I spend about two hours a day on Twitter, the popular social-networking website. I read views and opinions from across the political spectrum, whether they be radical, conservative, liberal or secular. I follow up with tweeters from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Mauritania, Britain and America. Through these daily tweets on various issues, which differ from one nation to another, I feel the pulse of each society. This website has taken on an unprecedented communal dynamic, at least at the Arab level. Twitter, which has given a voice to intellectuals all over the world, has in many countries become the greatest platform for expressing one's opinion and raising important issues.
Tweeters in Saudi Arabia address critical subjects within the intellectual arena. By doing so, they end up fomenting discord between groups with diverging views.
While Twitter is seen as an important platform for discussion across the Arab world, in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt it has degenerated into a forum for polarization where incidental issues are blown out of proportion, writes Abdallah Naser al-Oteibi. The only thing these tweeters may all agree upon is their inflated pride, says the author.
Al-Hayat (Pan Arab)
Twitter in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt
Abdallah Naser al-Oteibi
March 12, 2012
March 13 2012
They have expressed their opinions about women driving, which will soon ignite a dispute between conservatives and those who support women drivers. When Saudi tweeters talk about the Saudi football team losing out in the qualifying rounds for the World Cup, radical Saudis join the debate, raising questions about spending millions of dollars on players who wear illegal shorts and chase after a rubber ball, ignoring Allah. Meanwhile, others weep for this scandal, which would have never occurred had the Saudi football team gotten rid its managers that have been following outdated strategies from the seventies and eighties.
Moreover, when Saudi tweeters post about the annual book fair, a fierce war erupts between opponents and advocates of the event. Tweets about a surgery undergone by the Saudi minister of culture and information spark debates about domestic media policies between the fundamentalists who reject these practices and their advocates, who add fuel to the fire just to spite the other group. In the process of these disputes, the ball might move back and forth to the court of both teams, but to no avail, as no mutual agreement is ever reached.
In Kuwait, tweets revolve around the partisan polarization characterizing the formation of the new parliament, as well as its practices. No matter what cause Kuwaiti tweeters raise — whether it is political, social or economic — the most heated debates are always over sectarian issues. Kuwaitis are preoccupied with figuring out who the "true" Kuwaitis are and aren’t, overlooking fundamental issues in their society. While long-running debates rage, crucial issues remain unsolved.
In Egypt, apart from the debates between the Islamists and the Copts, the twittersphere is currently revolving around the presidential race. Following the fall of Hosni Mubarak, every Egyptian believes that he or she has what it takes to introduce economic and political reforms after the corrupt practices of the National Democratic Party. The democracy emerging in Egypt has granted Egyptians the right to express their opinions freely. However, Egyptians have in turn become dictators who do not listen to anyone but themselves. Egypt got rid of a single dictator with thousands of followers, only to replace him with countless other dictators without any followers.
Kuwaiti, Saudi and Egyptian tweeters may not discuss the same subjects. However, they agree on one thing: the exaggerated pride in their historical origins. It has become common practice among Saudis on Twitter to throw accusations of “non-Saudiness” in the faces of Saudis who have left the their homeland to live abroad.
In Kuwait, accusations of “non-Kuwaitiness” might result in the accused being deprived of the economic benefits meant to be provided to them by their government. Kuwaiti tweeters believe that their economic welfare may be at risk if the population were to grow. Individual participation in the national output is insignificant for these tweeters — what matters to them is Gross National Income per capita.
In Egypt, while differences may be found in the details, the overall context is almost the same: Egyptian tweeters pride themselves on their population size, overlooking the economic and political chaos that has existed since 1952. A large population is the only thing they have achieved in their modern history.