TWITTERING ACROSS SAUDI ARABIA

I have never traveled across the great deserts of Saudi Arabia, the heart of Muslim country and home of their major shrines. The prophet Mohammed is buried in Mecca and the country considered sacred. A resolutely devoted Muslim world, the Saudis have maintained rigid enforcement of their religious principles while rolling in oil income that has made the ruling family among the richest in the world. Of course, this means women cannot even drive a car. Until recently…

The solid foundation of social values now has a crack in it. What shifting international ideals and values have not changed Arabia, the computer and the internet have penetrated the shield. Twitter has revealed frustration and a rejection of how the male dominated country is run. Recently a tweet to Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (heir apparent to the throne) sent this audacious message. “Remember that we have no medical insurance, no jobs. Prince Salman has billions of dollars and don’t forget all the fenced-in land belonging to the royal family.” Wow! That’s a wake up call indeed!

In fact, the computer has become a new major factor in how the world is run. Even used as an instrument of war, the internet has opened channels that cannot be easily closed. It is widely accepted that America and Israel knocked out Iran’s centrifuges through a cyber attack via the computer. In turn, Iran has intensified their efforts to return the blow. In mid-October Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that his department is now concerned the Iran may be the first country to launch cyberterrorism. Such an attack recently devastated computer systems in Persian Gulf oil and gas companies. Not unlike the Cold War, hidden espionage and assault continue to go on behind closed doors. Always an unpredictable enemy, national security experts know Iran is more than willing to use sophisticated computer-based methods of attack.

While nothing so vicious in mind, the Saudis are now waking up to how computer messages might affect their country. They did not experience the so-called Arab Spring, but the Twitter-type messages are still spreading a revolution. Prominent judges and lawyers have issued public criticism of large-scale government corruption and social neglect. Women fire away at the clerics who limit their freedoms and self-expression. Even criticisms have been leveled at the king. Unheard of!

A recent study revealed that Twitter has 2.9 million users in Saudi Arabia. While a person could remain anonymous or use a fictitious name, most of the Twitter messages come signed. One of the surprising twists in this revolution is that the internet has turned into a parliament of sorts: A true people’s forum.

One of the unexpected aspects of these messages is the depth of anger toward the royal family. Observers are now recognizing that without serious reforms, the placid Saudi society could erupt into violent change. A mysterious unknown writer name Mujtahidd (which means studious) has made sensational and detailed assaults on the royal family. With 660,000 followers, Mujtahidd is not likely to be easily shut down.

Iran and Saudi Arabia stand at opposite ends of the political spectrum but both reveal how radical the times are changing. The Saudis must take a long, hard second look at their society and we will do the same with Iran. Computers are not to be scoffed at!

Question: Want to Tweet the King in Arabia? You can. What would you tell him?

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Filed under middle east, Muslims, Saudi Arabia

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