and weak civil institutions will remain obstacles to democratic.

also by Riaz Hassan
Countering the Scourge of Isis
Muslim Women Down
Life As a Weapon


Email (optional)
Author or Title






































































































Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034


Help Haiti
Film Ratings at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
2016 Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal, Oct. 05-16st, (514) 844-2172
Lynda Renée: Chroniques Québécois - Blog
Montreal World Film Festival
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
Photo by David Lieber:
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis