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Journal of Democracy 13.4 (2002) 183-187

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Documents on Democracy


On July 29, Egypt's State Security Court resentenced sociologist and prodemocracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, head of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, to seven years in prison. For more details on the case, see his "A Reply to My Accusers" in the Journal's October 2000 issue. Below are excerpts from Ibrahim's written statement, which he was not permitted to present in court:

One phrase summarizes and embodies the philosophy, spirit, goals and practices of the Ibn Khaldun Center, and that is "civil society." Civil society is the space where citizens come together voluntarily, guided by their free will, to exercise their right to free speech, their right to disagree, their right to innovate, their right to try, and even their right to make mistakes. It would be impossible for us to propagate these values and practices in Egypt and the Arab world unless we first practiced them inside the Center, in its modest premises in the Mokattam hills.

I believe that the members of this Honorable Court who are over 45 will remember that 15 years ago they never heard the phrase "civil society." This was not an expression used in spoken Egyptian or the Arabic language before the establishment of the Ibn Khaldun Center. If the Center has achieved a modest success, it is in the introduction of this phrase and the expansion of its common use and understanding in the Middle East. Indeed, this phrase is so important to us that the Center made it the title of its monthly magazine, its annual report, and its principal research program.

The expression became widespread, used by many layers of society, sometimes with understanding, sometimes with half-understanding or sometimes with no understanding at all. But the phrase became associated in the people's minds with positive things, even if they were not completely sure of them.

Again, if members of our Honorable Court go back in memory 15 years, or to books, magazines and newspapers dealing with public opinion, [End Page 183] they will not find the expression "transparency" being circulated or known. Another of the Ibn Khaldun Center's modest successes was to introduce the concept of transparency—meaning frankness and full disclosure in all public affairs that are important to the Arab world and the Arab citizen.

There was a signboard, seen by every researcher or visitor to the Ibn Khaldun Center, which said "We have no secrets to hide." This is why our activity reports, funds, and funding sources were known and published, either in the annual brochure, the board of trustees' periodic reports, or in the monthly magazine. . . . The trustees and researchers of Ibn Khaldun had no "forbiddens" since we operated with the methodology of and commitment to transparency. . . .

While the Center was physically closed on July 1st of the year 2000, the spirit and activities of Ibn Khaldun remain alive in the world, through those who were schooled in it—Egyptians, Arabs and other nationalities, and through those who had dealings with it—researchers, journalists and diplomats. This may help explain to you the worldwide interest in the case you are considering, and the seven thousand articles, news reports, and items of investigative journalism in the world's major papers and on international radio and television.

Civil society as a space for liberty is an essential condition for initiative and creativity. Thus, it is an essential precondition for sustained development in its most comprehensive definition. The political dimension of this broader development is political participation, i.e., democracy, which includes fundamentally the holding of free and fair elections. The trustees and researchers of the Ibn Khaldun Center believe that the system of a civil society is a comprehensive system; so if freedom is its foundation, democracy is its mechanism of practice.

The continuation of economic development, in its limited material definition, cannot be guaranteed without both social and political development. Freedom is a unity and cannot be divided; only a free person is capable to participate, initiate, create and produce effectively.

The only explanation...


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