I’m an Arab. I grew up knowing when to whisper something or avoid a specific topic over the phone. Call it paranoia. Call it a bad habit. I never believed in the concept of freedom of speech, but I thought that the Internet and its anonymity might encourage some individuals to voice out their opinions without suffering from sever consequences. I was wrong.
The current situation in the Middle East is way beyond acceptable. You cannot possibly voice out any negative opinion about any topic without facing severe consequences.. Here we go:
1. UAE: A Facebook user in Abu Dhabi was banned from having an Interent connection – ever! – for breaking the law after they “insulted” Islam by claiming to be Allah. According to The Telegraph, all internet providers in the United Arab Emirates (all = Etisalat) have been ordered to block the unnamed user behind the site, after he alleged his claims were supported by verses of the Quran. His actions sparked a wave a protest, with many calling on users to boycott the social networking site unless the site was removed. And removed it was. Seriously?! If you don’t like what this guy is saying, don’t read it! Wish us Arabs put more effort and protested when innocent Arab civilians were being murdered en masse over these years.
2. Iran: Potential for a riot? Shut them down! That’s the Iranian way of dealing with it. Every protest, ceremony, public event.. heck.. even a sign of freedom of expression is treated in the same way: Shut down Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging and all methods of visual proof that people have something else to say. And we dare make fun of western news media.
3. Morocco: Bloggers are constantly being arrested for anything that the government finds offensive, annoying or even slightly biased. Bashir Hazzam, arrested mid-December of last year was only released last month.
4. Syria: Not sure anyone can even try to get arrested when Syrians are not capable of accessing any social network, blogging service or Arab news service. Total darkness is the only reason there’s total peace. Sad.
5. Egypt: The Egyptian authorities play a different strategy from their Syrian counterparts. Let’s leave everything open and trace and arrest people for their behavior (except Skype since it’s a bit difficult to monitor). Users accessing homosexual content, political blogs and terrorist websites are all treated equally: Arrest until further notice.
Until this is dealt with properly and people are allowed to say what is on their minds – at least online, at least anonymously – we’re always going to be looked upon as third world people. Hope you can even read this article without suffering some consequences.