Why Arab Intellectuals Missed Arab Spring

No Thomas Paines, no Vaclav Havels—and maybe that's a good thing
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 30, 2011 7:39 AM CDT
Thousands of Bahrainis listen to speeches and raise flags of Bahrain, top, and Libya yesterday, during a rally in the western village of Hajar, Bahrain.   (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

(Newser) – The Arab Spring protests that have roiled the Middle East for the past 10 months may have ousted dictators and brought more democracy to the region, but they've done so with precious little help from the Arab world's intellectuals, writes Robert Worth in an analysis in the New York Times. After years of being suppressed into silence or bought off with oil money, no intellectuals have risen up to give voice or face to these revolutions—no Thomas Paines, no Vaclav Havels, no Vladimir Lenins.

The few remaining independent Arab intellectuals may support the uprisings, but they've been followers, like everyone else, not leaders. And for some, that's as it should be. “I don’t think there is a need for intellectuals to spearhead any revolution,” said an Iraq-born poet who teaches at New York University. “It is no longer a movement to be led by heroes.” And while many think that in the age of social media, movements no longer need grand leaders, others are skeptical because of past revolutionaries: "Let the killing of Gadhafi be a lesson to the revolutionaries as much as to the rulers,” one Arab user tweeted last week. “And let revolutionaries everywhere remember that Gadhafi came to power by making his own revolution 40 years ago."

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