Blogging the New Arab Public by Marc Lynch


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A look at the use of political blogospheres in the Middle East and their influence.

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Blogging the New Arab Public by Marc Lynch

  1. 1. Blogging the New Arab Public By Marc Lynch
  2. 2. <ul><li>From one perspective, it is highly unlikely that the phenomenon of blogging will induce wide political change in the Middle East </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Blogging remains an elite activity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only a small number of the already small amount of Arabs who use the internet actually write or read blogs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Blogs reach only a fraction of the audience of Al-Jazeera or state-dominated newspapers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Where bloggers have been politically influential, repressive regimes have successfully cracked down on them. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>However…… </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>It would be naïve to think that blogging has no role in Arab politics: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Their role in the Kefaya movement in Egypt </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Political protests in Bahrain </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The post-Al Hariri period in Lebanon </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Anti-corruption campaigns in Libya </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>2006 Kuwaiti elections </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Do blogs represent a revolutionary new tool for Arab political mobilization? <ul><li>Blogs could allow ordinary Arabs to engage with politics </li></ul><ul><li>Blogs can create a space in which citizens are able to engage in sustained, focused political argument and perhaps even hold national leaders accountable in ways existing media can’t </li></ul><ul><li>Dialogues and interactions on blogs can contribute to the rebuilding of transnational Arab identity by creating “warm” relationships between otherwise distant Arab youth </li></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>“Even if Arab blogs are unlikely to lead a revolution, they hold out the prospect of a new kind of Arab public sphere which could reshape the texture of politics in the decades to come.” </li></ul><ul><li>- pg. 3-4 </li></ul>
  6. 6. Internet penetration in the Arab world remains relatively low… <ul><li>at about 4% </li></ul><ul><li>Concentrated in urban areas </li></ul><ul><li>Data suggests about 19 million Arab internet users, about 10% of the population </li></ul><ul><li>The relatively small number of readers and users of blogs might suggest a built in ceiling for their potential political impact </li></ul>
  7. 7. But… <ul><li>While the data numbers are small, it still equals a 500% increase of internet users over 6 years ago </li></ul><ul><li>Volume might not necessarily equal political influence; a technology that empowers the efforts of relatively small groups of activists could have a disproportionate impact even if it doesn’t reach a mass base. </li></ul><ul><li>Internet access seems nearly universal among politically mobilized Arab youth in some Arab countries </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Suggests it’s a phenomenon that will continue to grow as it filters down through the generations </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>“ In such a political environment, even a handful of creative, engaged and effective political bloggers can make a dramatic difference.” </li></ul><ul><li>“… they still might form a counter-public, an incubator of new ideas and new identities which evolves alongside and slowly reshapes the mainstream public from below.” </li></ul><ul><li>- pg. 5 </li></ul>
  9. 9. Who’s Blogging? <ul><li>Whereas in the U.S. many bloggers are long established journalists, commentators and political muckrakers, this is not yet the case in the Arab world. </li></ul><ul><li>However, this has started to change. As blogs begin to be seen as politically relevant and respectable, more established figures are likely to embrace them. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Political blogging can be very risky in the M.E. <ul><li>“ becoming a blogger can be a life-changing decision attracting phone taps, official harassment or even arrest.” – pg. 9 </li></ul><ul><li>Bloggers in Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya and Syria have been arrested and in some cases tortured for what they’ve written in blogs. </li></ul>
  11. 11. 3 principle types of activities Arab political bloggers engage in <ul><li>Activism </li></ul><ul><li>Bridge-blogging </li></ul><ul><li>Public-sphere engagement </li></ul>
  12. 12. Activist Blogging <ul><li>Directly invovled in political movements </li></ul><ul><li>Use blogs to coordinate political action, spread info and magnify impact of contentious politics </li></ul><ul><li>Usually focus on domestic politics within their own country </li></ul>
  13. 13. Examples: <ul><li>Kefaya – protest in Egypt </li></ul><ul><li>Bahrain – human rights campaign </li></ul><ul><li>Kuwait </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In all 3 cases, activist bloggers took advantage of a political opening by turning it into something more than ruling elites had intended. </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Bridgebloggers <ul><li>Primarily address Western audiences, usually writing in English with the intention of explaining their societies </li></ul><ul><li>“ Arab blogs can challenge the biases of the Western media, ‘open new channels of discussion,’ and ‘get attention and support from international media as well as NGOs for cases that one day were impossible to cross borders.’” – pg. 17 </li></ul><ul><li>Often receive disproportionate attention from Western journalists. </li></ul>
  15. 15. The dangers of bridgeblogging… <ul><li>Their blogs are often partisan, politicized forms of gate-keeping in which partisan bloggers in America lavish attention and hit on Arab blogs which tell them exactly what their own readers want to hear. </li></ul><ul><li>“ The temptations for would-be bridge-bloggers to play to a partisan audience threatened to transform them from bridges into mirrors.” – pg. 18 </li></ul>
  16. 16. Public-Sphere Bloggers <ul><li>Tend not to be directly involved in a political movement, but are deeply engaged with public arguments about domestic (and often Arab or Islamic) politics; do not engage in organized activism </li></ul><ul><li>Causes elites to lose some of their power to dictate the terms of debate and frames of reference. </li></ul><ul><li>Gives young Arabs an outlet to “voice their concerns and ideas in spaces where they will be taken seriously and where results are possible.” –pg. 22 </li></ul>
  17. 17. Aggregator blogs in the M.E. <ul><li>Saudi Blogs </li></ul><ul><li>Jordan Planet </li></ul><ul><li>Kuwait’s Safat </li></ul><ul><li>Bahrain Blogs </li></ul><ul><li>iToot </li></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>These blogs could potentially fill what is currently the greatest hole in Arab media: free, critical domestic media. </li></ul>
  19. 19. The Future of Arab Blogs <ul><li>Activist bloggers will likely learn from the successful uses of the internet in the cases of Egypt, Bahrain and Kuwait. These cases suggest that other Arab countries could be more ripe for such blog activism than they currently appear. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Should expect to see more cases of blogs identifying and pursuing scandals which state media choose to ignore. </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. <ul><li>Bridgeblogging will most likely play an even more important role in shaping how Western media cover the M.E. as Western journalists increasingly seek out bloggers and draw on their reporting to frame their own stories. </li></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>Public-sphere blogging, however, is perhaps the area that holds the most potential for impact on Arab society. </li></ul><ul><li>New forms of public argument and discourse among a vastly expanded range of voices will make it ever more difficult for narrow elites to monopolize discourse. </li></ul>
  22. 22. It seems likely that blogs will increase in political significance… <ul><li>“ Whether through direct activism, bridge-blogging, or public sphere argument, the ability of blogs to frame stories and to funnel information into the public sphere will grow.” </li></ul><ul><li>- pg. 29 </li></ul>
  23. 23. Questions <ul><li>Do you agree with his argument that blogs will allow for a more open, free and democratic media in the Middle East? Or will repressive regimes only continue to successfully stifle their voice? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you think we will see a move in the media towards blogospheres (public spheres in the world of blogs) as a way of getting their information and learning what the public feels is important to talk about…the way blogs are used in Western countries? Is this use of blogs in the M.E. more likely to be allowed by repressive governments than activism blogs? </li></ul>