Is the Internet the most ideal method of communication and expression in our complicated and uneasy world?
The question is not a new one, but has become more pressing for the world’s cyberspace users due to the growing role of the World Wide Web in our lives, and despite the heated competition amongst all means of communications that globalization has provided us.
If we were to ask this question from an Arab perspective, certainly I would strongly favor the answer yes.
I prefer the Internet as a means of research, gaining knowledge and expression to the rest of conventional Arab media outlets in spite of the great dangers posed by the Internet concerning accuracy, credibility and a possible inclination towards sectarian, fanaticism which our conventional media outlets have by no means escaped completely.
Finally, the “Arabic Network for Human Rights Information” (ANHRI) released a report on Internet use in the Arab world.
The report monitored and accurately documented the realities of the Internet in all Arab states, which shows an escalation in the conflict between Arab governments and the Internet.
The number of websites and blogs that have been blocked by Arab governments has doubled, and has resulted in the detention of a number of bloggers who raised particular issues in cyberspace.
Let us not forget the case of Libyan blogger Daif al Ghazal, who was killed and whose fingers were amputated in a clear message to the new class of liberal Arab journalists amongst others.
The issues of democracy, freedom of expression and opinion have become more prevalent on the web then traditional forms of media like television and newspapers; hence the reason Arab governments have stepped up their confrontation with the popular medium.
The ANHRI report also revealed that the number of Arab Internet users has doubled, rising from 14 millions in 2004 to 26 millions in 2006.
Perhaps the most attractive feature of the World Wide Web is the possibility of the existence of independent institutions, organizations and individuals who can, in actual and serious freedom, express issues that the conventional media outlets are still reluctant to tackle.
Media in the Arab world is still an extension of governments, political parties and financial powers, which is why the internet has become an attractive arena for a number of independent human rights and humanitarian bodies, intellectuals and, most importantly, bloggers who constitute a nucleus of real expression that often revealed what is unspoken in the Arab world.
It is true that Islamic sites are still the predominant ones (out of the most common Arabic language 100 sites, 10 hard-line Islamic sites came in first); however, spaces for secular, liberal and even atheist sites have begun to emerge.
It is important to monitor how the relationship between the Arabs – both governments and individuals — will develop in future with the internet as its backdrop.