Ehsan Masood in Prospect Magazine:
It is a scene I won’t forget in a hurry: Jean-Marie Lehn, French winner of the Nobel prize in chemistry, defending his atheism at a packed public conference at the new Alexandria Library in Egypt. In much of the Muslim world, talking about atheism in public is dangerous.
But the Alexandria Library is run by Ismail Serageldin, a Muslim intellectual who has a bold and ambitious project for Egypt. This is to create a place for dissent in public life. He wants to encourage people to grow thicker skins, help them appreciate that if Muslim societies want to return to the forefront of global intellectual life, they need to be comfortable with public dispute. The library is one place where open debate can take place—although this is partly because it is protected by having as its chair Suzanne Mubarak, wife of President Hosni Mubarak.
Serageldin is not alone. In my travels across the Muslim world, I am finding that what he (and others) are trying to do in Egypt is also happening elsewhere.