Will Saudi Arabia block social media?

An Arab media representative talks on hi

We posted on the possible censorship of services like Skype on the 3oth of March, CNN now reported that Saudi Arabia may indeed try to block internet social media. The social media on the internet gives Saudi people new possibilities of interacting. Social interaction between different genders has been forbidden over the last few decades and is very difficult in the real world for people who live in Saudi Arabia. Although it does happen. Facebook and Twitter are hugely popular in Saudi Arabia, but now Saudi Arabia may block access to popular Internet messaging applications like Skype, Viber and WhatsApp if telecommunication providers there don’t comply with rules and regulatory conditions, according to the country’s official news agency, SPA.
A statement from Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission released via SPA read, “The Commission emphasizes that it will take appropriate action regarding these applications and services in the event of failure to meet those conditions.” The statement did not address how the applications in question — which allow Internet users to communicate with each other via text messages and voice calls — were violating any rules, but it did highlight the need for service providers in the country to quickly “work with the developers of these applications to meet regulatory requirements.”

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This desire for control over people’s private lives and communications may be inspired by the fact that for example the Egyptian overthrowing of Mubarak was engineered via social media, and the footage uploaded via the internet of Jarir square and atrocities committed by Mubaraks thugs preceded the newsagencies reports. There have been some small scale demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, calling for the release of political prisoners, these were organized via ”WhatsApp”. According to the blogger Eman Al-Nafjan Saudi activists feel safer communicating using applications like WhatsApp and Skype, as they are encrypted. “A lot of human rights activists that communicate in Saudi Arabia do so using WhatsApp,” added Al-Nafjan. “And women’s rights movement members are communicating using WhatsApp.”

Saudi authorities threatened to ban BlackBerry service in the kingdom in 2010, accusing the company of not complying with regulations. The CITC demanded the company install local servers so the service could be censored. An agreement was eventually reached but it is not known what steps were taken by the manufacturer of the Canadian smartphone in order to do so. This was all over the news in the Middle East, so people are well aware of the dangers and will simply move on to another method of communication.
“People who are aware know that it’s not that big of a deal even if these applications are blocked,” said Eman Al-Nafjan. “The issue is if they ban the Internet or if they don’t provide Internet sevices. As long as the Internet is available, there’s no way that they can end freedom of speech  it’s gone beyond the point of no return.”

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Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has called on the Saudi Telecommunication Authority to drop these reported plans to block social media platforms, describing the action — if implemented — as a “losing war.”
Alwaleed Bin Talal announced in late 2011 that he and his investment firm, Kingdom Holding Co., had bought a $300 million stake in Twitter.

AA

Read more: CNN

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One Response

  1. Without blocking the internet or censoring in the way China does, it will be impossible to stop it. Given how much money the current government spends to placate the population (much more than a virtually bankrupt Egypt), they probably have little to worry about from an Arab Spring type event. Still they have a restive Shia population and they don’t seem to be doing much to placate them.

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