It has been a mixed week for followers of the Arab Spring. While Colonel Gadaffi’s death at the hands of those he once oppressed points to an end of the armed conflict in Libya, Egypt looks increasingly unsettled after promising so much, Tunisia meanwhile votes this weekend in its first ever democratic elections but the bloodshed in Syria continues.
What is apparent is that those governing in many countries around the world still fail to grasp the power of modern communication and, most importantly, how to deal with its impact on their rule, democratically secured or otherwise. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a telling example of this.
A country with tremendous oil wealth but immense disparities between the richest and poorest in society as well as being a very young country demographically. This has led to some critics of the Saudi government trying unconventional means to highlight the social issues facing a large part of the population. Citizen journalism has been one of the great driving forces for democracy in many of the Arab revolts this year and in Saudi Arabia it continues to raise questions of its leaders.
Feras Boqna, Hussam al-Drewesh and Khaled al-Rasheed were detained for questioning in Riyadh three days after uploading a 10-minute film about poverty in Saudi Arabia, called We are Being Cheated, to YouTube. Subsequently, their story, and the plight of thousands who aren’t benefitting from Saudi Arabia’s great oil wealth, has become known to the world.
The fact that three young film-makers are still in detention a week after being arrested for posting a film about poverty in Saudi Arabia on the internet says a lot about the practices in that country. It is informative for movements for change and the importance of using every possible channel of communication open to them in order to achieve their aims. It also says a lot about the level of understanding in the Saudi Arabian government of how the modern world communicates; they felt it acceptable to censure something which was posted on one of the biggest websites in the world. This lack of understanding of the level of transparency social media has created is telling. Feras Boqna, Hussam al-Drewesh and Khaled al-Rasheed recognised this in making a film and posting it to YouTube so the world could see the reality of modern Saudi Arabia. For this they are my communicators of the week.