A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Two Items of Middle East Internet Interest (Or Perhaps Profound Concern)

 A couple of recent items of interest for those concerned about the Internet in the Middle East. Make of these what you will.
  • A Tunisian court has stepped in to reinstate the blocking of porn sites in Tunisia post-revolution. The Tunisian Internet Agency apparently had lifted all censorship, but the courts are ordering it reinstated. The concern among Tunisian journalists and reformers is not, of course, that they are being deprived of porn (they have French and Italian satellite channels for that), but that Internet censorship justified on the grounds of blocking pornography quite often (See Saudi Arabia, China, etc.) becomes the instrument for blocking political expression. If you have a filter, you can decide what to filter out. The blocking of the Internet and social media in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and most recently Syria has not prevented ongoing dissent there (any more than filters have completely blocked access to the Internet-savvy anywhere), but it has certainly been used as much for political and repressive ends as much as to protect the youth from pornography.
  • Speaking of censorship, the world champion enforcers of morality, who not only guard against porn but also against such Western decadence as cinemas, women driving, and unveiled women, Saudi Arabia's Hay'a or Agency for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, AKA the Religious Police, are getting interested in using social media to promote their efforts.  (The link, to the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, is in Arabic.) To summarize the rather brief (and apparently, unlike this post, devoid of irony) report, they are looking into how to use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (all named in the report) to further their mission. Now, I've posted before on the clumsiness of some old-guards in the Middle East trying to venture out into social media, such as the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' publishing their communiques to Facebook, but just putting up an image of their communique as if they were sending a fax (that's still how they're doing it). But the mutawwa‘in on Facebook or Twitter? It defies the imagination. No, sorry, on reflection it doesn't: Orwell would have gotten it immediately: what better media for letting people denounce their neighbors for their sinful ways? A tweet, a private Facebook message, a visit from the Religious Police, and the Prevention of Vice (if not the Promotion of Virtue) is accomplished.

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