Upon reading the capacious study by the Californian Berkman Center a breath of disappointment seems to be permanently there. In fact the Arabian blogger scene is nothing special (as one might have expected). First of all, Arabian blogger deal with its homeland. Well, that should be the same in any other country. Men and women alike are blogging about personnel stuff, friends, sexuality and religion.
- less than 1% support extreme or terroristic ideas
- 19% are explicitly against terrorism
- 1% show sympathy for political islam whereas 9% criticise it
Thereby fears of American politicians that the use of the internet might support hate and terrorism seem to be exaggerated. Maybe this analysis can even help to unmask and reduce stereotypes. Maybe it also helps to prevent that extreme point of views dominate between different cultures. The study confirms that extreme opinions represent a very small part of the blogosphere.
In sequence: The Berkmann Research Center belongs to the American Harvard elite university and identified a network of 35.000 active Arabian bloggers of which 4.000 have been examined in detail. Emphasis was on the mention of politics, media, religion, culture and international relations. The analyzed network comprises of blogs from at least 18 different Arabic countries as well as Arabic expats in Europe, in the States, South America and other countries.
What marks Arabian bloggers? They are predominately young and male. The biggest share of female bloggers can be found in Egypt, whereas there are hardly any women in Maghreb or Syria. Upon choosing a topic private notices are the most important ones which are written down in form of diary entries. Those who write about political topics are limited to their home country and criticize their political establishment. Foreign politicians are only marginally discussed but critically rated. Local news are more observed than international ones – more a political perspective. Most entries are issued on Palestine, especially on the situation in the Gaza Strip.
The States are not a dominant topic in the Arabic blogs, the wars in Afghanistan or the Iraq neither. The states are mostly mentioned in english-speaking blogs of the Levant or from Syria. If they are picked out as a central theme then rather critically.
The study assigns the examined blogs to six focus regions:
- Egypt: has the biggest Arabian blogger community. That group is characterized by bloggers belonging to the reformist camp and also by members of the forbidden Islamic organization “Muslim Brotherhood”. Half of the bloggers are female. The average blogger age is 18-24 years. Main topic are single-life and familiy-life.
- Saudi Arabia: has the second biggest blogger community. Essentially, they write personnel diaries and hardly about political issues. There are little blogs on home affairs. They basically write about internet technology. There is quite a big share of women among Saudi Arabian bloggers.
- Kuwait: The blogs examined have been separated into two groups. There are blogs written in English on the one hand and blogs written in Arabic on the other hand. Both groups write about home affairs. English-speaking bloggers campaign for reforms, the economy and women rights. The actual news of this study is that the Kuwaits belong to the most enthusiastic bloggers. The were especially active after the emir’s death in 2006 and the riots afterwards. The uncovered irregularities during the election battle and the election itself.
- Levant: This group of bloggers lives mostly in the eastern med, the Levant. Countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Palestine and Iraq belong to that region. Most of the examined blogs are written in English. This group is known as the “bridge bloggers” as there are linked to blogs from America and other Western countries above average. Jordan has the highest rate of female bloggers (> 40 %).
- Syria: this group distinguishes oneself by criticizing local politicians. It comprises of englisch-speaking blogs as well as Arabic-speaking ones. The Arabian blogs are geared to Saudi Arabia; the English ones to Levant. This blogger group has most expats (16,7 %) that are being pulled together by their choice of language. They are especially political: they discuss international news as well as local ones. Emphasis is on human rights, women rights and Western culture. The either support or criticize the States. Bloggers are mostly male (87 %).
- Maghreb: a cross-country group whose members are basically from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Many of them write “French Arabic”. Others write French and are close to religious motivated groups. The Maghreb is predominated by male bloggers of middle age with a high rate of anonymous bloggers from abroad.
- Iraqi bloggers: This group is rather small. Most of them write in English. That might be due to the fact that many Iraqis are linked to US-American Think-tanks.
- Muslim Brotherhood: Even though the Muslim Brotherhood is officially forbidden in Egypt they are active bloggers. They write about human rights and defend arrested members. They discuss the future of the union and its targets. It is a slugfest between the establishment and younger members in the first place.
So up to now no new or surprising findings. Whoever is knows the colonial history of this region will be able to follow the correlations.
Further arrangements are conducted by agenda setting:
- Islam-Focus: It is a loosely entangled group of bloggers from different Arabian countries that focus on Islam. Personnel, theological and political aspects are being discussed.
- Terrorism: Terrorism is being discussed in the Levant in the first place and in Syria. Thereby almost all bloggers are against terrorism.
- Religion: Religion is a popular issue within blogs. However, this topic is rather highlighted from a personal point of view than from a political or theological aspect. Critic on other persuasions is little. The execption is a rash of bloggers from the Islamic corner who write about Islam in a conservative way. Often other religions are criticized.
- Human rights and culture: Human rights are a main topic of many blogs. Among the cultural issues lyrics, literature and art are more popular than modern pop culture (music, TV and cinema).
- Arabic media: Blogs link to Web 2.0-tool such as YouTube and Wikipedia. Al Jazeera is the main information source, followed by BBC and Al Arabiya.
- Anonymity: On the whole Arabic bloggers write under their real name. Exceptions are Syrian, Kuwaitis and Maghrebis. These are mostly bloggers who write about their prosecution. In Algeria women tend to write anonymously.
Analyzing the results one has to keep in mind that the examined bloggers only represent a certain well-informed and well-off social class. Many inhabitants have none or only restricted access to the internet. The government tries to control any activity on the internet. Moreover in 2003 the relation from computers to inhabitants was 18:1.000. In 2007 only 4 % of the population in the Arabic World had access to the internet and there were only 19 Mio. Internet user at that time, which equals on 10 % of the total population. At least that means an increase of 500 % in comparison to 2001.
Download of the studay: Studie (1,3 MB)