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August 24, 2005



Bloggers in lebanon were very politically active as well as able to make the transition to on the ground impact. Of course many would argue that lebanon is somewhat atypical, but lebanese play a major role in arab media life, and should not be ignored (that is beyond the pop icons that you cover so assiduously).

the aardvark

Should have mentioned Lebanon too, my bad. And Iraq is kind of a unique case. But the wider point stands, I think, unless other commenters want to argue the counter case.

The Lounsbury

The Lebanese indeed do play an outsized role in MENA media (a negative in my mind, as Leb Land obsessions and habits get written large as "Arab World"), but in the end I fail to see the meaning for the wider Arab world. Even for Lebanon, the blogs served a rather narrow and rather too special little elite rather too caught up with itself.

Blogs may be an interesting tool on the margin, as we say in economics, for effecting organisational work, but too few Arabs read them, even among elites, and there is too little internet penetration to really make them effective. Bou Aradvrak is right, Arab Sats are the real influence driver.


Of course blogs are limited to a small group of people, usually elite. Of course they don't have the reach of satellite TV. Nor, I think, do they aim to compete with the mainstream media for a piece of the media market pie. Their goals are limited to getting information out to their (usually highly politicised) constituency and coordinating political mobilisation. The importance of networks has often been stressed in social movement theory, and blogs often reflect such networks, friends passing them on to friends, students to fellow students, and so on. They offer a new tool to a group of people already interested in challenging existing hegemonies. The pool of potential political activists in any society is relatively small, so I don't see this as unusual. Students will reach out through student clubs, Islamists through their dawa networks, this is just another variation.

I also suppose that for young activists tired of existing political parties, blogs offer a low-cost way of networking and coming up with alternatives. It's a hell of a lot more convenient than setting up party branch offices or leafletting the neighbourhood.

It certainly is easy to be taken in by the sudden mushrooming of symbolic protest and blogs in the Arab world and see it as a sign of larger political ferment - it is all too common to see the average Cairene window-shopping in complete ignorance of a protest two blocks away - but even symbolic protest does have a demonstration effect and encourages more people to speak out. Not to mention the relief of being able to speak one's mind for a change. For many people it is refreshing just to hear slogans openly criticising Mubarak. I suppose the real question is whether all the talk will serve as a pressure valve or as a first step to greater things.

Ritzy Mabrouk

Protest! Alaa (and Manal) do a great job but to say that Egypt's blog scene is leading antigov. protest is a big big stretch -- Eg. bloggers are not THAT influential. Compare with the stream of SMS messages about activities, phone calls, e-mails, blogs haven't made it yet. For an audience outside, maybe yes. The attempted vigil has nothing to do with the move for change, it was a sporadic attempt by a few bloggers here and one or two abroad. It's like me calling my friends and try to meet up and demonstrate and then let media quote as as reps or leaders of egypts political opposition movement who do a great job at a huge risk. If there were an important blogscene, sure Charles could have came up with other blogs to put in the side bar than these who are largely playing on the side as commentators -- just like me?
Aardvark & Sat TV is more influential.

The Lounsbury

Social blah blah theory or whatever, it is quite simply the case there are not enough blogs or blog readers in the Arab world for them to genuinely matter.

Overreading the role of blogs reminds me of the nonsense regarding e-government and the like pimped by the Development types a few years back - it's reading developed market concerns onto another situ. Period.

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