The Arabic blogosphere: politics, culture and discontent. Plus Iran.

A few days ago, further to last years important publication reviewing Iran’s online public, Harvard’s Berkman Centre for Internet & Society released the next in the series, a review of the Arabic blogosphere (ie digital networked spaces). An archived webcast of its launch should be available in the hear future. Findings:

A Country-based network (view the full map): The Arabic blogosphere is organized primarily around countries. We found the primary groupings to be: Egyptian (largest, with distinct sub- and associated clusters, e.g., Muslim Brotherhood bloggers, including some women); Saudi Arabian (second largest and focused comparatively more on technology than politics); Kuwaiti (divided into English and Arabic language sub-clusters); Levantine/English Bridge (bloggers in the Levant and Iraq using English and connected to the US and international blogospheres); Syrian; Maghrebi/French Bridge; and Religion-Focused. Demographic results indicate that Arabic bloggers are predominately young and male. The highest proportion of female bloggers is found in the Egyptian youth sub-cluster, while the Syrian and Muslim Brotherhood clusters have the highest concentration of males. Arabic media ecosystem: Bloggers link to Web 2.0 sites like YouTube and Wikipedia (English and Arabic versions) more than other sources of information and news available on the Internet. Al-Jazeera is the top mainstream media source, followed by the BBC and Al-Arabiya. Arabic bloggers tend to prefer more politically oriented YouTube videos over cultural ones. Personal life and local issues are most important: Most bloggers write mainly personal, diary-style observations. But when writing about politics, bloggers tend to focus on issues within their own country, and are more often than not critical of domestic political leaders. Foreign political leaders are discussed less often, but also more in negative than positive terms. Domestic news is more popular than international news among general politics and public life topics. The one political issue that clearly concerns bloggers across the Arab world is Palestine, and in particular the situation in Gaza (Israel’s December 2008/January 2009 military action occurred during the study). Other popular topics include religion (more in personal than political terms) and human rights (more common than criticism of western culture and values). Terrorism and the US are not major topics. When discussing terrorism, Arab bloggers are overwhelmingly critical of terrorists. When the US is discussed, it is nearly always critically.

The finding (based on link analysis) that Arabic bloggers form national structures and primarily base their political discussions in national and local affairs is interesting given the constant activities of pan-Arabists and Islamists, and the efforts of leaders to deflect criticism of the regime outwards. But, we still don’t know the extent to which opinions expressed in blogs correlate to opinion in the wider society of the blogger – i.e. whether bloggers are distinctive in their opinions. The Twitter tag is #arabblogs. It’s very quiet, though. Taking a short moment to hunt for responses, I learn from Crossroads Arabia that three of the four authors of the report have an op-ed in today’s Washington Post, Reading Twitter in Tehran – why the real revolution is on the streets and offline.

“Paradoxically, the “freedom to scream” online may actually assist authoritarian regimes by serving as a political release valve of sorts. If dissent is channeled into cyberspace, it can keep protesters off the streets and help state security forces track political activism and new online voices. As Egyptian democracy activist Saad Ibrahim said last week during a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, this appears to be part of a long tradition for governments in the Middle East, especially in Egypt, where dissent is channeled into universities and allowed to thrive there, as long as it does not escape the university walls.”

Surely this boils down to what the rest of the read/write web boils down to: you can’t eat a recipe. Recipes are not of use for starving people. But not all of us are starving people. There were tweets of tanks in Tehran last night, but today things are said to be quieter. CNN is obliged to solicit coverage through its user-generated content site iReportupdate: and corroborating footage by comparing different uploaded pieces. There is a lot to see there that is terrifying and sharpening of priorities. I find myself thinking about a beautiful insight of Sarah’s from back when the BNP gained two seats in the European Parliament:

“I often feel a gentle Whiggish complacency about my life, the same tendency that gets condemned in Dawkins. I pull the advances of medicine, the welfare state and civil rights around me like a blanket to muffle out the terrible whine of global iniquity, exploitation, bigotry and aggression. But the severest repression and genocide has happened in living memory, in my continent, in nation states that are constituted like the one in which I live. The same beliefs which informed those hateful policies are still extant, and must be answered – not on the terms of their own stupidity and aggression, but on the terms of a better state which prizes knowledge and fairness.”

It doesn’t seem to be my lot to experience such a complacency (one of the things I love about my Matt is that he does and I can stick to him like a louse or a limpet), but I do have an insistent consciousness, improving in precision, of what it is that stands between a country like here and the bruises, blood-spattered riot shields, tear gas agony and shot-through hearts of Iran. Other things: the 1979 revolution took a year – the period from the first demonstrations until the departure of the Shah in January ’79 was a little over a year, and the country was in revolutionary crisis until ’82 when Ayatollah Khomeini completed his counter-revolution and crushed the left; there’s a petition to bring Ayatolla Khameini before the International Criminal Court in the Hague; a key Mousavi supporter on Twitter comparing Zionists to the Basiji militia (come on, Stop the War (sic), surely you can support such people’s right to protest and express themselves politically now they’re coming out against your favourite hate-figures…?).

1 thought on “The Arabic blogosphere: politics, culture and discontent. Plus Iran.

  1. Pingback: More Iran Links « The New Centrist

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