During the long Ottoman nineteenth century, as guilds waned, new professions started to appear in a bid to second the Empire’s reforming drive (later framing its colonized former provinces). The protracted process of social differentiation that gripped the scholarly and scribal ‘estate’ brought some of its members in the employ of the centralizing state’s new institutions (as translators, teachers, editors and correctors of printed books, etc.), while it pitted others against the publicity and commodiﬁcation that sanctioned the new occupations. Another fringe resolutely engaged in both ‘old’ and ‘new’, copying and glossing manuscripts, but also printing or editing books, if not in one breath, at least within one generation and often within the same family. This fact of modern Middle East history complicates our apprehension of print culture, not so much however in the sense of relativizing its revolutionary effect,1 as in highlighting the signiﬁcance of the overlaps it enabled. As the tax-farming scholar (ʽālim multazim) was taking a bow, and before the alienated ﬁgure of the modern intellectual (muthaqqaf ) came to prevail on the cultural scene of contemporary Arab societies,2 novel types of intellectuals began to emerge and differentiate. Gradually or less so, the scholar (ʽālim) and/or the man of Letters (adīb) morphed into the journalist (ṣiḥāfī) and/or the public writer (kātib ʽāmm).3 Despite the still ﬂedgling status of the publicist and popularizing writer, this morphing resolutely led to a wholesale assumption of this new social role which catered for the public interest. Even more remarkably perhaps, it brought cohorts from among the new professionals (doctors, engineers, teachers and lawyers, but also functionaries) to endorse this new public role as an integral part of their own self-image. This dual preoccupation with self-deﬁnition and with all things public (and the manner with which each affected the other) lies at the heart of this volume. The Arab intellectual mapped his/her public and deﬁned his/her interest and was ‘made’ in return. The making of the modern Arab intellectual, like any other, obtained therefore in the public sphere, i.e. in that legal-social realm where modern political subjectivities usually negotiate rights and obligations. The public sphere of his/her making was however ﬁtted in an interstice between
Empire and Colony, i.e. in a dysfunctional space of competing raisons d’Etat, a space of over and under-regulation all at once, which hindered accountability and upset allegiances. The community that the Arab intellectual eventually imagined sat astride many a polity and never became contained by postcolonial states. This was partly because Pan-Islam or Pan-Arabism never fully realized the institutions of their inclusive ambitions, partly because the nation-states that eventually took over were reluctant/unable to overcome, within their sovereign borders, the initial fault line of the imperial-colonial public sphere. The impotence (ʽajz) described by E. Kassab as characterizing the contemporary Arab intellectual is surely grounded in the present political deadlocks but also in the fact that the horizon of possibility and expectations had, until recently (and still perhaps beyond the Arab Spring: the winner of the Tunisian elections is, after all, a party called al-Nahḍa!), its coordinates in the colonial past. A witness to this is the enduring centrality of (an idealized) Egypt; and the (incomprehensibly) resilient trope of reform (iṣlāḥ). The public sphere paradigm does not only seem to provide a signiﬁcant frame for understanding the colonial-imperial predicament of the Arab Middle East. With its rooting of identity in the dynamics of public engagement, it waives the ‘impact’ paradigms, whether in their soft or hard guise (respectively, the ‘Coming of the West’, the ‘Clash of Civilizations’). Why this has not served as the basis for, or operative paradigm in, a renewed intellectual history of the Middle East is a question that might be answered by taking a journey into the historiography of Middle East Studies.