IPI HomeEventsPanel DiscussionsRiahi: Arab Intellectuals “Unknown Soldiers” of the Revolution

 

print print  |  share share back back

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

The Search for Federal Solutions
The continuing spread of conflicts across the Middle East and Africa demonstrates the inadequacy of the centralized-state system and the growing appeal of federal solutions.

Key Global Events to Watch in August
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, 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.

Recent Events

July 17, 2014
EU and UN Seek Ways to Improve Cooperation in Peacekeeping
The European Union is among the strongest supporters of UN peacekeeping missions around the globe, but the growing challenges faced by UN-led operations have raised the need for better EU-UN cooperation, both on the ground and at the planning level.

July 07, 2014
IPI Hosts African Junior Fellows
The sixth annual African Junior Professionals Fellowship Program at IPI brought ten African scholars to New York for a month-long familiarization with the United Nations and the related think tank community, from July 7-31 2014.

July 01, 2014
SRSG Johnson: South Sudan Crisis Changed UNMISS “Mindset”
Hilde Johnson, the outgoing Head of the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), gave an overflow IPI audience a dramatic account of the challenging situation that has faced the United Nations in the country since the eruption of mass violence at the end of last year.

View More