Enlightenment on the Eve of Revolution

The Egyptian and Syrian Debates

Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab

Columbia University Press

Enlightenment on the Eve of Revolution

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Pub Date: May 2019

ISBN: 9780231176330

240 Pages

Format: Paperback

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Pub Date: May 2019

ISBN: 9780231176323

240 Pages

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Pub Date: May 2019

ISBN: 9780231549677

240 Pages

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Enlightenment on the Eve of Revolution

The Egyptian and Syrian Debates

Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab

Columbia University Press

During the two decades that preceded the 2011 revolutions in Egypt and Syria, animated debates took place in Cairo and Damascus on political and social goals for the future. Egyptian and Syrian intellectuals argued over the meaning of tanwir, Arabic for “enlightenment,” and its significance for contemporary politics. They took up questions of human dignity, liberty, reason, tolerance, civil society, democracy, and violence. In Enlightenment on the Eve of Revolution, Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab offers a groundbreaking analysis of the tanwir debates and their import for the 2011 uprisings.

Kassab locates these debates in their local context as well as in broader contemporary political and intellectual Arab history. She argues that the enlightenment they advocated was a form of political humanism that demanded the right of free and public use of reason. By calling for the restoration of human dignity and seeking a moral compass in the wake of the destruction wrought by brutal regimes, they understood tanwir as a humanist ideal. Kassab connects their debates to the Arab uprisings, arguing that their demands bear a striking resemblance to what was voiced on the streets of Egypt and Syria in 2011. Enlightenment on the Eve of Revolution is the first book to document these debates for the Anglophone audience and to analyze their importance for contemporary Egyptian and Syrian intellectual life and politics.
In Enlightenment on the Eve of Revolution, Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab does what we always needed but lacked in our understanding of the transnational uprisings the world has known as the 'Arab Spring.' She gives eloquent and precise voice to the revolutionary reasons behind the dramatic euphoria of those massive revolts. In doing so she does more than just being a responsible and deeply informed historian of ideas. She critically pushes those ideas toward the distant boundaries of their next epistemic breakthroughs. This is a work of profound intellectual integrity by a leading Arab thinker of her generation. Hamid Dabashi, author of The Arab Spring: The End of Postcoloniality
Kassab uncovers a rich and varied debate taking place in Arabic starting in the 1990s and centered on notions of tanwir (Enlightenment) that provides important context for understanding the Arab uprisings, particularly in Egypt and Syria, as well as for gauging their inherent possibilities, even as their full outcome yet remains unknown. Michaelle Browers, author of Political Ideology in the Arab World: Accommodation and Transformation
Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab, a leading expert on contemporary Arab thought, invites us on an extraordinary journey into the inner intellectual life of a generation on the eve of revolution. Lucid, powerful, and essential. Yoav Di-Capua, author of No Exit: Arab Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Decolonization
Enlightenment on the Eve of Revolution is an indispensable addition to the literature about the Arab Spring. Tackling immensely important, previously unanswered questions regarding the modern Arab world, Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab gives intellectual and cultural context to new Arab movements. Orit Bashkin, author of The Other Iraq: Pluralism and Culture in Hashemite Iraq
Acknowledgments
Introduction
Part I. Cairo
1. Secularist, Governmental, and Islamist Tanwir Debates in Egypt in the 1990s
2. The Deconstruction of the 1990s Egyptian Tanwir Debates by Egyptian Critics at the Turn of the Millennium
Part II. Damascus
3. Tanwir Debates in Syria in the 1990s: The Sisyphean Moment
4. Tanwir and the Damascus Spring at the Turn of the Millennium: The Promethean Moment
Conclusion: Tanwir as Political Humanism
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab (PhD, Philosophy, Fribourg) is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Head of Program at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies in Qatar. She is the author of Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspective (Columbia, 2010), which received the 2013 Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Contribution to the Development of Nations, one of the most prestigious and well-funded prizes in the Arab world. Kassab has been a research fellow at Columbia (2000-2004) and a visiting professor at Columbia's Middle East Institute (2008), among other previous appointments. Her interests include modern and contemporary Arab philosophy, postcolonial cultural critique, and modern European philosophy.