Gulf bloggers: a new breed of Arab activists

DUBAI, June 14, 2006 (AFP) – 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 United States that tracks and collects blogs worldwide.

Ahmed al-Omran, a 22-year-old Saudi university