Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Arab blogging catches on

Blogging Their Way
by Susannah Tarbush

If anyone wanted proof of the increasing attention being paid in the West to the views of Arab bloggers, they need only have listened to last Sunday’s edition of the BBC radio current affairs series Broadcasting House.

In his report from Cairo on the political situation in Egypt, the BBC correspondent chose to interview not a mainstream analyst or politician, but a prominent blogger known only as “Big Pharaoh”.

Big Pharaoh is just one of a growing band of Arab bloggers whose blogs are widely followed and commented on by other bloggers and the media. Blogging in the Arab world has come a long way since Iraqi “Salam Pax” became the first internationally known Arab blogger after starting his blog in September 2002.

Word of Salam Pax’s blog spread quickly around the internet, and he gained a huge readership. He was eventually invited to be a columnist for the London-based Guardian newspaper, and Atlantic Books and Guardian Books jointly published the book of his blog.

Now Salam Pax makes regular film contributions to BBC TV’s Newsnight, and in February he won the innovation award from Britain’s Royal Television Society.

Arabs, particularly members of the techno-savvy younger generation, have become enthusiastic users of services such as Blogger and Live Journal through which a blog can be set up free of charge. The blogger can disclose as much or as little about their identity as they wish, which increases the sense of freedom in expressing their views in their online diaries. But at the same time the use of pseudonyms can create suspicions about who is “really behind” a particular blog.

The number of Iraqi blogs has mushroomed over the past two years, and they play a unique role in giving readers an insight into what life is like in different parts of the country, at a time when it has become very difficult for Western journalists to get around.

There are sizeable blogger communities in a number of other countries, such as Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Egypt. Sites such as Jordan Planet and Bahrain blogs have links to numerous blogs.

The importance of blogging in encouraging freedom of expression has led Reporters sans Frontieres (English name Reporters Without Borders) to organise the Freedom Blog Awards in partnership with Deutsche Welle.

Sixty blogs have been chosen divided into six geographical categories, and internet users can vote by the closing date of 1 June, with the results announced two weeks later.

One category is devoted to Iranian blogs, and no fewer than 21 of the 60 blogs up for voting are in Farsi. In the Middle Eastern and African category, there are eight Arab blogs - three of them in Arabic, three in English and two in French. There are two blogs from Bahrain, two from Egypt and one each from Morocco, the UAE, Tunisia and Iraq.

Saudi Gazette, 3 May 2005

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