Advancing a Free Society

Saudi Arabia Contends with the Social Media Challenge

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Although they express admiration, Saudis and Gulf residents have no desire to see the chaos on the streets of Cairo and Tunis repeat itself in the squares of Jeddah and Riyadh. Gulf regimes are autocratic, but they do not engender the type of hatred demonstrated towards Mubarak and Ben Ali, and they do not run police states.

Like most authoritarian regimes, the Saudis were not enthusiastic about the introduction of the Internet into their country. Internet censorship is made easier in Saudi Arabia by an extremely centralized Internet infrastructure. There are only two nodes that connect outside the country, and all Internet service providers must connect through them.

Internet surveillance appears to be quite widespread. According to one report, many of those involved in filtering are Saudi "U.S.-educated techies" who understand the idea of Internet freedom but don't think it applies to Saudi Arabia.

On January 1, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information announced a truly draconian regulation requiring all Internet publishing sites to register and get a license. The ministry was charged with approving the editors of online news sites, just as it does with paper newspapers.

There is little likelihood that Saudi Arabia or any of the other Gulf countries will go the way of Tunisia and Egypt because of a system where oil income is used to placate the populace. On January 17, Kuwait announced 1,000 dinar ($3,559) grants and free food coupons for all one million Kuwaiti citizens. Other Gulf states are expected to follow suit.

Continue reading Joshua Teitelbaum…

(photo credit: IMP1)