Great editorial from Emirati columnist Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi on the importance of supporting independent critical thought. He notes that several Arab governments have recently jailed professors and lawyers for making public statements they didn’t want to hear. He chides these governments and offers a robust defense of the benefit of open public discourse:
The significance of this growing group of intellectuals, whether they act on behalf of their governments or on their own, should not be underestimated. The value to society of these lawyers, scholars, columnists and professors stems from the fact that they have an independent critical thinking process. Independent public intellectuals provide a much needed critique of society as well as of government plans and expenditures. Public intellectuals reflect the conscience of society and should not be regarded as a threat, but as part and parcel of the community. More often than not, they are concerned with the advancement of society.
Ideally, a healthy balance of liberal, secular and religious public intellectuals should be allowed to flourish so that Gulf societies can advance in a stable manner. In the majlis of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed as well as in certain dewaneyas in Kuwait, intellectuals of various backgrounds from across the world are feted and given a platform to share their thoughts. If the leadership in the UAE understands the role of intellectuals, members of society at large and other government officials should enlighten themselves. Independent public intellectuals are a complementary voice to governments in the Gulf.
His point should not be missed. Many leaders in the Gulf (particularly here in the UAE) understand and value the role of open comment and criticism — but we will have to work to spread that commitment to the entire society. For this region, It’s a novel approach.