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The Online Public Sphere in the Gulf: Contestation, Creativity, and Change

  • Sahar Khamis (a1)

Abstract

This introductory essay sets the stage for this special issue, which explores how online media has changed the Arabian Gulf region's politics, economies, and social norms.2 It provides an overview of the most important themes, arguments, and findings tackled in the four essays in this issue, as well as the intersections, overlaps, and divergences emerging from, and between, them. In doing so, it explains how the similarities and differences, as well as the most significant underlying themes, emerging from these four essays further our understanding of the online public sphere in the Gulf region as a space for contestation, creativity, and change. This introductory essay identifies three important, and overlapping, themes found in this special issue: techno-euphoria, cyberwars, and the public sphere. It concludes by proposing possible next steps and future research on the important, yet understudied, links between the online public sphere and the sociopolitical environment of the Gulf.

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1

Sahar Khamis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her area of expertise is Arab and Muslim media, with a special focus on cyberactivism.

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2 The term “Gulf region” in this volume refers to GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) member countries exclusively.

3 McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1964).

4 Earlier versions of these essays were presented at the Middle East Studies Association annual conference in San Antonio, TX, November 14–17, 2018, on a panel organized by Sean Foley and Jocelyn Sage Mitchell and sponsored by the Association for Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Studies (AGAPS).

5 Khamis, Sahar and Vaughn, Kathryn, “Cyberactivism in the Egyptian revolution: How civic engagement and citizen journalism tilted the balance,” Arab Media & Society, 13 (Summer 2011), http://www.arabmediasociety.com/?article=769.

6 Tantawy, Nahed El and Wiest, Julie B., “Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution: Reconsidering Resource Mobilization Theory,” International Journal of Communication, 5 (January 2011): 1207–24, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285908894_Social_Media_in_the_Egyptian_Revolution_Reconsidering_Resource_Mobilization_Theory

7 Howard, Philip N., The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 145.

8 Greitens, Sheena Chestnut, “Authoritarianism Online: What Can We Learn from Internet Data in Nondemocracies?PS: Political Science and Politics 46, no. 2 (April 2013): 262–70.

9 Morozov, Evgeny, The Dark Side of Internet Freedom: The Net Delusion (New York: Public Affairs, 2011).

10 Shirky, Clay, “The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change,” Foreign Affairs 90.1 (January/February 2011), http://fam.ag/1jBPc4b

11 There is no vast literature in Arabic on social media use during the “Arab Spring” uprisings, but one source to consider is Jadaliyya: www.jadaliyya.com/

12 Marc Lynch, “Twitter Devolutions: How Social Media Is Hurting the Arab Spring,” Foreign Policy, February 7, 2013, https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/02/07/twitter-devolutions/.

13 Gunitsky, Seva, “Corrupting the Cyber-Commons: Social Media as a Tool of Autocratic Stability,” Perspectives on Politics 13.1 (March 2015): 4254.

14 Diamond, Larry, “Liberation technology.Journal of Democracy 21, no. 3 (July 2010): 6983; 71–72.

15 See a digital media survey conducted for Northwestern University in Qatar, for example: www.mideastmedia.org/industry/2016/digital/

16 “The GCC in 2020: The Gulf and its People (A report from the Economic Intelligence Unit sponsored by the Qatar Financial Centre Authority),” The Economist, September 2009, graphics.eiu.com/upload/eb/Gulf2020part2.pdf

17 Khamis, Sahar, “The transformative Egyptian media landscape: Changes, challenges and comparative perspectives,” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011): 1159–77, http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/813/592

18 Morozov, The Dark Side of Internet Freedom.

19 Seib, PhilipNew media and prospects for democratization,” in New Media and the New Middle East, ed. Seib, Philip,(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007): 118.

20 There is not a vast literature in Arabic on arts in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, but one source to consider is: https://www.rwaq.org/users/maha20130926090952.

21 Sheldon Himelfarb, “Social Media in the Middle East,” United States Institute of Peace, April 11, 2011, http://www.usip.org/publications/social-media-in-the-middle-east.

22 Morozov, The Dark Side of Internet Freedom.

23 Hands, Joss, @ is for Activism: Dissent, Resistance and Rebellion in a Digital Culture (London: Pluto Press, 2011): 23.

24 El-Nawawy, Mohammed and Khamis, Sahar, “Political activism 2.0: Comparing the role of social media in Egypt's ‘Facebook revolution’ and Iran's ‘Twitter uprising,’CyberOrient 6.1 (2012), http://www.cyberorient.net/article.do?articleId=7439.

25 Khamis, Sahar, Gold, Paul B., and Vaughn, Kathryn, “Beyond Egypt's ‘Facebook revolution’ and Syria's ‘YouTube uprising’: Comparing political contexts, actors and communication strategies.,” Arab Media & Society, no. 15 (Spring 2012), http://www.arabmediasociety.com/index.php?article=791&p=0.

26 Philip N. Howard, Sheetal D. Agarwal, and Muzammil M. Hussain, “The Dictators’ Digital Dilemma: When Do States Disconnect Their Digital Networks? (Issues in Technology Innovation 13),” Brookings, October 2013, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/10_dictators_digital_network.pdf.

27 How the Internet refused to abandon Egypt: authorities take entire country offline…but hackers rally to get the message out,” Daily Mail, January 30, 2011, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1351904/Egypt-protests-Internet-shut-hackers-message-out.html.

28 El-Nawawy, Mohammed and Khamis, Sahar, Islam Dot Com: Contemporary Islamic Discourses in Cyberspace (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

1 Sahar Khamis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her area of expertise is Arab and Muslim media, with a special focus on cyberactivism.

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The Online Public Sphere in the Gulf: Contestation, Creativity, and Change

  • Sahar Khamis (a1)

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