Saudi bloggers, women’s issues and NGOs
Issue 11, Summer 2010
The home page of the Saudi blog nooooor.net
This paper examines how women’s issues in Saudi Arabia have been articulated in several parts of cyberspace and how they have been ‘rendered public’ (this research will use the term ‘public-ise’ as defined by Noortje Marres1) by Saudi women’s blogs, news media outlets and regional or international organizations that cover women’s issues .
In particular, it will analyze how women’s issues in Saudi Arabia are articulated on social media platforms that fall under the Web 2.0 umbrella, and see if and how those same issues are comparably articulated by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international government organizations (IGOs), and media outlets.
This paper does not aim to analyze whether the Internet is a catalyst for policy-making changes or only another tool activated through human interaction. Instead it aims to investigate how certain controversies (issue language, issue formation in cyberspace and network formation around the issue: ‘women’s issues in Saudi Arabia’) are articulated and developed through Web 2.0 platforms, namely blogs and other tools (YouTube, RSS feeds, Diggit).
Internet in Saudi Arabia
The Internet reached Saudi Arabia in 1994 but was initially only available for academic research. In light of the country’s strongly conservative social traditions the government gave great consideration to the potential impact before finally authorizing the Internet for public use in 1999.2 It became commercially and publicly available only after the development and installation of filtering systems to safeguard societal and religious norms.
According to Anders and Heickelman (2009) the Saudi government has listed so many keywords as ‘enemies of decency and Islam’ that instead of talking about a black list of URLs it would be much easier to talk about a white list of URLs. Saudi Arabia has strict codes of behavior when it comes to Internet publishing. Reporters Without Borders, in its latest reports, lists Saudi Arabia as an enemy of the Internet.3 The government has criminalized the publication and/or downloading of a wide range of material deemed offensive, all documented under a Council of Ministers Resolution (2001).4
The salient categories of banned material are: anything contravening a fundamental principle or legislation, or infringing the sanctity of Islam and the shariah, or breaching public decency; anything contrary to the state or its system; reports or news damaging to the Saudi Arabian armed forces, without the approval of the competent authorities; publication of official state laws, agreements or statements before they are officially made public, unless approved by the competent authorities; anything which is damaging to the dignity of heads of states or heads of accredited diplomatic missions in the kingdom, or harms relations with those countries; any false information ascribed to state officials or those of private or public domestic institutions and bodies, liable to cause them or their offices harm, or damage their integrity; the propagation of subversive ideas or the disruption of public order or disputes among citizens; anything liable to promote or incite crime, or advocate violence against others in any shape or form; any slanderous or libelous material against individuals.
1 Marres N. (2005), No issue, no public, UvA (Amsterdam): WTMC and the faculty of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam
2 Boas T. and Kalathil S. (2003), Open Networks, closed regimes. The impact of the internet on authoritarian rule, Washington DC: Carnegies Endowment fro International peace, pp103-134; Albrech Hofheinz (2005), The Internet in the Arab World: Playground for political Liberalization available at www.fes.de/ipg/IPG3_2005/07HOFHEINZ.PDF; Rasha A. Abdullah, (2007), The Internet in the Arab World -Egypt and Beyond- New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
6 Open Net Initiative, Saudi Arabia report, August 2009, available at http://opennet.net/research/profiles/saudi-arabia
8 Marres N. (2005), No issue, no public, UvA (Amsterdam): WTMC and the faculty of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam
9 The IssueCrawler is web network location and visualization software. It consists of crawlers, analysis engines and visualization modules. It is server-side software that crawls specified sites and captures the outlinks from the specified sites. Sites may be crawled and analyzed in three ways: co-link, snowball and inter-actor. On http://www.govcom.org/Issuecrawler_instructions.htm