In the past year, I have written twice about the growth of the blog phenomenon on the internet and its spread in western societies. Weblogs are becoming a prime source of news, information and opinion, reflecting the writer’s particular standpoint.
In the Middle East, misconceptions about the phenomenon appear to be diminishing as the number of Arabic blogs rises. These online journals contain personal thoughts and concerns, and feature a discussion of the author’s political worries and the problems her or she faces in daily life.
As blogs grow in numbers and influence, Arab states have become worried. A number of bloggers have been arrested in Bahrain, Syria and Tunisia. Throughout the recent conflict between the Egyptian government and the judiciary, bloggers have expressed their solidarity with the judges on the internet. When the security forces arrested a number of protestors who took to the street in support of the judges, six of those detained were renowned bloggers. They included Alaa Ahmad Said al Islam, who started a blog with his wife Manal.
Remarkably, even after Alaa and other protestors were detained by the Egyptian security forces, they were able to tell the world about their arrest through their blogs. It remains to be seen how they were able to smuggle out their writings from jail; perhaps they were able to send messages via mobile phones. Alaa’s online entry about the incident proved very popular, propelling his blogs into one of the most vital pages on the internet, filled with opinions and counter arguments, in a free environment that no other medium can replicate.
The detention of Egyptian bloggers created an electronic turmoil that is no less important than the demonstrations in the streets of Cairo. Egyptian bloggers have received numerous messages of support but have also been mocked and derided.
Alaa and other Egyptian blogger’s popularity reflect the inability of government to control or restrict communication between individuals and the exchange of ideas and opinions. In these circumstances, one has to feel grateful for modern technologies as well as the sheer determination of activists and young people in using these technologies to overcome surveillance, arrest and detention.
While the police did not hesitate to use force and beat Egytpian protestors and bloggers, this has only made them more determined and re-affirmed the importance of weblogs.