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Monday, October 16, 2006

Saudi Arabia's bold young bloggers

Saudi Arabia's bold young bloggers
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

There's not just an oil boom in Saudi Arabia - there's a blogging boom too.

"It really took off last year," says Saudi journalist Rasheed Abou-Alsamh.

There are now between 500 and 600 Saudi blogs - in English as well as Arabic - and the bloggers are women as well as men.

"I think young people see the Internet as a way of expressing themselves easily and in an uncensored fashion," says Mr Abou-Alsamh.

The Saudi kingdom is still in many ways a closed society.

"The media here are controlled," says blogger Fouad al-Farhan, who is 31 and runs an IT company in Jeddah. "We can't express our thoughts on TV or in newspapers or magazines."

Unusually, he includes his mobile phone number, as well as his full name, on his Arabic blog (www.smartinfo.com.sa/fouad/).

He uses the blog to comment on political and religious issues. Others call him a conservative - a term he dislikes. His views are certainly very different from those of liberal young bloggers who attack the religious police - or discuss their love lives.

Fictional love story

One young woman blogs under the name Mystique.

I am born - a man chooses my name,
I am taught - to appreciate that he did not bury me alive,
I learn - what he wants me to know,
I marry - who he wants me to marry,
I eat - what he wants me to eat,
If he dies - another man controls my life A father, a brother, a husband, a son, a man

Extract from poem: Rantings of an Arabian Woman
"I want to remain anonymous," she says, adding that only a small group of friends know her real identity.

Her English blog (www.mystiquesa.blogspot.com) is, by Saudi standards, outspoken.

"I have this fictional series, a love story between a man and a woman. And I get into the most intimate details of the relationship - like sexual details."

Not surprisingly in such a conservative society, she gets hate mail - as well as support from like-minded young Saudis.

Another anonymous woman blogger, Saudi Eve, had her site blocked after she had written freely about sex and religion.

Global discussion

There is a cyber-battle under way, says journalist Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, between liberals and conservatives.

Ahmed al-Omran found his site (www.saudijeans.blogspot.com) blocked earlier this year.

He is a student in Riyadh who blogs in English.

"Most of the other bloggers supported me - even those who normally disagree with me," he says.

His blog was soon back on-line.

"I started blogging over two years ago," Ahmed says. "It has become an integral part of my life."

Outsiders, he says, tend to have a one-dimensional view of Saudi Arabia.

"I can have a discussion with the rest of the world, and we can show them how we live."

Ahmed al-Omran, writer of Saudi Jeans
Ahmed al-Omran's site Saudi Jeans was blocked earlier in 2006

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Saudi secrets Blogs and books shed new light on kingdom's youth culture

Slow pace of Saudi change
By Roger Hardy
BBC News, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Information Ministry picture of Jeddah skyline
Jeddah's population enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere.
Despite Saudi Arabia's wealth as the world's biggest oil exporter, many of the new generation of Saudis are restless, bored and unemployed in the desert kingdom.

Eleven pm on the Corniche, the coastal road along the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia's second city, Jeddah.

And in the relative cool of the evening, families are out walking along the seafront, kids are riding on donkeys, and young men are driving beach buggies along the sand.

There is a festive mood. It is the eve of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, and also the eve of National Day - and already the cars driving along the Corniche are sounding their horns - and young men are dancing in the street and draping themselves in the green Saudi flag.

It was not until the following day that a friend pointed out what I had failed to realise - that many of these young men belong to the ranks of the new Saudi unemployed. Their patriotic fervour may have been genuine - but it was also an escape from shame and boredom.


Why such a rich country, enjoying its third year of high oil prices, should have a serious unemployment problem is, on the face of it, a puzzle.

For many people, the Saudi idea of a night out is to go shopping - or just sit in a coffee-shop or a fast-food restaurant.

But the main causes are a chronic dependence on an army of foreign workers - and an education system that is failing to equip young Saudis with the skills the workplace needs.

The result is a lot of bored and frustrated young people with a lot of time on their hands - and the fear that some are drifting into crime or drugs or even religious militancy.

Saudi Arabia is a gender segregated society, so it is hard for young men and young women to meet.

Cinemas and theatres are not allowed. And, for many people, the Saudi idea of a night out is to go shopping - or just sit in a coffee-shop or a fast-food restaurant.

But, as I heard from a group of students, even these places can be no-go areas: shopping centres and restaurants are anxious to be seen as family-friendly - so single young males are often kept out. And there is also a dress code: despite the oppressive heat, there is no way you can come in wearing Bermuda shorts.

Like young people everywhere, young Saudis go to great lengths to bypass irksome restrictions.

Mobile phones and the internet have had a liberating effect.
They find places for illicit meetings. They find ways of swapping phone numbers.

In Jeddah, the mood is noticeably more relaxed than I had found in the capital Riyadh.

One Filipino waiter in a coffee-shop told me that when he had worked in Riyadh, he had been arrested by the religious police for not being strict enough in shutting his shop during prayer times, or in stopping young men from entering the family section - but here in Jeddah, he said, the religious police were much less of a nuisance.

To escape boredom, some young Saudis simply go abroad, especially in the burning heat of the summer - perhaps to Spain or Morocco, perhaps to nearby Dubai or Bahrain where the social climate is more open.

One young man told me it was in Bahrain that he had bought a copy of a controversial novel called "The Girls of Riyadh" - which has caused quite a stir in Saudi Arabia with its outspoken account of the lives, including the sex lives, of four young women.

Rajaa al-Sanei
Rajaa al-Sanei's book has caused a stir in Saudi Arabia
The author, a young Saudi woman called Rajaa al-Sanei, is currently in the United States.

That did not stop conservatives trying to take her to court for allegedly slandering the Saudi nation; but the case was thrown out.

Young Saudis who have read the book told me it is not great literature - but it is essentially accurate, whatever the conservatives may say.

There are other forms of escape.

Mobile phones and the internet have had a liberating effect.

Over the last 18 months or so, there has been a boom in Saudi blogging.

There are now 500 or 600 bloggers, women as well as men, using English as well as Arabic.

In a restaurant in Riyadh full of young men peering into their laptops, I met Ahmed, a student who blogs under the name "saudijeans".

Hate mail

In such a closed society, the internet is one of the few places where young Saudis can discuss - either openly or anonymously - the things that matter to them.

For Ahmed, that means freedom of expression and human rights - or an article he has just read in a newspaper.

For the young woman who blogs under the name "Mystique", it means testing the limits of what can be said about sex and religion - issues that, not surprisingly in such a conservative society, bring her plenty of hate mail.

In some ways Saudi Arabia is changing.

You now see young Saudis working in coffee-shops or at the reception desks of the big hotels - jobs they previously disdained.

The newspapers, though still controlled by the government, now write about issues - such as crime, poverty, Aids and domestic abuse - that not long ago were taboo.

But change is painfully slow. And the young are impatient.

Once known as the "kingdom of silence", Saudi Arabia is now silent no more.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

What. WatchBlog is a multiple-editor weblog broken up into three major political affiliations, each with its own blog: the Democrats, the Republicans

A great idea.
It should be copied and apply it to other countries.

Stephen Van Dyke has an innovative work

Mr. Van Dyke way of seeing the flow of information:

Just read this great idea:

Here’s how HE sees news travel:

how news travels on the internet infographic

Miscellaneous links to sites listed:

  • Dark Matter
    • Glenn Reynolds called email “the dark matter of the blogosphere” in a Wired interview. Naturally I extended this phrase to IM (Instant Messaging) , IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and forums. (link via blogosphere.us)
  • MetaNews (I wasn’t sure what else to call it, it’s like collaborative blogging, except Google News)
    • Fark - users post news and comments, which are hand-picked by admins, TotalFark (a listing of everything submitted, huge list) is a sort of “dark matter” as well.
    • Slashdot - the grandaddy of the genre. More technically oriented.
    • MeFi - shorthand for MetaFilter, blogging on crack (all users can post?). Not accepting accounts.
    • BoingBoing - similar to MetaFilter, more blogging on crack.
    • Google News - through the magic of Google… the news. Limited sources.
  • Greater Blogosphere - basically just a high traffic blog, sometimes the lines blur between this and MetaNews
    • Instapundit - Glenn Reynolds again, probably the most read blog on the Internet.
    • Waxy.org - A high traffic blog that has a lot of offbeat news. Made the “StarWars Kid” popular.
  • Lesser Blogosphere - me, basically… we’re all lowly citizens waiting for our 15 minutes, just like Bob’s Qveere Eye parody (yes, it was me who posted it to Fark). While we wait, we link and blab.
  • Blog Indexing - these are services that show what’s popular based on how many people link to it in a certain period.
  • Traditional “Big” Online Media - once they pick up a story, it can become a story again, how’s that for echo chambers?
  • Offline Media - hey what the… I can’t link to them :)

Dipietro and politics in Italy

Politics on the Internet


At the Italia dei Valori meeting in Vasto I have talked about this blog as a tool for direct communication and participation for people in the political life.
As well as the journalists, I invited a group of bloggers to Vasto. They are following the event and are describing it in their blogs in real time. They are on the Internet backed up with audio and video.
I believe that this is a first for such a group to be officially present at a political meeting. The Internet, thanks to the possibility of giving direct knowledge about the facts whether they are political or related to the actions of the government, is a new and important democratic tool. A tool for `direct democracy’.

In its DNA, Italia dei Valori has transparency, and the wish to engage with the citizens.
The meeting at Vasto and some of its most important happenings that are the most important for the future of the country were reported on the Internet before the TV news and the main daily newspapers. Such happenings include the debate about energy, Prodi’s contribution about intercepts, and the creation of the “Partito Democratico” {Democratic Party}.
And in certain cases, things have only been described on the Internet, as they have been ignored, deleted from the TV news and from the newspapers. Among these the main publishing groups stand out as, evidently, they respond to the interests of their owners and only after that to the interests of their readers.
The Internet is freedom of information. Thanks to the numerous bloggers for taking part.

I'm attaching interviews with three of the bloggers that came to the "Incontro dei Valori" meeting:
- Marco Canestrari
- Luca Conti
- Stefano Vitta

A great Idea

Oleg Tscheltzoff has just opened Citizenbay, in english and french.
The video file is here.

LesBlogs3: save the date, december 11 and 12th 2006 in Paris

 France  20 70476879 58Fb62Ffd1
It's going to be huge. We had 450 people from 25 countries at the last les blogs. This year it is going to be much broader, more Web 2.0 and I have a room for... 900 people in the heart of Paris. Cool conference over two days with food this time and a party. Stay tuned.

A good Example for Arab young politicians

About this blog

This blog is my attempt to help bridge the gap - the growing and potentially dangerous gap - between politicians and the public. It will show some of what I'm doing, what I'm thinking about, and what I've read, heard or seen for myself which has sparked interest or influenced my ideas. My focus will be on my ministerial priorities and I will be sticking to the ministerial rules about collective responsibility.

I will read and, as often as I can, respond to people's comments on my posts. So please use this site as a noticeboard for new thoughts.

The traditional means of contact for members of the public, MPs and journalists of course remain open. . If you want to raise a specific issue with my department, it’s generally best to contact the Defra Helpline in the first instance. And because this is a Government site I won't lapse into party ranting and I can't link to party political websites - and Defra needs to reserve the right to edit or not publish comments, for example on grounds of inappropriate language.

You'll notice that the first 50 or so posts on this blog had no comments on them. This is because I blogged for a few months within my previous department before this went live.

I don't know of a similar experiment - so let's see how it goes.

David Miliband

My Google Profile