Blogs the New Coffee Houses? Can it bring political change to the Middle East?
The most recent example of the use of the internet and social networking sites would be the Green Revolution in protest surrounding the 2009 presidential elections in Iran. Tweeter was used a way to organize and broadcast instant information and to publicize photos and pictures of clashes between protestors and police.The Iranian government quickly realized the effectiveness of social networking sites and shut down the internet in response to a Ddos (where a lot of computer request to see the site) attack against President Ahamadenjaid’s website. However I will be looking at a more nascent approach to political change, blogging. I read this article on blogging and the author (Marc Lynch) seems to see a lot of potential in blogging as medium of change and to voice concerns that have never been heard in the Middle East (Some of the figures might be dated the article was written in 2007.) However he is hesitant to claim that blogging is the harbinger of Democracy in the Middle East. He references couple examples of how blogging has allowed for publicity of election fraud and other illegal political activities that are known of but is never brought to light by the mainstream media in the Middle East.
The author looks at several different factors that influence the effectiveness of blogging as a medium to influence politics in the Middle East. He first examines who are the bloggers and how many are there. He states that there are 19 million Arabs internet users and they are generally found in urban areas normally part of the youth population. There is some controversy over the exact figure of how many political blogs there actually are figures seem to run from 43600- to a couple thousand. Lynch brings up a good point in that a very small percentage of these blog posts are actually in Arabic. This makes it seem as though the primary audience might be the west (but now there are a growing number of Arabic blogs.) The number of Jihadi and Muslim Brother Hood sites and blogs are growing too. Another problem with blogs is that it isn’t mainstream media not everyone has accesses to this information, and on top of that there are Aggregator that filter and choose not to include certain types of blogs. Not to mention the filtering of sites done by the government.
Blogs have now started to gain more influence in mainstream media with such things as “Blogs: the new opposition voice in Arab politics” a segment on Al-Jazeera network. Egyptian newspapers have started to refer to certain blogs for information. There are conservative American NGOs that create “Arabic-language blog platform which "gives voices to those working for freedom and democracy in the Arab world... and enables them to easily connect and share ideas with their peers.” Seems like an idea that might backfire, as Lynch says who knows who might use the blog for what purposes. Blogs seem to be gaining traction as a new medium to exchange ideas. However as we saw in Iran it is easily shut down or filtered. We have seen that governments are filtering or blocking certain sites. Such is the case in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Kuwait. This reminds me of the article we had to read by Edward Said’s “Enemies of the State” where he references the case of Egyptian-American intellectual Saadeddin Ibrahim and his illegitimate imprisonment, for his views on normalization with Israel. His point is that all peoples of the Arab world should take responsibility for the power abuses acted by the authoritarian governments. Blogging seems to be that avenue Arabs can use to make Arab leaders accountable. (If the government doesn’t hunt you down and arrests you, I feel like blogging is like a step removed from writing an article in the newspaper and people feel secure in voicing their criticisms of the government and there’s more anonymity.)
The Authors breaks down blogging into three large categories: Activists, Brides and Public Spheres. Activists are those individuals who are directly involved in a political movement who want to organize and disseminate information. These blogs try to organize transnational operations such as the boycott of Danish products. According to the Author the Kefaya movement began in the summer of 2004 and by 2005 the movement grew to have a large internet presence with over 1500 Egyptian bloggers. He uses the example of the May 2005 protest in which bloggers organized a protest of about 100 people and they were met with thousands of “hired thugs and riot police who roughed up peaceful protestors.” He uses the examples of Kefaya movement and how it turned elections in Egypt into a “tense drama,” and the Bahraini bloggers shed light on the shutdown of human-rights organizations into a political cause. The Bridgebloggers are those individuals who want to address the west and to explain their society and cultures. Bridgboggers try to cut through the stereotyped understanding of the Middle East, Arabs and Islam. And finally the public-sphere bloggers are those individuals who are not involved in a specific political movement but have some kind of strife against a domestic issue. The importance of public-sphere bloggers is that it “shows political engagement by Arab citizens,” which is important.
So what does all this mean? I hope it means that blogging has become a forum for free thought in the Middle East that will allow for unrestrained expression which will lead Arab leaders become more accountable to their actions. Maybe, blogging can become the alternative to the sate run news providers. However I don’t think that’s the case, again blogging and internet accesses are limited to a small portion of the Arab population and it hasn’t become part of mainstream media, blogging sites and social networking sites are easily filtered or blocked. But hopefully blogging will gain more momentum and bring political change.