Intellectuals have dominated the 2018 rankings of Thought Leaders in the Arab world released Wednesday by Swiss think tank Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute (GDI), overshadowing religious figures across the region.
Saudi journalist Mohammed Alrotayyan is on top of the list, which includes 112 figures. His compatriot Salman al-Odah comes 7th as the highest ranked religious personality.
"Although Islam continues to play a prominent role in Arab debates, public intellectuals can exert influence far beyond theological discourses," reads the GDI report. "This is shown by this year's ranking of Thought Leaders in the Arab world."
Only eleven figures are under the categories of theology and religion on the list, which includes 12 authors among them The Saudi Arabian author Mohamad Hasan Alwan and UAE's Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi (3rd and 19th place respectively) and, seven novelists, seven media figures and six publicists.
Activists comprise the largest portion with 18 individuals, followed by 16 listed under politics. "An additional sign of a shift towards more secular debate is the good position of three opposition activists: the human rights activist Raif Badawi, imprisoned in Saudi Arabia (5th place), the Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman (shared 7th place) and the Tunisian Rached Ghannouchi (6th place)," the report says.
In GDI's first rankings for the Arab world in 2016, Islamic Egyptian preacher Amr Khaled comes on top, followed by Swiss Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies Tariq Ramadan and Egyptian Doha-based Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in second and third places. Al-Qaradawi, Khaled and Ramadan have moved back to10th, 12th and 31st places respectively in the 2018 rankings.
GDI's rankings are based on "measuring individuals' weight in global discourse" using the Coolhunting software, which analyzes data from Wikipedia, Twitter and the internet.
The GDI defines a thought leader as a "living person who works primarily as a thinker, and is known and influential beyond the borders of their discipline". However, active politicians and managers are not counted in as "their influence stems not so much from their ideas but from their actions".