From today in The Australian:
Net activism rattles Arabs
Facebook, a site that offers a platform for the advancement of causes, political or otherwise, is quickly turning into a hotbed of activism: a cause for alarm to many autocratic regimes in the Middle East that attempt to curtail its reach by blocking it.
In Syria, the Government banned Facebook after an anti-regime email spam campaign was channelled through the site last year.
But savvy Syrians, assisted by cyber colleagues abroad, succeeded in breaking through the censorship. Indeed, last November, when Facebook was blocked, it had 28,000 registered Syrian members. Five months after the ban, the number of Syrians with Facebook accounts had risen to 34,000.
Unfortunately, the response of governments in the Middle East appears much more efficient than that of the West, which barely acknowledges these brave voices of activists for freedom who dare to challenge the status quo and call for a much needed dialogue within and outside the region.
The same internet that allows them to speak should also encourage us to listen and raise our voices in support of their cry for a discourse free of censorship, brutality and oppression. The growing number of Facebook and cyber dissidents in Middle Eastern prisons should not remain unnoticed.
Nir Boms is vice-president of the Centre for Freedom in the Middle East and a fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism.
Anyone left with the impression that Nir Boms and his freedom groups are fighting blanket censorship and retribution for social media in the Middle East and that the Arabs themselves are doing nothing or worse, blocking it? Which is simply not true. But let’s continue:
Context is required to understand the Facebook phenomenon. The internet has provided Arab activist groups with a new medium of expression: it quickly has become the preferred domain for many opposition groups that have little or no access to traditional forms of media. Other groups – including women’s groups, minority groups and gay and lesbian groups – also have been quick to jump on the internet bandwagon. In addition to the Association of Arab Gays and Lesbians (glas.org), more than a dozen gay and lesbian websites have been created, including some in conservative countries such as Saudi Arabia.
Add to that the growing number of political blogs that often use video streaming to expose the brutality of governments, political corruption or police violence, and it is easy to understand why governments are concerned.
Not surprisingly, these governments are responding quickly to the new dangers.
Remember, we live in Australia, a country that bans YouTube in schools and in Government departments. And Facebook in many businesses.
Oh ok, I’m snarky. Surely mentioning my trip to Saudi Arabia to teach Arabic women to blog and Facebook was worthy a mention? I mean, in the interest of giving both sides of the story? After all, the MBC social network is funded by the Royal House of Saud!