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100 Influential Voices from
the Arab World


The 100 Influential Voices from the Arab World is an ongoing research project on leading voices and themes in Arab public discourse. The principal investigator is Hassan I. Mneimneh.

Recent history has left its mark on Arab public culture across a less-than-unified Arab world. Liberals, nationalists, leftists, separatists, secularists, and myriad types of Islamists compete to lay their claim on societies that noticeably lack convincing forms of political and socio-cultural representation. Assessments of the configuration of these public intellectuals are often utilitarian exercises that emerge in reaction to events. In particular, since September 11th, 2001, it has become of value for United States policy and opinion circles to understand the composition and orientation of the major players in Arab public culture. The temptation of the binary division has proved so far to be irresistible: moderates versus extremists; friends and enemies.

It is estimated that approximately 350 million people use Arabic as a primary language of communication. Spread over diverse societies and states, straddling North Africa and Southwest Asia, and expanding noticeably into sub-Saharan Africa and Europe, this linguistic community brings together dramatically different nationalities, ethnicities, and lifestyles. Even linguistically, this community is not exclusive: some native speakers of forms of Arabic may prefer to communicate in languages other than Arabic, while many non-native speakers of the language may have adapted one of its forms for their communication purposes. Yet, elements of commonality and shared concerns cut across this Arabic language domain.

The 100 Influential Voices from the Arab World was conceived as a pro-active way to measure the current status, distribution, and configuration of Arab culture, in order to highlight existing and emerging trends within it, with a focus on leading opinion makers across its diverse realm. The list is an attempt to provide the reader with a snapshot of the multiple facets of the Arab political and cultural debate, and to confront the prevailing view in the international media that we live in a world of us versus them, moderates versus extremists, friends and enemies.

The voices featured below define much of the cultural conversation in the Arab world today. Some are well-known, others, less known, represent growing trends and forces with the potential to reshape many aspects of the contemporary debate. Chosen on the basis of individual merit, these voices span most of the Arab world, both geographically and ideologically. Individually, each voice is unique. Collectively, they illustrate the complexity and diversity of Arab culture and the underlying public that consumes their output. With few exceptions, the year 2008 was chosen as a baseline for this overview.

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