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Gulf bloggers: The new activists

A Kuwaiti woman's blog, Jewaira's Boudoir, breaches the region's taboos by posting episodes of an erotic tale.

india Updated: Jun 14, 2006 13:22 IST

Internet blogs are giving rise to a new breed of Arab activist as ordinary residents increasingly use them to press for more political rights and civil liberties in conservative Gulf states.

Typical was a recent posting by a 33-year-old Saudi man. "Are we destined to just listen to the news of all the big changes around the world as we await a good deed from our king?" he questioned in his weblog, or blog.

And in one notable case, blogs in Kuwait were used to rally broad support last month for street demonstrations in favour of election law reforms.

The bloggers write in Arabic, English or a mixture of both. They are eager to set themselves apart from both newspaper and web columnists writing for established sites as well as the hugely popular Internet bulletin boards that often have a militant Islamic bent.

There are now about 1,000 Gulf Arab bloggers, up five times from 2004, according to Haitham Sabbah, a Bahrain-based blogger and Middle East editor for Global Voices, a programme launched last year by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School in the US that tracks and collects blogs worldwide.

Popular Saudi blogs by women include "Farah's Sowaleef", "A Thought in the Kingdom of Lunacy", and "Saudi Eve". They are peppered with sharp-tongued criticism of their male- dominated Muslim society and logs of rare escapades from an environment that demands obedience and modesty.

"I wore my leopard-printed heels and strategically placed a flower in my hair," read an April posting on "Saudi Eve", which has been censored by authorities since early June.

Saudi Arabia has the Gulf's biggest blogging community with about 300 bloggers, more than half of them women according to Omran. With Saudi's population of some 23 million it has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in the Arab world.

A Kuwaiti woman's blog, "Jewaira's Boudoir", breaches the region's taboos by posting episodes of a fictional erotic tale.

"The Religious Policeman", a blog written by an unnamed Saudi man living in Britain, is on a mission to expose what he regards as the hypocrisy of the kingdom's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the so-called religious police charged with enforcing the country's strict Islamic moral code.

His blog cannot be accessed in Saudi Arabia. Authorities there, like other Gulf governments censor everything deemed offensive to religious and moral values or threatening to society.

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has the region's second biggest weblog community, an Emirati male blogger writing in Arabic was censored one week after launching "The Land of Sands" in 2004.

But he continues posting his writings in which he attacks clerics and charges their influence is rising in the UAE. "They follow a plan to penetrate the government, media, schools and the laws. They are 'Islamising' our world, mind and life," he told AFP in an email interview.