The Rule of Law in the Arab World, Courts in Egypt and the Gulf Essay

               “The Rule of Law in the Arab World, Courts in Egypt and the Gulf” is a master class piece of thorough work of extensive research that leaves history students richer insofar as judicial history is concerned - The Rule of Law in the Arab World, Courts in Egypt and the Gulf Essay introduction. The author, Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and International affairs at George Washington University, chronicles the growth of the legal system in the Arab world from the late nineteen century to periods in the 20th century.

Various forms of judicial court system that transcends the contemporary Arab society to the days of European advances in Egypt are analyzed through well sequenced chapters from 1-8. By discussing the judicial system in Arab World, the author breaks new ground by detailing how ordinary citizens are affected by the system. Much emphasis is placed on the post-colonial regimes of the Arab societies.

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The main theme is the role of liberalism and imperial ideologies in the enactment of an independent judicial system in Egypt. It tries to ask questions like, why should Egyptian authority limit their power by having a legislation that is too independent by the standards and traditions of Arab World? How will this system affect fellow Arab leaders?

The Author himself answers such questions. Knowing that radical ideologies are bound to occur, ideologies that might otherwise erode their hold on to power, the leaders offer that such strict legal system will help keep the necessary state order.

While radical Islam continues to be a problem in neighboring countries like Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the reason for political stabilities in Egypt and the Gulf countries like United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar is thought to be the established legal system at hand.

The book does not just give an outsider’s perspective of legal systems in Arab world, but to the contrary gives views of personalities at the core of the legal fraternity. From Egyptian judges to the members of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the book gives a one on one perspective of the people who administer justice and those to whom justice is administered to.

While the book outlines scenes from Arab world, the Egyptian scene is widely used to contrast to its more volatile neighbors. That an Egyptian can free political extremists and snub the overtures from the executive, while looking outrageous in eyes of neighboring regimes, it is a usual thing in Egypt.

Many would expect a Sunni Islam state, where people identifies themselves first with religious orientation then country, to have in place Shariah compliant justice system, but not so in Egypt. Indeed Egypt is fundamentally a secular state where ideologies based on religion are frown upon.

In fact, the law of the land has banned radical Islamic groups like Muslim Brotherhood. Various scholars have based the signing of the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty on the liberal Egyptian justice system.

The various chapters deal with a different subject. The first chapter deals with The Arab courts in a comparative perspective. This gives the pre-colonial justice system and the influence of the Ottoman Empire and the French influence in most justice systems of the Arab world. The construction of the current legal system is traced from the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the Arab provinces, the start of World War 1 to the later days of French and British rule in Arab world. The Islamic influence on judicial system is heavily reflected in areas where the Europeans never came over for administration, like Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Thus justice systems started to be modeled on European styles in countries like Egypt and those in the gulf. The chapter goes on to show the emergence of the liberal legal fraternity and highlights the role of legal institutions in Arab societies.

The second chapter is dedicated to the creation and operation of the modern Egyptian legal system. The cover for the chapter involves the phases of changing systems from the late nineteen century to period just before the Second World War. The clamor for reforms came not from the ordinary citizens but from the rulers. The chapter highlights the process and nature mixed court systems that were differently tailored for the Egyptian and Europeans. From these mixed courts systems, there developed structuring and formation of National courts. The challenge in formation of these courts is highlighted. These national courts were formed with intension of an equal administration of justice and thus everyone irrespective of racial background was to be subject to these laws. The author goes to great length to analyze the relationship between the state and religion. While the executive holds the hard raw power in the national politics, the judiciary is shown to be an independent institution that overrides the unconstitutional actions of the executive.

The third and fourth chapters deal with the centralization, authoritarianism and socialism in Egypt plus the reemergence of liberal legality in Egypt. The 3rd chapter, covers the start of stronghold politics in the society from 1937 to 1971 when regimes started undermining the law and immediately consolidated power, centralizing all spheres of power to their arms’ length. This is also the period when during the prime time Egyptian-Israeli conflicts. The chapter also covers the rise of the socialism wave flowing in Egypt during the cold war when the leaders embraced socialism in opposition to the western policies on Israel. In the period, the independence of the judiciary was lost as nationalists’ interest took centre stage. The fourth is about the reemergence of liberal and independence judicial system back in society from 1971 to 1996.

The fifth and sixth chapters focus attention on the reform process of the judicial justice system in the Gulf States of Kuwait and Qatar.

From an independent point of view, the author summarizes the initiation process for the transformation of the justice and courts process of these new rich states in the Gulf. Despite their enforcement of moderate Islamic laws, the authorities with help of Egyptian authorities and scholars are able to structurally alter their laws to model the Egyptian independent system. In trying to show the transformation process, the author gives the challenges faced by the opposing voices to moderate the laws. It is seen that the Egyptian role in judicial reform in the Gulf States is growing.

The sixth focuses on the final adoption of a new rule of law in Kuwait and Qatar and the challenges in relation to Egyptian scenario. This must be seen in the context of their different ideological orientation. While Egyptian authorities have managed to allow liberal society with no officially sanctioned religious doctrines, the gulf states of Qatar and Kuwait are still a little conservative when it comes to the matters of state and religion.

            The last two chapters deal with the main users of these independent courts. It is seen that the political authorities in Egypt have continued to feel the power of these courts. Litigations brought by common citizens challenging certain aspects of actions that they feel are unconstitutional such as political activists who suffer detention without trial. Politically motivated charges have been thrown out by the assertive judges who hate to see their reputation ruined for following the whims of political leaders. Business owners also form a majority of the beneficiaries of such an independent system.

       The conclusion ends with overlook of the way ahead and ways for other neighboring states in following suit and the expected role of Egyptian legal stakeholders in spreading and defending its independence


Brown, J. N.  (1997). The Rule of Law in the Arab World, Courts in Egypt and the Gulf. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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