Blogging in the Arab world

November 12th, 2006

The Washington Post has an article, New Clicks in the Arab World, about how blogging and bloggers are challenging longtime cultural and political restrictions. The story features “Saudi Arabia’s most popular blogger”, 31 year old Fouad al-Farhan

“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.”

An interesting (to me) fact is that al-Farhan studied Computer Science at Ball State university in Indiana, receiving an MS degree. The article describes attempts to establish a blogging advocacy group

This month, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Bloggers, founded by Farhan and a group of his friends, will post their charter online and open membership to male and female bloggers. Members will then vote for a president, male or female, and make amendments to the charter by majority vote. Meetings will be held online.

The internet has long been a force that is difficult to control, giving voice to people and groups even when oppressive countries try to silence them.

“But with the medium’s growing clout and appeal in the Arab world, the inevitable crackdown has followed. At least six Egyptian bloggers were jailed for a time earlier this year, and several blogs in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have been blocked by the state-owned bodies that control Internet access.”

But, as John Gilmore is reputed to have said, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. For more context, recall that David Sifry’s October 2006 State of the Blogosphere report noted that Farsi is now one of the top-ten languages on the Blogosphere. And I doubt they are getting much of a boost from Farsi-language splogs!