Panel Discussions - Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Riahi: Arab Intellectuals “Unknown Soldiers” of the Revolution
“We were the unknown soldiers who were moving and controlling the opposition,” Kamel Riahi, an award-winning Tunisian novelist and critic of the previous regime, said at an IPI event while reflecting on the role of intellectuals in the Tunisian revolution. “Their voices may have grown dimmer after the revolution, but, for the revolution, they were decisive, they were suicidal in their confrontation of authority,” he said.
Speaking alongside Mr. Riahi at the November 16th Arab Intellectuals Series event was bestselling Egyptian novelist Khaled Al-Khamissi, whose work focuses on social ills and political repression in Egypt. Putting the Egyptian uprising in larger context, Mr. Al-Khamissi said that the 2005 parliamentary elections—perceived as heavily rigged—marked a pivotal turning point. “We have experienced a complete cultural revolution that came in tandem with what we would qualify as a revolution, i.e., protest movements inside specific social circles. This slowly and gradually culminated, and is still continuing.”
Previously, he said, intellectuals had been tamed by Hosni Mubarak’s regime. “These intellectuals were basically a bunch of chickens, put in a chicken coop, and the political regime just had to feed these chickens and keep them happy and nobody was the wiser.” Now, he said, “These chickens have disappeared.”
Mr. Al-Khamissi also warned that the outcome of the revolutions has yet to be determined. “It is extremely dangerous to imagine that what is happening today in Egypt, Tunisia, or in other states in the Arab world, is the final chapter,” he said. “Rather, we are writing the first letters of the first words of the introduction; we have not even started with the first chapter. This is an introduction that we have come a long way in writing.”
In Egypt, Mr. Al-Khamissi said, it was a threat to financial interests and the possible emergence of organized revolutionary figures or parties, rather than benevolence, that guided the Army to drop their support of then-President Mubarak in February. Since then, he said, “eighty percent of Egyptians find this period as a very bad period.”
“The Tunisia situation is completely different,” said Mr. Riahi. “The Tunisian army is almost a civilian army. It’s a completely neutral institution, and in the revolution, it was no longer neutral. Rather, it took the side of the people.”
However, if extremists were to subvert the democratic process, Mr. Riahi said, “We are ready to go back to the streets and face any maneuver to go around our revolution.” He quoted from Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi’s poetry: “ ‘If the people ever want life one day, then destiny shall respond’,” adding, “And destiny shall respond to the Tunisian people through those we have elected, or through others.”
The event was moderated by Abdullah Alsaidi, IPI Senior Fellow and the former Ambassador of Yemen to the United Nations.
Listen to Global Observatory interview with Khaled Al-Khamissi >>
Watch video of event:
The Global Observatory
UN Strikes Back as Conflict Escalates in Mali
To achieve long-term stability, Mali’s leaders and partners will need to think in terms of years of reconstruction and peacebuilding.
Key Global Events to Watch in January
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.
2015: Ten Multilateral Events to Watch This Year
A list of ten events that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2015, compiled by IPI’s Francesco Mancini.
The Global Observatory, produced by IPI, provides timely analysis on peace and security issues, interviews with leading policymakers, interactive maps, and more.
January 20, 2015
Mongolian Foreign Policy Between ''Two Giants''
On January 20, Mongolia’s new Foreign Minister Purevsuren Lundeg visited the IPI Vienna office and gave an informal briefing on Mongolia’s contemporary foreign policy priorities and challenges.
January 20, 2015
Dutch FM Koenders: ''The Security Council Has to Change''
Speaking to an overflow IPI audience on January 20th, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders acknowledged how far the United Nations has come since its inception 70 years ago but said that the organization still “has a lot of growing up to do.”
December 15, 2014
Fathi: Iran and the Struggle Between Hardliners and Reformers
Discussing her new book The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran at IPI on December 15th, author Nazila Fathi said that 35 years after the revolution, Iran is divided between hardliners and a large moderate middle class, but admitted that it is still unclear which of the two sides will gain the upper hand.
September 25, 2014
IPI Remembers Margaret Vogt