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
Nelson Mandela: Man and Awesome Phenomenon
A former member of the South African Parliament reflects on Mandela's warmth and generosity.
Ordinary Fears, Extraordinary Man: The Legacy of Nelson Mandela
As a young South African diplomat during the apartheid-to-democracy transition, Cedric de Coning witnessed the humility and power of a flawed statesman.
Key Global Events to Watch in December
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.
Top 10 Issues to Watch in 2013: The Multilateral Arena
Ten key issues that are likely to impact global affairs in international peace, security, and development.
The Global Observatory, produced by IPI, provides timely analysis on peace and security issues, interviews with leading policymakers, interactive maps, and more.
December 02, 2013
Latin America Focus of Fourth ''Being a Peacekeeper'' Event
On December 2-3, IPI brought together 24 representatives from eleven Latin American countries with senior officials from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support to discuss the current state—as well as the future—of Latin American military and police contributions to UN peacekeeping operations.
November 28, 2013
Energy and Security in the Arctic: A New “Frozen” Conflict?
Is the Arctic a “region of cooperation,” or will competition for its potentially rich energy resources lead to conflict in the high north? This was the main question addressed during an expert workshop held in The Hague on November 28th by the International Peace Institute together with the International Gas Union and the Clingendael International Energy Programme.
November 22, 2013
Can Technology Play a Role in Drafting a Constitution?
The effects that new technologies can have on constitutional processes was the topic of this November 22nd IPI roundtable discussion. Approximately five new constitutions are written around the world every year, and their legitimacy is increasingly influenced by a new level of public participation in their drafting, not merely by a plebiscite on the final text. As rapidly advancing technology changes the way that governments and citizens interact, what role are new technologies playing in constitutions?