Westphalian and Islamic Concepts of Sovereignty in the Middle East

The title is a chapter of the book “Re-envisioning Sovereignty” by Amin Saikal, First Published 2008, by Routledge. The following is an excerpt of its abstract.[1]

Westphalian understanding of Islamic sovereignty

The Islamic concept of sovereignty, although open to diverse interpretations, is radically distinct from the Westphalian understanding of the term.

An ideological understanding of Islamic sovereignty

In a classical sense, and in a nutshell, it implies an exercise of divine-based power and authority to enforce God's rule within an Islamic order in a borderless domain of the Muslim faithful, known as the Ummah. It resonates strongly with those who are known as Islamists or who in general believe in Islam as an ideology of political and social transformation of their societies as well as a primary and universal reference of identity.

Promoter of the Westphalian concept

The Westphalian meaning, promoted by the secular and semi-secular elites that have been dominant in most of the Middle Eastern Muslim countries, from Syria to Jordan to Tunisia and Morocco, has become pervasive among citizens throughout the region, even among those living under manifestly Islamic regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.