Overthrowing the ruler doesn't mean overthrowing the state

Overthrowing the ruler doesn't mean overthrowing the state
Comment: Repressive regimes in the region equate themselves with the state; this argument is not just incorrect, it can be used to justify horrific acts of repression.
4 min read
27 Jan, 2015
Protesters must learn the difference between the regime and the state [Anadolu]

Four years after the start of the Arab Spring, the ruling regimes and their heirs have succeeded in subverting the demands of the people who took to the streets. The struggle to change the ruling regimes, reform institutions and achieve popular demands has successfully been portrayed as the state's existential struggle against conspirators who want to destroy the state.

This portrayal neglects the fact that a state threatened by the demands of its population, even if foreign powers intervene in support of their own interests, is weak - a failed state that cannot guarantee its own survival.

When the struggle is between an authority that clings to power, or seizes power by force, the issue is no longer a struggle against the state or a conspiracy to destroy it. A more appropriate description of such as situation is a ruling authority that refuses to accept the will of the people, or ignores the will of a segment of the population and denies them their full rights as citizens.

A state threatened by the demands of its own population is weak - a failed state that cannot even guarantee its own survival.

Such a state lacks an essential component, which is enjoying at least tacit support of its population, without excluding or victimising a segment, a group or a sect - even if such an exploited sect is limited in number and influence.

One of the basic tenets of liberal democracy is that it protects minority rights without imposing the majority's will upon them.

If a state lacks this essential element it becomes a state business, serving the interests of the partner with the largest shares. It is a jungle in which the strongest rules. In such a state it is natural for the strongest segment of society to accuse the smaller, weaker segments of rebelling and working against interests of "the country" or against the will of "the people", even though minority groups are part of the population.


The most dangerous misconception is the conflation of authority and the ruling regime with the state, as ruling authority is one of the state's three basic components: land, people, and a sovereign ruling authority.

How the US abandoned its Arab friends: Read Badr al-Ibrahim's commentary here

Considering the ruling authority as the state removes the population from the equation of statehood and gives the rulers ownership and authority over the land and everything on and in it.

The equation of the ruling authority or system with the state not only contravenes the most basic principles of political science and governance, but also reduces the state to its governing institutions. It makes the complete submission to that ruling authority a sacred duty, and opposition to that authority an act of treason.

As the Arab Spring was a clear and resonant declaration of the people's will to liberate themselves of this patriarchal despots, it is quite obvious those in power would fight to maintain their hold on power and their ownership of the state, people and land included.

Thus the fighting in Syria, Libya and Yemen, the attempt of the old regime to regain power in Tunisia, and the actual reclaiming of power in Egypt was all a matter of self-defence - not in defence of the state, but an attempt to retrieve authority from a population that attempted to strip authority from those in power.

The Arab Spring was a clear and resonant declaration of the people's will to liberate themselves of these patriarchal despots.

If all that fighting was to protect the state, those in power would have protected the lives of the population who were the backbone of the state - while corrupt officials would have been held accountable, or policies would have changed and citizens would have enjoyed some of their rights and at least a modicum of respect.

However, what happened in Egypt was that a few months after the 3 July coup, the authorities were more oppressive than in the decades under Hosni Mubarak's regime - and in Libya, Khalifa Haftar, one of Gaddafi's former generals, took up arms against the Islamists who had fought Gaddafi.

Further, former Yemeni President Abdullah Saleh assisted the recent Houthi takeover of the Yemeni state, while Bashar al-Assad's forces killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

Morsi and Sisi - A vaudeville act dooming Egypt: Read Bilal Fadl's commentary here

These are the procedures and policies that were implemented and continue to be implemented under the excuse of protecting the state, though they are actually destroying the state.

Changing the governing authority or reforming the system does not mean overthrowing the state, as the ruler is not the state. The people own the land and hold sovereignty.

The ruler is the deputy of the people, and authority can be granted or withdrawn from him.

The people are the basis of the state, not the ruler.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.