Language as a barrier to political reform in the Middle East

Ami Ayalon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Political reform in the Middle East has been largely inspired by foreign models. Ideas such as liberalism, parliaments, and constitutions have been borrowed from Europe, superimposed on local foundations, and assimilated, with varying degrees of resemblance to the original prototypes. The foreign ideas were initially conveyed to the region's society through local idioms. But since local languages were by definition inadequately equipped for the task, concepts were loosely represented and conceived. The discussion of these ideas during the formative phase was marked by ambiguity, which in turn seems to have impeded their assimilation. Taking Arabic as an example, the paper illustrates these difficulties by focusing on three political terms: majlis, nuwwāb, and shūrā - three old words applied to modern concepts. That they carried traditional connotations often resulted in equivocalness and loose communication of the new ideas, indirectly hampering reform itself. Typical of the nineteenth century, the phenomenon persisted in some sectors well into the second half of the twentieth century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-80
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number137
StatePublished - 1999


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