IJNet recently spoke to Ahmed Al-Omran, the 27-year-old Saudi blogger who created Saudi Jeans, a blog that reflects his views on issues facing the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Omran started blogging in 2004 as a college sophomore. Initially, he was interested in blogging because he thought it might improve his English. Before long, he began to focus on politics and the blog became something more serious than he "would ever have expected."
Al-Omran and his blog Saudi Jeans have been featured in news outlets including CNN, BBC, AP, Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor.
On Saudi Jeans, Al-Omran discusses issues rarely discussed publicly, including freedom of speech, the treatment of Saudi women, religion and society. He blogs in English, because it is the "dominant international language," he said. A blog in English, he believes, can help "change many stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding Saudi Arabia."
IJNet: Do you agree with the way western media describe the events as 'Facebook or Twitter revolutions?'
SJ: I hate to call them that, although I can’t discredit the role of social media in the revolutions. I think it’s not fair to call them 'Facebook or Twitter revolutions.' I know it’s more attractive or sexy to do so, but the truth is that people were angry with their governments for reason ranging from unemployment to corruption.
There are two camps regarding the name: one with people who say we would never seen the uprisings without social media. The other one led by Malcolm Gladwell of the New Yorker arguing who maintains that the revolutions would have happened with or without social media, mainly because the lack of freedom. I think I find myself more with the first group.
IJNet: You still blog, but more bloggers are moving to microblogging services like Twitter, Facebook, Google+. Do you think blogs are becoming obsolete?
JS: People always use new mediums but this doesn’t mean we are witnessing the end of blogging. When radio emerged it didn’t kill print media. The same thing happened with TV and radio.
Faecbook and Twitter won’t replace blogs; we still need to read long articles with information which needs more space than any micro blogging platform can provide. It’s going to take some time until each one of these mediums takes its place.
IJNet: How are you following the Arab revolutions online?
SJ: I've been working with Andy Carvin at NPR. Andy focuses on Libya and Yemen, I focus on Syria. Media were not allowed to enter Syria, this makes our work harder for sure. I follow Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and YouTube channels to gather information and materials to cover Syria. As an Arabic speaker, I help verify stories and gather information. I've also been making a daily Storify with information gathered during the day. I tweet them and NPR uses them on their website. It's a new experience for me.
IJNet: You are Saudi, from a country that has been criticized from press freedom watchdogs for limited freedom of speech. Is social media is playing the same role there that it has in other Arab countries?
SJ: Saudi Arabia is another example where social media provides more space to express your opinions. People are optimistic because they can use these platforms to make their voice heard.
We've seen a good example of people using social media in the campaign for women drivers.
Some people even think that the recent ruling by the king to allow women to run and vote in municipal elections [was influenced by social media.]
Mohammad Al abdallah is the editor of IJNet's Arabic Edition.