كان هذا بحث جمعته و كتبته في سنه 2006 في الجامعة. أنوي تجديده قريباً باحصائيات جديدة. أرجوا ذكر المصدر عند الاقتباس منه أو من أي المصادر التي ذكرتها.
Living in Saudi Arabia before moving to the USA allowed me to observe the Saudi society, and how they reacted to the introduction of some new media technologies. I will start by mentioning some stories about how the Saudi society came to adopt some technologies in the past. Afterwards, I will explain some old social trends that are disappearing due to the introduction of some new media technologies. Finally, I mention, in a little detail, how the Saudi Arabian society adopted some new technologies, and how it’s creating new trends and structure.
Early adoptions of Technology in Saudi Arabia
When the bicycle was first introduced, for example, it was resisted and was called “the horse of Satan”. It continued to be resisted to an extent that in the 1960s a person required a permit to even ride a bicycle in public. That kind of “fear” of technology could be considered “normal” if it was filed under the natural human resistance to change. It can be compared to how Americans reacted to the introduction of electricity, and further down the line, the telegraph. (Czitrom)
TV was first introduced by King Faisal in the 1960s. The royal family found it was necessary to keep the nation united, as well as help in its path to modernization (Kraidy) during 1991, I remember the introduction of satellite TV into the Kingdom. Before 1991, Saudis were limited to watching two government controlled channels, one in Arabic and the other in English. Some coast cities might get neighboring countries channels, but they were filled with static. I remember the talks, debates and actions that some people took against satellites. In some conservative areas like Qaseem, some members of “The Commission for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue” took it upon themselves to take down the satellite dishes by sniping them on residential houses; this was caused by the fear of not having control over the new technology. This “fear” can be compared to the fear Americans felt in the 1880s from the spread of electricity.
“The introduction of mass media was fiercely resisted (in Saudi Arabia), especially photography, film and television whose visual nature is problematic because of the Qur’anic injunction against reproducing the human figure.” (Kraidy)
King Saud convinced Saudi Islamic scholars otherwise. With the argument that light is good, and that capturing light unchanged from the form that “GOD” created it, is good too.
The most important technological advancement that was introduced into the Kingdom, in my point of view, is the Internet. As an early adopter myself, I had access to the World Wide Web as soon as it was available in the country in 1999. With obstacles like expensive prices per hour and a conservative family, I was a regular web surfer. The Internet was not fully allowed in Saudi Arabia by conservative leaders until a monitoring and censoring system was fully functioning. The Internet differed from other media technology introduced into the Kingdom in the fact that conservative Muslims accepted it with enthusiasm as a tool for spreading Islam and spreading “good”. Probably the same way Christians in the United States believed that the telegraph should be used only to spread the gospel. Little did they know that this would also be a tool for social and government reform. (Czitrom)
A fact worth mentioning is that most Arabic satellite channels and networks are owned by Saudi businessmen. Another fact is that as of 2003, there are 21 functional ISPs as well as 1.6 million Internet users in Saudi Arabia.
Old social trends
The main difference between the Saudi culture and other cultures would be that every aspect of life depends on the total separation between males and females. Schools are separated as well as social life. The Commission for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue work day and night policing youngsters in shopping malls as well on the streets to make sure young people remain under control. This forced the hormonal youth to try to find creative ways of communicating and breaking social restrictions. One way that Saudi kids used to break social restrictions and flirt with the opposite sex, was with the use of pieces of paper where they dropped it in the path of another person of the opposite sex in a mall or a park, or this can also be done by flashing one person’s number through a car window (Aboud).
Newspapers in Saudi Arabia can only be established by royal decision. There are more than ten newspapers as well as several magazines that are distributed all over the world. To keep a publication up and running, it must follow the rules set by the government by not publishing stories that are sensitive. This usually happens by following the state run news TV channel. Any publication that violates these rules is to be punished by law.
New social trends with the emergence of new media
With the introduction of new media, specifically Bluetooth cell phones, the young broke free from some of the social constraints. A young male doesn’t need to physically drop his number or come close to a girl to communicate. If you search Bluetooth devices through your own in a local coffee shop, you will be surprised by the amount of devices that are set to be discovered, and also by the names given to them. If you don’t know what that meant; Every Bluetooth has the option to set it to be discovered by other Bluetooth devices, and every device has to have a unique name. Once the phone is discoverable, messages can be sent to it from other Bluetooth devices, after confirming with the owner of the phone of course. Bluetooth became the official alternative to flirting. (Aboud)
“Using Bluetooth is much better than trying to throw the number to the girls through car windows, or in the shopping center,” said Rakan, a 20-year-old university student. “Through Bluetooth, I guarantee that the other party chose to accept my number or the file I sent. In other words, I don’t impose myself on anyone.” (Aboud)
It became a trend in Saudi youth to use camera phones to share photos, movies and other media. Teenagers are also competing with one another to get the latest photos and the latest music as well. (Aboud)
If you really think about all of these technologies, it’s hard to imagine how can this technology really effect mass society. Camera phones as well as Bluetooth equipped devices manage to create such an effect through the Internet, and the integration of these devices with it. This allowed pictures, movies, audio to be mass distributed all over Saudi Arabia.
Cell phone Cameras
The introduction of Camera Cell phones also raised some controversy, since it came with a fear of taking photos of women without their knowledge or against their will. There was a ban on camera phones for quite sometime in 2004, only to be lifted after it was found that the market is already saturated with them, and how easy it is to get one through the black market. (Akeel)
The bigger effect of the Internet on the Saudi society came through the rise in popularity of Blogging. Some young as well as some older Saudis started speaking freely on websites where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order (Wikipedia.com). Blogging took off in 2000, according to Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, a Saudi journalist. The list of bloggers is expanding too, and some of them are gaining popularity. ‘http://saudiblogs.blogspot.com/‘ has a list of most Saudi bloggers, and it is also used to organize meetings between bloggers and post announcement.
Men and women are participating in the blogging phenomenon. There are estimation of over 600 Saudi blogs now, Arabic and English, male and female written, liberal and conservative. (Hardy) Women in specific are benefiting from the blog craze in Saudi Arabia. ‘http://saudiarabiawomenrights.blogspot.com/‘ is a blog created specifically to discuss women rights in Saudi Arabia; petitions as well as letters to the king have been posted and signed by multiple Saudi women. Blogs have also been tackling a lot of social issues indirectly too. For example, a meeting was arranged between Saudi bloggers, but the invitation was to male bloggers only, due to restrictions of culture. Some women bloggers replied asking for a way to make it happen, but no plans were made yet. (Schwartz)
Examples of some of the Famous bloggers are Ahmad Al-Omran for his blog Saudi Jeans ‘www.saudijeans.blogspot.com‘; he is famous for blogging in English. An anonymous female blogger who goes by the name Mystique says “I want to remain anonymous,” she says, adding that only a small group of friends know her real identity.” Her blog is considered by a lot of Saudis to be outspoken. Both bloggers mention that they get both hate-mail as well as praise from members of the Saudi society.
As we can see that Blogging is having a very liberating effect on the Saudi community, where people found themselves able to express one’s self and still maintain anonymity. Some, like Ahmad, started out anonymous, but then as he matured professionally, decided to go public. (OCSAB)
As I mentioned earlier, the Internet was not introduced to the Saudi public until a filtering system was introduced. All Internet traffic goes through a central location at King Abdul-Aziz City for Science & Technology. For more information on the blocking criteria, please refer to the supplemented document. In a study conducted by The OpenNet Initiative over three years, it was found that the filtering system focus was as followed: pornography (98% of these sites tested blocked in our research), drugs (86%), gambling (93%), religious conversion, and sites with tools to circumvent filters (41%). In contrast, Saudi Arabia shows less interest in sites on gay and lesbian issues (11%), politics (3%), Israel (2%), religion (less than 1%), and alcohol (only 1 site). (OpenNet)
Bloggers were not safe from censoring in Saudi Arabia. Ahmad, who was mentioned earlier, found his block blocked early 2006. Another female blogger by the name Saudi Eve, found her blog blocked, after she expressed her thoughts about sex and religion. (Hardy) Ahmad got his blog unblocked. I found it interesting that Ahmad was not just supported by liberal Saudi bloggers, due to the relatively liberal nature of his blogging, but by some conservative bloggers. Ahmad was also supported by OCSAB (The Official community of Saudi Bloggers); the block was lifted due to a petition made by OCSAB. (OCSAB)
The government has also created laws for the misuse of new media technologies such as camera phones. After an incident where two young Saudis filmed an assault on a 17-year-old girl by their driver broke out; prison for 3 months as well as a fine of 20,000 Saudi Riyals ($5,333) is the punishment now for distributing pornography using camera phones. (Ghafour)
The path to reform
I wanted to leave the reader with some words from Osama Al-Kurdi, a member of Saudi Arabia’s Consultative (Shura) Council, an important force for change in the Kingdom:
“I was speaking to a newly appointed ambassador of a European country in Saudi Arabia. And, when I learned that he was in Saudi Arabia 10 years ago as a number two man, I asked him, “What is the biggest difference you’ve seen in Saudi Arabia?” And, he said, “The media.” He said he couldn’t believe some of the issues that were being debated and discussed in Saudi media. I agree with him. I have been following what is being written and discussed in the media of Saudi Arabia. I really think that we are going places. The media in Saudi Arabia is going places. All the articles are quiet encouraging. The debate that is taking place, especially in the area of the municipal elections — because it’s a big thing now, of course — is very interesting.” (Al-Kurdi)
I think these words really show the progress that the Saudi society has made in the last 15 years. In conclusion, one must critically assess new media as a social mechanism and how new media has infinite resonating effects on the Saudi society.
Aboud, Ghada. “Teenagers Sinking Their Teeth Into New Technology.” Arab News. 10 Feb. 2005. Arab News. 30 Nov. 2006 <http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1§ion=0&article=58778&d=10&m=2&y=2005>.
Akeel, Maha. “Camera Phones Legal But Individual Restrictions Apply.” Arab News. 10 Jan. 2005. Arab News. 30 Nov. 2006 <http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1§ion=0&article=57343&d=10&m=1&y=2005>.
Al-Kurdi, Osama. “The Dynamics of Economic and Commercial Reform: Near-Term Prognoses.” SAUDI-US RELATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE. 27 Sept. 2004. Saudi Arabia’s Consultative (Shura) Council. 30 Nov. 2006 <http://www.saudi-us-relations.org/newsletter2004/saudi-relations-interest-09-27.html>.
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Ghafour, Abdul. “Stiff Punishments Await Camphone Misusers.” Arab News. 16 Apr. 2005. Arab News. 30 Nov. 2006 <http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1§ion=0&article=62206&d=16&m=4&y=2005&pix=kingdom.jpg&category=Kingdom>.
Hardy, Roger. “Saudi Arabia’s Bold Young Bloggers.” BBC News. 17 Oct. 2006. BBC. 30 Nov. 2006 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6055382.stm>.
OpenNet. “Internet Filtering in Saudi Arabia in 2004.” OpenNet Initiative. 2004. OpenNet Initiative. 30 Nov. 2006 <http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/saudi/#toc1c>.
Kraidy, Marwan M. “Hypermedia and Governance in Saudi Arabia By.” First Monday. 25 July-Aug. 2006. American University. 30 Nov. 2006 <http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/special11_9/kraidy/index.html#note36>.
OCSAB. “The Official Community for Saudi Bloggers.” OCSAB. 30 Nov. 2006 <http://www.ocsab.com/>.
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