I am particularly interested in this issue having written about the intimidation that public intellectuals in the Gulf face in The National in December 2010. Here's a link to the full article. In it I argued that Gulf intellectuals must be honoured rather than being persecuted.
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.
I use the example of the late Arab American intellectual giant Edward Said and ask at the very end of the article: "Finally, Gulf leaders should ponder the following: was Edward Said a threat or an asset?"
I must say that I can think of very few truly independent public intellectuals that are free to write and express themselves as they wish in the Arab Gulf States. Every Gulf state has intimidated through publishing bans and have gone as far as detaining public intellectuals who veer off the acceptable track. Recently, Saudi Arabia's Arab News paper published a courageous Op Ed by attorney Dr. Khalid Alnowaiser in which he argued against the introduction of a draconian new "Anti-Terrorism Law" that will most likely also be used to silence critics of government policies. Dr Alnowaiser illustrated the dilemma that Gulf public intellectuals face: how to publish a critical article inside a Gulf country without stepping on the feet of the official in question. Simple answer is to flatter the organisation that this individual heads, in the case of Saudi anti-terror efforts, the person in question is new Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz. Dr Al Nowaiser says: "Our government has succeeded particularly due to the wonderful efforts of the Ministry of Interior..". The Saudi Interior Ministry can perhaps be described with a variety of "safe" adjectives such as efficient, relentless and uncompromising, I would probably avoid using the word "wonderful" to describe it.
In response to my tweet: "As @kalnowaiser illustrates in this brave article, criticism in Gulf Op Eds must be tempered by flattery" the prominent Emirati columnist Mishaal Al Gergawi tweeted: "We all learned that lesson at some point, some harder than others." I am sure many Gulf intellectuals can relate to that.
Which brings me back to Fayez Al Shehri's point: There's no such thing as a "Gulf Public Intellectual" only "Public Intellectual works in progress"