Azmi Bishara

Azmi Bishara (1956) is a Palestinian writer and intelectual.Azmi Bishara He was born in Nazareth and there he attended Nazarteh Baptist School, where he established the first National Committee of Arab High Scholl Students, becoming its chairman in 1974.

He studied at Haifa University and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where in 1976 he founded and headed the Arab Student Union. In the same year, he was instrumental in setting up the Arab Student Committees and Campus Lands Defense Committee against the occupation of the Israeli-occupied territories. At the time he was a member of the Israeli Communist Party Rakah and supported an Internationalist-Marxist political agenda.

Upon completing his PhD in philosophy at Humbodt University in Berlin (PHD thesis titled: The Hegelian Unity of the Logical and Historical in the Methodology of the Capital of Karl Marx) he joined the faculty of Bir Zeit University in 1986, and went on to head the philosophy and political science departments until 1993-1995.

Dr. Bishara was the director of research at the Van Leer Institute between 1990 and 1996 and was active in presenting the Palestinian cause for the Israeli and European and American public opinion the during the first Intifada 1987-. Azmi Bishara is the chairman of the Board of trustees of “Muwatin”, the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, in Ramallah, the most important research center in the West Bank which he co-founded. He also founded the first Arab research Institute for Applied Social Sciences inside the “green line” (1948) “Mada” in Haifa.

Dr. Bishara publishes in Arabic, English, German and Hebrew, writing articles and editing books on issues of nationalism, national minority rights in Israel, democracy and civil society, Islam and democracy and the Palestinian question both in and outside the Green Line. He is the editor of a book on the philosophy of enlightenment 1997, a book on identity and construction of identities 1995.  Bishara contributed articles to tens of books that deal with Islam and democracy, the Palestinian Issue, and minority rights he also edited a series of fifteen brochures and school books for teaching democracy and democratic principles.

Author and editor of the following books: – (ed.) The Enlightenment- an unfinished Project, 1995. – A Contribution to the Criticism of Civil society, 1996. – (ed.) On the Construction of Identities, 1997. – A Reading in a Ruptured Political Discourse, 1998. – The Arabs in Israel- a view from within, 1999. – The Palestinian Intifada and its reflections in the Israeli public opinion, 2001. – Theses on a Deferred Awakening, 2002. – From the Jewishness of the State to Sharon, 2004. – The Arab Question, 2007. –The Meaning of being an Arab in Present, 2009. – Palestine and the Culture of Liberty, 2010. – Tunisia: The Diary of a Resplendent Revolution in the Making, 2012. – On Revolution and Susceptibility to Revolution, 2012. – Does Egypt have a “Coptic Question”? , 2012. – Syria: A Path of Freedom from Suffering: An Attempt in Contemporary History (March 2011 – March 2013), 2013. – Religion and Secularism: in a Historical Context (Part One): Religion and Religiosity, 2013. – Religion and Secularism: in a Historical Context (Part II, Volume 1): Secularism and Secularisation: In the History of Ideas, 2015. – Religion and Secularism: The Historical Context (Part II, Volume 2): Secularism and Secularisation Theories, 2015.

Azmi Bishara also published the following literary works:The Checkpoint- fragments of a novel, 2003. – Love in the Shadow’s Zone, 2005. – The Song of Songs that is Ours. A Text, 2008. – Fosul, 2009.

Some of his work:

Civil Society

Despite it’s having been published in five editions (three in Lebanon and two in Palestine), this book maintains its theoretical significance as a landmark work in its sixth edition, which has now been published by the ACRPS. The book’s value and relevance are only increased today in the midst of the Arab revolutions, which have restated the importance of the concept, effectiveness, and role of civil society.

The book discusses the idea of civil society and the historical conditions for its emergence, notably the separation of civil society from the state, as well as concepts of the nation, nationalism, citizenship and democracy. The book is primarily a theoretical work in which the author attempts to retrace the history of Western political thought in the context of the social shifts that have accompanied and affected its evolution. In addition, the book offers a critical deconstruction of the concept of civil society, after it had become widespread and over-used in daily writings, causing it to lose its explanatory value and critical effect, making it synonymous with the concept of the national society. Dr. Bishara lists the functions of civil society, which necessarily lead to democracy, arguing that civil society has a history that is linked to politics, the economy, and the evolution of the notions of society and state in the face of both “organic communities” and the tools of coercion employed by the state to establish and maintain its dominance. The author reaches the conclusion that civil society is an intellectual and historical process leading to full-fledged citizenship and genuine democracy.

This sixth edition also includes an expansive new introduction (400 pages long) by Dr. Bishara in which he recounts the history of the emergence of the idea of civil society in the Arab world, arguing that its appearance and impressive spread during the 1990s was a form of compensation for the chill afflicting the Arab intellectual at the time, with the Arab intelligentsia withdrawing from politics due to the retreat of leftist and nationalist ideologies. As a result, most of those who adopted this new concept came from the ranks of the left and the Arab nationalist movements. These evolutions took place alongside the collapse of the Soviet Union, the crisis that overtook the Arab world with the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. As these events pushed many intellectuals out of politics, some former leftists sought to reduce civil society to “non-governmental organizations”. These days, however, the intellectual has returned to the political arena with the eruption of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Arab intellectuals are engaging in the revolutionary act with their ideas, their public stands, and even their bodies. In light of all this, Dr. Bishara concludes that when it is devoid of politics and outside the context of the democratic struggle, civil society is in fact an abortion of its own historical essence.

On a different front, the book also focuses on the distinction between the nation (ummah) and nationalism, drawing the epistemological and methodological borders between the two concepts. In this respect, Dr. Bishara stresses the notion of the citizens’ nation, which is a nation beyond the nation-state borders, and a civil society domestically. As for citizenship, it surpasses cultural, ethnic, sectarian, and tribal identities, while nationalism is based on language. It is on these two bases that civil society can be built and established in the Arab world.

In the short term, the author expresses concern that the struggle against political regimes in the Arab world could become one over identities, an event that could fragment “the national bond”, preventing the formation of the citizens’ nation. He notes, for example, that in Yemen, civil society is advancing with confidence, but with great difficulty, by simultaneously distinguishing itself from the state, the tribe, and the military. In Libya, it appears that the notion of citizenship is facing a struggle on two fronts: against foreign intervention, which degrades national policy, and against the revival of tribalism and regionalism. Dr. Bishara also criticizes the boundless praise heaped on Arab youth, which resembles the odes sung by Arab intellectuals to civil society when they first discovered the concept. He argues that this flattery misguides Arab youth, presenting them as a political faction or a homogeneous political camp, neither of which conforms with reality.

The Arabs in Israel – For most in the West, Israel today is a democracy, a state where every citizen has the right to vote. The Arabs in Israel describes, with clear incisive writing, the context of the harsh discrimination against Arab Israelis and documents the campaign designed to undermine and, ultimately, destroy their Arab Palestinian identity.



Interview: Azmi Bisharaideo


Further reading:

-What the persecution of Azmi Bishara means for Palestine

An Interview with Azmi Bishara






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