Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Saudi blogosphere expands

(logo right is the Saudi Blog icon)

One of the most striking developments in Arab cyberspace in 2005 has been the growth in the number of Arab blogs – online diaries to which readers can add comments. Blogs typically include links to other bloggers, and posts from one blog can spread quickly through the global blogosphere.

The Arab blogosphere got going two years ago, and so far Iraqi, Egyptian, Lebanese, Bahraini, Syrian and Palestinian bloggers have been among its most active components. The Saudi blogosphere has taken longer to make an impact, but in the past few months it has been expanding by leaps and bounds.

Blogs such as “Saudi Jeans” and “Farah’s Sowaleef” are read widely outside Saudi Arabia, and Farah’s blog was chosen by the London-based Independent newspaper in June as its “blog of the week”.

The author of “Saudi Jeans” is a King Saud University student who refers to himself only by the name Ahmed. “Farah’s Sowaleef” is written by a female KSU student, who blogs under the name Farooha. The two jointly set up the blog “Saudi Blogs” which is both a directory of Saudi blogs, and the official blog of the Saudi blogger community. Saudi bloggers can if they wish add a “Saudi Blog” icon to their blogs.

“Saudi Blogs” started posting on 5 July and it now lists around 86 Saudi blogs. Some are in English and others in Arabic, while a number are in both languages. A message posted a month ago asked Saudi bloggers not listed to contact the site. The message attracted 52 comments, many of them from bloggers asking to be added to the list of blogs.

Some bloggers have been keen to meet in real life, and in the past two months several “blogger meets” have been held in Riyadh and Jeddah.

As well as having his own blog and being co-author of the “Saudi Blogs” site, Ahmed writes a weekly “Pulse of the Saudi Blogosphere” roundup for the “Global Voices Online” website. Helpfully, in addition to references to blogs in English he includes excerpts translated from Arabic Saudi blogs.

The decision of whether to blog in English or Arabic has proved controversial. Farooha says she writes in English because “we belong to a global community, why not write in a language the globe understands?” And to those who have attacked her blog for its criticisms of Saudi society, she says it is beneficial for any society to discuss its flaws as well as its more positive aspects.

The blogger TYT, who writes the blog “Annoyed Saudi”, observed recently that more Saudi females than males seem to blog in English. In his view, Saudi females with English blogs have formed a close group, sharing opinions and supporting each other.

The Saudi blogosphere is a diverse place, whose overwhelmingly young members give through their blogs fascinating glimpses into their lives and their society. Saudi bloggers already seem able to exert some pressure as a cohesive force. For example they protested via their blogs and through contacting other bloggers when the Internet Service Unit (ISU) in October blocked the website of blogger.com, the service through which many Saudi bloggers set up their blogs, and its “blogspot domain”. The blocking was subsequently reversed.

Ahmed wrote on the “Saudi Blogs” site: “I did not expect them to respond this fast, but for me, it was not only about the blockage; it was about making a stand for Saudi bloggers, making ourselves heard. I wanted to let them know that they cannot shut us, and they cannot stop us. This is our freedom, these are our rights, and we will never give them up.”

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette
27 December 2005

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