I have long been obsessed with blogging as a space for democratic engagement, where people can speak out protected by the relative freedom of the Internet. And my convictions were once again confirmed when I read an interesting article about life in Saudi Arabia, which was published yesterday on the BBC website, and which used bloggers as its main source of information. So I started doing some superficial research about the Saudi Arabian blogsphere and found a good list of bloggers here. Most of them are in English, but unfortunately many links are broken, and few offer more than teenage angst. Prometheus is one of the few exceptions. A larger (and seemingly more updated) aggregated list can be found here.
Similar blog counts are popping up across the Middle Eastern blogsphere, and naturally some of the most revealing and dramatic bloggers are Iraqi. Amongst them, one of the most celebrated has been for months Baghdad Burning. Similarly, recent political developments in Lebanon, and this summer’s conflict, have set the Lebanese blogsphere on fire.
So it’s all good news, uh? More people freely expressing their ideas and telling us unfiltered truths about what it’s really like to be in the Middle East today, particularly from a young person’s perspective? I am not so sure. On the one hand, in many countries where the media is strictly controlled, the Internet has clearly become the main forum for dissident voices. But on the other hand, when the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad join the blog-debate, it is hard to see how the blogsphere will ever be much more than a cacophony of yellings.
Well, personally I think any outlet that offers an opportunity for people in the Middle East to express their ideas and opinions – even the most mundane – should be cherished and protected. And in this sense, nothing comes close to the potential of the blogsphere.
Blog on, Middle East!