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From bridge bloggers

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  • 1. From: Bridge Bloggers in the Middle East, by Eugenia Siapera, in Oriente Moderno, 2011<br />esiapera@jour.auth.gr , es107@le.ac.uk <br />Global Voices <br />Graph 1: Global Voices Middle East and related networks. <br />The pink cluster in the centre is the basic network to which Global Voices belongs, and it is linked to sites such as Electronic Intifada, the Palestinian activist site, Norman Finkelstein’s site, as well as some media sites, such as Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper site, Counter Punch, Al Jazeera and a couple of Palestinian news sites in English, such as the PNN site, and the Wafa site. It is clear that this network is a pro-Palestinian one. But it is not the only network. The pink network directly under the central one, is comprised by Sudanese blogs and media, such as Sudanese Thinker, Sudan Tribune and Sudan Watch. This is probably the result of Global Voices Middle East is linked to Global Voices Sudan. Under this network, however, there is another pink network, this time comprising blogs such as Iraq the Model, Instapundit, Pajamas Media and so on, all of which are pro-American, or Conservative American blogs/sites. If this is the case, then Global Voices provides a bridge between both pro-Palestinian sites and conservative American media or blogs. Equally interesting is the last pink cluster, on the far left of the diagram, which includes blogs such as Informed Comment, by Juan Cole, a US Professor and expert on Middle Eastern politics, TomDispatch, by Tom Engelhardt, a Fellow of The Nation Institute, who blogs on America and war from a progressive point of view, antiwar.com, ‘a source for antiwar news, viewpoints and activities’, CounterPunch, a leftist political newsletter and so on. Clearly, this cluster contains US-based progressive or left wing blogs and sites. <br />The blue cluster, on the top left, contains a network of Jordanian blogs, such as BlackIris, 7iber.com, 360degreeseast.com and Sabbah.biz, one of the blogs to be examined here. It is worth noting that these blogs are also written in English, and could therefore qualify as bridge blogs at least in terms of their contents. The green cluster on the top, is a cluster linked to Global Voices Africa, with African blogs, such as KenyanPundit, and MentalAcrobatics, two Kenyan blogs, BlogAfrica, a blog aggregator by AllAfrica, ‘the largest electronic distributor of African news worldwide’, Pambazuka.org, the site of Pambazuka News, a progressive African publisher. The purple cluster to the right links Global Voices Middle East to a network of US sites, such as Twitter, CNN, Technorati, and Jeff Jarvis’ (the City University of New York Professor of Journalism) Buzzmachine, as well as the Berkman Center’s site, leading to the conclusion that this is a network of contacts for Global Voices, relating to its ability to find funding and to promote its work. The final cluster, the beige one on the bottom right of the graph, is a cluster of Saudi blogs and sites, such as Saudi Jeans, Saudi Woman, Arab News, American Bedu and so on. <br />What kind of conclusions can we reach on the basis of this schematic representation of the links and associations between Global Voices Middle East and these clusters? To begin with, it is evident that there is a kind of bridging work going on in structural terms, since Global Voices Middle East is linked to media and blogs in both sides of the political spectrum, and also to other regional blogospheres, such as the Jordanian, African, Sudanese, and Saudi blogospheres. There is little doubt that this work is much needed, considering both issues of dissemination of information, openness, exchange of opinions and views as well as the issue of allowing marginalized voices to represent themselves. On the other hand, however, the connections seem to be between blogs already written in English, which as Lynch has argued, already have access to and are accessible by Western media and blogs. It is worth noting that there were no links to any blogs written in Arabic, questioning therefore the bridging work between Global Voices and the Arabic blogosphere. On the other hand, this shows the significance of the English language bridge blogs and intensifies the question of representativeness posed by Lynch. A final point here concerns the links to the political and journalistic websites: the links to both sides of the political spectrum shows that Lynch may not have been right in holding that the blogosphere is polarized with politically similar blogs linking only to other politically similar blogs. This seems to be the most clear positive finding of this analysis of Global Voices Middle East: that it seems to establish connections between political blogs of both sides and bridge blogs from the Middle East. <br />Sabbah Report<br />The second blog to be analysed here is Sabbah Report, run by Haitham Sabbah. Sabbah is a Jordanian of Palestinian origins, and one of the first Middle Eastern bloggers. In common with other early bloggers, he comes from an engineering background and has been blogging about Palestine, war, human rights and cultural and religious issues since 2000. In explaining the reasons and justification behind his blog, Sabbah offers two main reasons: firstly, the distorted image of the region in the West and in their mainstream media, and secondly, the weakness of Arab media to redress these distortions. For Sabbah, there are a lot of misconceptions concerning the region and especially Palestine, and he blogs in order ‘to correct the wrong perception’. Although the blog started as a personal commentary, it now invites regular and ad hoc contributors to write stories that meet the blog’s remit. For instance, in early December, one of the contributors was Saeb Erakat, Chief Negotiator for the PLO, with a post titled ‘The returning issue of Palestine’s refugees’. The site runs a few low key advertisements and has no other stated means of support, meaning that it is primarily sustained by voluntary work. It is linked to all kinds of Web 2.0 applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and RSS, and it works on a Creative Commons License, which means that its contents can be used and circulated freely, provided that the source is cited. <br />In terms of the contents and their organization, Sabbah Report is not very easy to navigate as it relies on a long continuous downward scroll with news articles and commentary. On the other hand, it has a searchable archive, where readers can search by categories, keywords, authors or dates. The categories included in Sabbah Report are multiple, ranging from action to Zionism, but in general Sabbah Report seems to publish anything that is related to Palestine from a pro-Palestinian point of view. Thus, while it refers extensively to the Wikileaks revelations, its focus is on the implications of the US cables and the whole Wikileaks saga on the Palestinian issue. Similarly, there is an article on the implications of the restrictions on Gaza for this year’s Christmas and New Year celebrations. The category with the most posts is ‘regional’, and it includes posts on countries of the region but also including the US and the UK. Within this category, Israel and Palestine have amassed the majority of posts, with 1884 and 1806 respectively. This is clearly a partisan blog, in support of Palestine, but is it involved in any bridging work? Authors are both Arab and Western, implying that in terms of contents this is more an international blog rather than a local one. On the other hand blog, its regular posts on issues concerning Palestine may be an important alternative source of information for Western publics and media, assuming that they have access to this blog. It is imperative therefore to examine the structural connections of this blog before reaching any conclusions regarding its bridging work. Graph 2 below shows the networks and blogs Sabbah Report is linked to.<br />Graph 2 – Sabbah Report and associated networks. <br />As with the previous graph, the blog under study is at the centre of the graph (the green one just touching over the light blue one). The most direct links from Sabbah Report are to other pro-Palestinian blogs and sites, such as the Electronic Intifada site, a blog by Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician living and writing from Gaza; Jewish Voice for Peace, a San Francisco-based blog on peace in the region and run primarily by Jewish-Americans; Palestinian Solidarity, ‘a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli apartheid in Palestine’; Free Gaza, the site of the movement linked to the Freedom Flotilla incident; Viva Palestina, a UK-based charity and so on. These sites, located at the centre and top of the graph appear to form the main network – with the pink sites at the top, representing the network linked to Free Gaza (the largest pink circle). Directly under and slightly overlapping is the light blue cluster, with US-based pro-Palestinian blogs, such as Laurence of Cyberia (the light blue slightly overlapping circle), a blog by Diane Mason, a British-American former intelligence specialist commenting on the Palestinian issue; Juan Cole’s site, also encountered above; Angry Arab, the well-known blog by As’ad (Asad?) Abu Khalil, a US-based Lebanese academic and blogger, and Muzzle Watch, a Jewish American site in support of fairer Us policies in the region. These sites are clearly supporting Palestine, and exchange information, links and calls for action. They are, in Lynch’s terminology both activist and public sphere blogs, as they both call for action over Palestine, and offer information, commentary and opinion on the subject. But are they bridges? Looking at the green cluster on the left, we find the same Jordanian blogs encountered in the Global Voices Middle East graph. Under this cluster, the beige cluster represents mainly progressive or left wing media and blogs, such as Norman Finkelstein’s blog, Desert Peace, a blog run by Steve Amsel, an American human rights worker living in Israel, Counter Punch, and Haaretz. The blue cluster next to this, is the network linked to Global Voices, containing more or less the same blogs and sites encountered in the relevant graph: Global Voices, Technorati, Buzzmachine, Twitter, CNN and the Berkman Internet Center at Harvard. Finally, the purple cluster on the right of the main network contains a few local Middle Eastern blogs, such as Mahmood Al-Yousif’s blog, to be examined next; Saudi Jeans, also encountered earlier, Silly Bahrain Girl and other English language Middle Eastern blogs. <br />The observations we can make here are multiple: firstly, although this blog is doing some bridging work, it is mostly to like-minded sites, including activist groups, (West-based) public intellectuals intervening in the debate, and interested individuals from the region, all supporting Palestine. Sabbah Report is also linked to Global Voices, and through this to some US media, such as CNN, but there is little evidence for any other kind of bridging. Secondly, the local blogs to which Sabbah Report is linked are English based ones, implying that there are few if any connections to the actual local blogosphere. Thirdly, the similarity of this network to the one of Global Voices Middle East shows a clear connection and affinity between these sites (indeed Sabbah was one of the first contributors to the Global Voices project), but it also shows an inner directed relationship between like-minded blogs. From this point of view, the bridging work undertaken by this site is not very substantial: it does not seem to connect disparate parts of the blogosphere or to disseminate information more widely in the blogosphere. The main kind of bridging work is between like-minded sites located in the US and UK. Is this the case with Mahmood Al-Yousif’s site? This will be examined next. <br />Mahmood’s Den <br />This blog was created by Mahmood Al Yousif, a Bahraini engineer, who is currently running his own film production company Gulf Broadcast. Mahmood’s Den is operating with the stated purpose of trying “to dispel the image that Muslims and Arabs suffer from” seeking to “create a better understanding that we’re not all nuts hell-bent on world destruction”. Mahmood’s Den does not run any adverts, although it offers the possibility to advertise through banners and side adverts for about $500 per month. However, at the time of this analysis no ads were carried on this site. Secondly, unlike the other blogs examined here, Mahmood’s Den does not have guess posts or other writers. It seems that Mahmood’s Den is a personal blog, run exclusively by Mahmood Al Yousif. Finally, the blog is making full use of Web 2.0 features, such as Facebook, RSS and Twitter. <br />The blog is divided into five main categories: featured, miscellany, politics, society, and blogs. On the top part of the blog, one can also find more targeted information about the blog, there is also an archive, a category concerning Bahrain, its politics, personalities, but also touristic information, a category on blogging, information on how to register, and contact information. On the right of the blog, there are readers’ comments, but readers can also see here the most popular and the most recent posts. More than the other blogs examined here, Mahmood’s Den is concerned with cultural and societal issues more than politics. While the Wikileaks revelations feature here as well, there are posts on Christmas Carols, on Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup, and about Muharraq, Bahrain’s second city. The cultural and social posts on the blog show a rich and interesting cultural and social life, not only in Bahrain, but also commenting on events and/or cultural exhibitions abroad: for instance, in one of the blogs, there is a short video of Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree exhibition at the MOMA in New York, while another features an impromptu dance at the Victoria harbour in Canada. At the same time, political posts tend to feature Bahraini politics rather than the broader politics of the region. In addition, the blog has a lot of posts on freedom of speech, on the freedom to blog, the silencing of the media in the region and in general about journalistic freedom. In addition, Mahmood’s Den campaigns for Ali Abdulemam, a Bahraini jailed blogger, held on general charges. It seems therefore that Mahmood’s Den views its bridging work primarily in terms of disseminating cultural information on Bahrain but also providing to Bahraini and other readers from the region cultural information garnered from travelling abroad. In political terms, the blog seems to be inner-directed, towards Bahrain, with occasional comments on other political issues in the region, such as for example, Iran’s nuclear capabilities. On the other hand, the campaigning for blogging freedom is an important part of the blog, and in this, it may be looking to get some outside support for freedom of speech in the region. How is Mahmood’s Den structurally linked to other blogs? The graph below gives us an idea.<br /> <br />Graph 3 – Mahmood’s Den and associated networks. <br />Mahmood’s Den is represented by the large pink circle in the middle, marked with M. Below and to the left, the pale beige cluster is comprised by pro-Palestinian blogs, such as Sabbah’s Report, PeacePalestine, FreeGaza, FromGaza, Lawrence of Cyberia and so on. The pink cluster next to this contains other Bahraini blogs, such as SillyBahrainiGirl, Emoodz, ButterflyBahain, and others. The blue and light blue cluster on the top right, contains a few Middle Eastern blogs, such as SandMonkey, and Egyptian blog, and Iraq the Model, but mostly it is comprised of US-based Conservative media and blogs, such as Pajamas Media, the Belmont Club (hosted by Pajamas Media), Isntapundit and so on. The few regional blogs that feature here are can also be described as pro-American blogs. On top of the centre, the green cluster contains a host of Saudi blogs, such as SaudiJeans, SaudiWoman, SaudiGazette, AmericanBedu and so on. Saudi Jeans, a blog that is also included in the networks discussed above, is another typical bridge blog, as defined by Zuckerman: it is written in English, by Ahmed Al-Omran, an MA student at the School of Journalism at Columbia University, who blogs on politics and freedom of speech, human rights and women’s rights, but also with a view to ‘change many stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding Saudi Arabia’. All the sites included in this cluster are also written in English. Finally, the purple cluster is the network associated with Global Voices, and includes CNN, Buzzmachine, Twitter, and the Berkman Center. <br />As with the other blogs studied here, the actual structural bridging work undertaken by this blog is disappointing. While it seems to provide some bridges to political and journalistic sites primarily in the US, it does not really offer any links to the deeper parts of the Arabic blogosphere. At the same time, we find the same blogs and clusters encountered earlier, implying a kind of closely-knit network of bridge blogs, linked to each other. <br />