Why Ibn Khaldun remains of great importance to the Arab world

Why Ibn Khaldun remains of great importance to the Arab world

Tunisian workers demonstrate in Tunis demanding jobs and high wages and salaries. (Reuters file photo)

The Arab world is at an important historical turning point. Either the next generation will create an opportunity for reform that will propel the region into a more prosperous and equitable future, or it will witness an increase in the lagging development, lagging progress and conflict that has become synonymous with its modern history.

Although the region is too diverse to be treated coherently as a single political entity with a shared experience, there are enough similarities in terms of differences in the application of the rule of law, failing education systems and a disposition to conflict that continues to hold her. return. While modern Western models of development and standards of governance have been applied with limited success, the philosophical and theoretical value of indigenous thinkers has been overlooked – and none whose work is more relevant than Ibn Khaldun.

Abu Zaid Abd Al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun was a leading 14th-century scholar who rigorously theorized the dialectical relationships between state, authority, and legitimacy. Sociologist, philosopher, political scientist and historian, his work is most often known as a precursory foundation of what would later become historiography, demography and sociology. Although it informed the famous later works of Machiavelli and Hegel, its influence is too often overlooked.

Although contested by some parties, the general idea is that the 20th century was a time of great turmoil for the Arab world, torn between East and West and grappling with the identity and role of religion. , alongside economic struggles. The region bears the scars. These challenges have been compounded by the revolutions of the 21st century and the ever-tightening stranglehold of rising temperatures. Since the efforts of dozens of political scientists to address these issues have been compromised at best, examining the normative aspects of Ibn Khaldun’s treatises is a more applicable model for policy makers.

Nowhere is Ibn Khaldoun’s theory more relevant today than in the case of his native Tunisia. Faced with soaring global commodity prices, public debt at more than 100% of gross domestic product, and public protests, Tunisia has no choice but to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. President Kais Saied’s government has so far resisted the move because the $4 billion bailout would require a public sector wage bill freeze, subsidy reforms and restructuring of state-owned enterprises.

In a country like Tunisia, where the average household income is $130 a month, the idea that the state can reduce its subsidies and its responsibilities to the public is inconceivable. Although the IMF could impose short-term reforms, this would only delay the political fallout from a resulting increase in the cost of living. Just as a 37% rise in food prices preceded the Arab Spring, the emergency fiscal measures imposed by Washington would exacerbate existing tensions.

Nowhere is Ibn Khaldun’s theory more appropriate today than in the case of his native Tunisia.

Zaid M. Belbagi

Modern Tunisia has constantly struggled to feed and serve its growing population, amid coup, revolution and, more recently, counter-revolution. However, when using Ibn Khaldun’s model, this challenge is less confusing. Its concept of “asabiyyah” (social cohesion) regarding the kinship ties that held tribal societies together was split by the Tunisian experience of colonialism and was replaced by the modern republic. Where the tribe, then the Ottomans, the local bey, then France provided the central authority and with it the fiscal direction, what had been bound by long-defunct parties was subsumed by the state. Where this accountability might have enabled indigenous growth, strongman rule encouraged a weak but bloated state, leading to corruption at the expense of economic development.

Ibn Khaldun emphasized the centrality of value-added processes for the prosperity of any state. In Tunis, although civil society and female literacy are among the most advanced in the Arab world, the skills and infrastructure needed to take advantage of the country’s competitive advantages in terms of human capital, geography and climate are lacking. . Today, almost one in five of the country’s 11 million people are unemployed. The balance between “profit” and “subsistence” analyzed by Ibn Khaldoun was not respected and in Tunis, as elsewhere in the Arab world, only a restricted group benefited.

In “Al-Muqaddimah”, Khaldun states: “Civilization and its well-being, as well as the prosperity of enterprises, depend on the productivity and efforts of people in all directions for their own interest and profit. A business environment that limits productivity and fosters corruption was, for Ibn Khaldoun, doomed to decadence. This is exacerbated in Tunis, where new elites, much like the barbarians of Ibn Khaldun’s theories, have extended their control of the modern state, economically and politically, encouraging inefficient practices.

Ibn Khaldun argued that the purpose of law is the creation of justice. To this end, he saw the state as a necessary evil to contain excesses and injustice. “Government is an institution that prevents injustices other than those it commits itself,” he wrote. His emphasis on this principle was that civilization, the highest form of human achievement, required a set of rules and regulations to ensure a harmonious and orderly society. These rules were called Al-Adab Al-Sultaniyya (The Ordinances of the Government) and emphasized the need to adhere to both the state and the people to achieve a certain degree of societal functionality.

Given that the purpose of rules and regulations is to govern and regulate human actions, it is not surprising that as the rule of law collapsed in Tunisia from the late 1980s and the country has witnessed the excesses of the spiraling security forces and endemic corruption, it has simultaneously started to slip on the development indices.

The example of Tunisia today goes in the direction of underlining the importance of respecting the basic principles of Ibn Khaldoun when examining governance in the Arab world. Writing after seven key centuries, which saw both the great triumphs and catastrophes of Arab civilization, he provided a very important summary of the relationship between people and state, as well as the interplay between religion , economics and government.

Despite differing historical realities, perhaps Ibn Khaldun’s work most relevant to the Arab world today remains his analysis of sedentary and nomadic peoples, as well as modern Arab state violence and its articulation with the authority and legitimacy. The experience of rapid urbanization has created significant societal trauma in the Arab world and the disconnect between rural attitudes and principles and the faceless modernity of economic development has encouraged disparity, religious extremism and unemployment.

Where new states have been created on the model of asabiyyah, the psychological, sociological, economic and political changes wrought by colonization have created circumstances in which citizens expect the state to fill the vacuum of the tribe. And true to Ibn Khaldun’s model, bloated bureaucracies were created as a result. Ibn Khaldoun should be included in all Arab school curricula.

Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator and adviser to private clients between London and the GCC. Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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