A word on Intellectuals and Revolutions

With the Arab revolutions, the old Marxist inspired question of intellectuals and their role in revolutions regained its importance. In Egypt, the post-revolutionary celebrations gave way to a bitter realization that most intellectuals were in the rear of the battle not in its frontlines – as leftist ideologies had promised. Two contradictory and extreme discourses followed. The first one boldly stated that intellectuals betrayed the revolution, while the second one boasted on the contrary that they provoked it. The intensity of these discourses was at the measure of danger for not being accused of reactionary tendencies – no one wished to be compared the Syrian poet Adonis. The threat of digging up past sins was constant, but, thanks to God, intellectuals were also humans and their courting of the fallen regime could be attributed to human weakness. As Bourdieu said, revolutionary moments offer the best opportunity for the weak to wage the cultural wars against the strong in the intellectual field. It is insightful to explore strategies, arguments and discourses formulated by the powerful to protect themselves and saveguard their power positions. 

This blog is about Arab – mostly Egyptian – intellectuals representing higher and official culture. It’s about yesterday’s Pachas and Beks, and today’s Doktors and Ostazs. It’s about those moments when the contradictions hidden deep in the intellectual identity come to the surface : the gatekeeper of the symbolic order and its contester, the interpreter of a revolution and its actor, the guardian of the order and the agent to change. It’s about intellectuals acting under pressure.

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Little Lenin with a full shewal of intellectuals, 1881

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