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Saudis demand internet censorship 18, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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Al Sharq Al Awsat reports that there are between 700-1000 requests per day from Saudi Arabian internet users to the Ministry in charge of censoring the internet to block what they deem to be unsuitable material. The same article finds that there are only 200 requests for sites to be unblocked, creating a 4:1 ratio.

Brian Whitaker, using OpenNet Initiative statistics, fleshes out these findings in an interesting post.

We found that the kingdom’s filtering focuses on a few types of content: 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).

There are a few more surprising things to note in the OpenNet/Whitaker report.

  • Jewish orientated sites are not blocked as much as one might initially assume.
  • Seemingly more ‘non Sunni’ orientated websites were blocked.
  • Al Manar’s was blocked (Hizbollah’s TV station).

This topic highlights a fascinating point. I think that from a Western perspective we automatically assume that people intrinsically want more freedom of speech, less censorship and more democracy, writ large. Yet this is just not the case in Saudi Arabia. Of course, many people there do want these attributes, yet overall I firmly get the impression that it is the government dragging the country  forward* and not the people dragging the government as we automatically presume: it’s not as if the government is necessarily wedded to the past and is pushing again a tide of a pent-up, reform minded populace.

Eventually I imagine that demographics will have the last say. The younger generations certainly appears to be less conservative so I’d expect the worst excesses of Saudi’s draconian religious conservatism (the executing of witches, the hideous moral and religious police etc) to be curtailed somewhat but I still think that social mores will take much longer. It is one thing for a 20 something Saudi man to chat to girls via Bluetooth or to go to Bahrain for a debauched weekend, but quite another for him to be happy for his daughter to engage is similar practices.

*Yes, before anyone gets all ‘Said’ on me, I understand the irony of using this term.

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