Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Middle East blogging

Nadezhda points us again to a fascinating take on the impact of the internet in the Middle East, by Joseph Braude in The New Republic:

Last week in Bahrain, protestors covered their mouths with tape and silently demonstrated in front of a prosecutor's office; they are demanding the release of a local webmaster accused of "inciting resentment against the government" via his site, Bahrain Online. Several weeks ago an Egyptian blogger announced what he claims is the region's first-ever threat to bloggers by the secret police. Other bloggers, like this one in Syria, write that they are worried of potential interrogations. Two years ago in Tunisia, a man was imprisoned for 18 months for running the site TUNeZINE, which was critical of the government. And recently in Saudi Arabia, a religious court flogged and imprisoned 15 people for trying to march against the government; the instructions to march had come from a Saudi webmaster in London who operates a digital radio station.

These incidents are symptoms of a larger trend: The Internet is now a destabilizing force to Arab governments, some of which are trying and failing to bottle it back up. Despite its relatively modest penetration in the region, the web is threatening the status quo--in societies as conservative as Saudi Arabia and police states as tightly run as Syria and Tunisia--in ways that previous technologies never could. That's in part because it is making obsolete the strategies that Arab governments had used for centuries--with almost perfect success--to quash dissent and cling to power. It may be trite to speak of the Internet's transformative power; but in the case of the Arab world in 2005, it appears increasingly to be real.

...it seems likely that the web's most crucial impact on Arab politics won't be in alerting the west to human rights abuses or rallying support in the international community; it will be in allowing Arab dissidents to talk to one another and coordinate their activities.

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