Blogging and the Future of Democracy in the Arab World!

The following is a summary of a talk I recently gave at a State Department conference on Blogging and Democracy. I thought it would e of some interest here.


Many people across the world are still dubious of the possible avenues and channels for communications and expression that blogging can pave. But that is not surprising really. People have given a similar lukewarm response to the Internet itself at one point, not too long ago. But who can dispute the power and impact of the internet now?

In reality, and as the various talks and presentations made at the Conference on Blogging and Democracy have amply demonstrated, people just need time to get used to the possibilities that can be are afforded them by blogging. No one is the wiser in this regard than the current generation of teens and 20-somethings, with many of whom already getting hooked on such blogging varieties as MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and many such similar sites that have already been integrated into teen and youth cultures. Now, these may not be “hardcore” blogs, that is, they may not necessarily tackle significant political and social issues in a journalistic or analytical manner. Still, it is only natural to expect that those who will get used to these media as means for self-expression, communicating and networking are more likely, in due course of time, to develop a greater affinity and respect for the more socially and politically pertinent blogs.

As such, and for all the aura that seems to surround the medium today, we are, in fact, only witnessing the birth of blogging. Its real impact on our lives is something that we will not really see or appreciate for a few more years to come.

And if blogging is still in its infancy on the international arena, it is indeed still in the embryonic phase in the Arab World, where bloggers number in the thousands only in comparison to the few hundred thousands of bloggers in Iran, for instance. Still, Arab bloggers have already generated some noise and news.

In Egypt, they took active part in organizing the Kefaya movement and its various anti-regime activities and protests. In Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf, they already managed to break certain religious taboos and have managed to empower a number of female voices, enough of them, in fact, to show that many women have indeed established their own socially dissident subculture in that conservative part of the Middle East. Some bloggers, especially in Bahrain and Egypt, have already been imprisoned for the views they expressed on their blogs, with some still waiting to be released.

All this shows that the internet and blogging in particular is destined to play an important role in the social and political transformations currently taking place in the region. The democratic forces are bound to continue on using it for intercommunicating and for organization, but so will the radical forces a well including the Islamists and the ultranationalists.

By itself, then, blogging is merely a tool, and unless a consistent effort is applied to transform it into a too of democratization, other actors on the scene are liable to use it for exactly the opposite purpose, namely to advance a more militant and reactionary agenda. Regime ideologues might also be able to use it as another medium for propaganda, but unless the regimes set on reinventing their worn-out political discourse and stratagems, the medium is unlikely to be of any help. By its nature, blogging is a dynamic medium, creatures of a stultified culture are not exactly the kind that can make adequate use of it. The real competition, therefore, is likely to take place, and is indeed taking place, between independent individuals and groups of various political and social stripes.

10 thoughts on “Blogging and the Future of Democracy in the Arab World!

  1. Ammar, I believe that blogging is a great political tool, but its impact is limited in the Arab world because of the limited internet penetration.

  2. Vox, the limited internet penetration will not be an issue anymore. For example, ‘Saudi Jeans’ is a blog that was banned in Saudi Arabia but thanks to the noise Saudis made over it, it has been unblocked. Public pressure will do wonders to a government’s policies. We’re battling this. Blogging is a great way to fight for our rights to freely express our opinions, and I believe that our media laws will change because of it. Agreeing with Ammar, then, I’ll say that this is just the beginning.I’ll also say that many Arab blogs are very educational, and are beginning to lean towards moderation and more liberal ways of thinking thanks to the exposure to Israeli blogs and the like. Without technology, we never really had the ability to debate with the “enemy.” But we’re living in a completely different time period and we can use technology to our advantage this time. It’s an incredibly strong tool. You can not only use it to be understood, but you can also use it to understand.The number of Arabic blogs dedicated to democracy and civil rights is astounding. It’s inspiring people to get more involved in local politics, and being active in the promotion of political rights within the country and beyond. – Esra’a

  3. Telecommunication is a major force that is helping change the world and shape it for decades to come. Obviously one aspect of this tremendous revolution is the internet and all its attendant developments; email, IM, interactivity, blogs etc…Besides the industrial and commercial applications for efficiently managing far flung enterprizes it can be argued that IM, email and bloging have introduced a sea change in establishing new channels of communications between the different people of the world. It is true that Blogs are only a tool but their primary contribution stems from the fact that they are free tools that empower individuals to express their feelings, ideas and aspirations concerning any subject matter that is of interest to them. Controlloing, managing or interfering with this tool will only contribute to making it less effective and not more so. We should not lose any sleep over the power of radical groups utilizing the internet to promote their objectives. If we have any faith whatsoever in our programs of liberal democracy and individual freedom then we should be eager to create a vigourous and robust free market of ideas. Our democratic ideals will spread and gain the upper hand only if the positions that they advocate are attractive and make sense.The current war in Lebanon between Israel and HA has probably spawned more interactions between Israeli citizens and their Lebanese counterparts through the medium of blogging than at any other time over the past sixty years of the conflict with Israel. Furthermore, it is my considered opinion, that these interactions and exchanges have at times been very productive, informative and beneficial. Both sides, for better or for worse, have gained more insight into the thinking and rationale of their opponents.The same argument can be made regarding the so far nascent democratic tradition in the Arab world. As the use of the internet and the blogging medium increases then social organization, fundraising and communications will be enhanced. As NGO’s become better organised and their membership more spread it is hoped that their influnce to democratize, spread awarness about human rights and political responsibility through blogs , emails and web sites will become an important force in shaping the contours of a new civil Arab society.

  4. Indeed, Esra’a, blogging is opening new vistas for us. Individual activists can now be heard and can influence events, no matter how minimally at this stage, because of their blogging activities, and they can begin networking with each and with like minded people across the region and the world. This has enabled many to move from being individual activists to becoming part of a larger whole, and this is only the beginning.

  5. To my mind, blogging can never truly be effectively used by repressive and oppressive force, for exactly the reasons you cite. Although the internet can certainly be utilized by repressive movements, the nature of blogging is inherently one of freedom of mind. It has an egalitarian bases. Writing, thinking, debating are all activities that promote analysis of ideas and demand that we hear others…at least some of the time. They are skills of the mind rather than ones of phyiscal action/reaction. They mediate against and in oposition to violent responses. It is absolutely a democratic praxis. Therefore, it will always be the weapon of those in search of negotiation and compromise, opening up rather than shutting down.

  6. Raw text nurtures misunderstandings and cloaks absurdities. Take the Bible for example. So I think blogging is great for topics we don’t care too much about, but dangerous for those we do. When the Web becomes a place for interactive video with sound we’ll be better off. Still, it’s best to know somebody before you start swapping ideology with him or her.

  7. I believe all text “nurtures misunderstandings and cloaks absurdities.” These are the dangers of writing. Videos might solve part of that problem. But, frankly, until we become all telepathic, I see nothing that we can do to prevent misunderstandings and absurdities from clouding our judgment and complicating our inter-communication.

  8. Not as rebuttal, but just as a point I wish I’d come closer to making the first time: Along the lines of “knowing” who you’re exchanging words and ideas with, the root liability I think is the “no one knows you’re a dog” problem. There’s no admissions test or economic barrier or even a standard of civility standing in the way of blogging or commenting online. You can get online from prison in the U.S. and other wealthy countries I suppose. Nevermind the issue of outright deception, how about knowing whether somebody is credulous or histrionic or stupid or has a peculiar dislike of dogs. What we get online is more testimony and rhetoric than argument or referenced reporting. The first thing out of the mouth of one person on one subject is likely to differ in credibility and conscientiousness than what comes from another. I think we rely a lot more than we realize on credentials and context. If it’s in the produce aisle it’s not poison. If she’s a “Professor of X” she’s liable to know something about X and if she’s the Chair of X at Harvard she’s liable to be quite wise about X. What good is a report of the discovery of alien life if the quoted expert is just “Joe” and the publication is spray paint on the wall? Joe may be a brilliant astronomer held in awe for his exceptional caution and skepticism by his entire field and may have found the telltale evidence of aliens himself five minutes ago. Or he may be a 7 year old who heard the story from HER best friend. Actually the quote may be extremely telling with regard to something interesting whoever said it, but we may not know what to make of it if all we have besides the words themselves is that they come from “Joe.” I think the blogosophere exciting but profoundly weird, and I’m not sure what to expect from it.

  9. I see your point, but I think we have the same problem in all types of media. There are so many people out there posing as experts on a variety of issues that may people get confused. I think the Internet and blogging might enhance this tendency at times, but it does not create the problem. I mean, there are institutes that graduate astrologers out there in the “real” world, and these people can speak with authority on a verity of topics, always claiming insight and expertise, and will always have people who think them credible. There is a problem with the recipients, and I am not sure how it can be addressed.

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