Given the media hype and attention devoted to the events of the 2010–2011 ‘Arab Spring’ it may perhaps be overlooked that the Arabs, and more than many other nations, possess long experience with diverse and profound long-term revolutions in the twentieth century. For numerous reasons and especially the sweeping and pervasive socio-economic and political changes some of these introduced, they may well be more appropriately categorized as ‘revolutions’ than those termed as such at the moment. This article explores one dimension of this phenomenon and demonstrates that the concept of what was specifically termed a ‘cultural revolution’ (originally by Lenin about 1923) was first introduced in the Arab world by Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasser on 19 December 1961, nearly four years before Mao Tse Tung's launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966. For his part, Mu‘ammar Qadhafi, who admitted borrowing the term (if not the mechanism) from Mao, would announce a ‘cultural revolution’ with markedly different connotations on 15 April 1973 at Zuwarah, which signalled the beginning of the road towards implementation of the ‘Third Universal Theory’ (reaching final form in the Green Book) and the subsequent inception of the Jamahiriya in 1977. Although the theoretical and practical implications were distinct for Lenin, Nasser, Mao and Qadhafi, history suggests that it was Nasser – the giant of Pan-Arabism who would come to define and represent Arab socialism – who preceded Mao as the first to call for a ‘cultural revolution’ as a policy at the level of state. He saw this as indispensable to the project of political and socio-economic revolution in the service of a just and sufficient society, where ‘sound democracy’ was not the pro-forma Western variant in the service of unmitigated capitalism and powerful elites, but rather an expression of socio-economic parity and a guarantee against exploitation by one group or one human being of another.

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