Below The Beltway

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Bloggers Taking On The State

by @ 10:16 am on November 12, 2006. Filed under Blogging, Middle East, Saudi Arabia

In the Arab world no less:

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia — When he was a college student in Washington state, Saudi Arabia’s most popular blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, donned a T-shirt emblazoned with “Animal Rights Equals Human Rights” and slept on the campus lawn during a hunger strike protesting the slaughter of foxes.

That type of freedom during six years in the United States gave Farhan a taste for expressing himself that he was unable to satisfy when he returned to Saudi Arabia in 2001.

“You can’t write whatever you want in the newspaper here; you can’t even lift up a poster in protest,” said Farhan, 31, a computer programmer who attended Eastern Washington University in Spokane. “On the blog, it’s a different world. It was the only way to express myself the way I wanted.”

Farhan is part of a growing wave of young Arabs who have turned to blogging to bypass the restrictions on free expression in a predominantly authoritarian, conservative and Muslim region. Blogging is so novel here that the equivalent term in Arabic, tadween, to chronicle, was coined only this year. But it has spread rapidly among the increasingly urban youth and in the process has loosened the limits of what’s open for discussion.

Activists have used their blogs to organize demonstrations and boycotts, and to criticize corruption and government policies. The less politically inclined have turned them into forums for heated debates on religion and a place to share personal stories and sexual fantasies.

And it appears that they are tapping into a well of resentment:

Farhan often uses humor to lessen the sting of his unusually daring rebukes.

On prominent display on his blog is a link to statements by government officials, one in 2002 and one in 2006, both promising an end to unemployment within five years. A ticker on his site counts down, “1,629 days left till unemployment is eradicated in Saudi Arabia.”

A little farther down is a poll.

“Do you trust the government?”

About 60 percent of the 280 respondents said they did not.

A small sample to be sure, but then the number of people with Internet access in Saudi Arabia remains small….for now. What Farhan’s blog, and others profiled in the article show though, is that there is a generation rising in the Middle East eager to join the modern world and throw of the shackles that have been imposed on them.

One blogger puts it this way:

“I want our society to move forward, and I want to be part of that change,” Omran said. “I don’t want to be 40 and still struggling with the issues we’re dealing with now.”

With technology on their side, they just might succeed.

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2 Responses to “Bloggers Taking On The State”

  1. It’s amazing just how much the internet may change the world. Governments are slow, by their very nature. The internet is fast, and can run circles around any efforts of the government to contain it.

  2. Brad,

    I’ve written about this before, but it reminds me of a book Peter Huber wrote in the early 90s when the internet was just coming into being.

    The title was Orwell’s Revenge, and the premise was that the technology would have a far-more libertarian effect on the world than Orwell imagined.’

    If I were King Abdullah (or any other Arab leader), I’d be pretty nervous right now

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