Funnelling the power of individual blogs
In a very short time period, Arab bloggers have proven their ability to influence political life in Arab countries, especially those that have taken steps towards reform, development and freedom of the press.
These political activists have established their blogs as a complement to conventional journalism, providing information and perspectives that are often absent in the traditional media of their countries.
Despite their evident success at capturing the attention of both politicians and the media, and their ability to attract large numbers of readers and comments, blogs remain largely isolated from one another, like disconnected islands.
But what if these bloggers communicated, pooled their resources and exchanged ideas and experiences? If individual Arab bloggers have managed to attract attention, influencing their surroundings and stirring stagnant waters, what might they achieve together?
This idea has prompted me to establish the first electronic network of bloggers in the Middle East, called the Kbret Network (www.kbret.net).
When creating Kbret, I had multiple goals in mind. Since bloggers are already exhibiting great creativity as independent actors, Kbret will continue to guarantee their independence. And since excellence and uniqueness emerge from their freedom of independent expression, that freedom must be protected so that their voices continue to be broadcast without restriction or censorship. In addition, there will be room for open and democratic comments on each entry. Although there are people out there who follow blogs but do not engage in online writing themselves, many others want to interact and comment and should be given the opportunity to participate as members of an online community.
To facilitate interaction among its members in an attractive and lively manner, Kbret”s website provides a variety of interesting features, such as gifts, comments and links to members” most recent posts, news, videos, favourite sites, and/or photo galleries. This makes the site a place for people with common interests to connect and to develop and share useful resources with other members, as well as casual website visitors.
The presence of a select group of bloggers with varying interests, intellectual approaches and professional specialisations can help in the development of solutions and suggestions for a number of complicated problems that exist in Arab countries and perhaps even beyond. This may even contribute to developing an effective vision for an improved relationship between the Muslim world and the West.
Yet, there is a critical issue that affects this fledgling experience: how will political leaders in Arab countries view such an initiative? Will they see it as a challenge? Will they remain neutral? Or will they consider it a constructive venture that they should encourage and endorse?
There are two possible scenarios where the state could influence this initiative: in the first, government officials would view this networked blog-space as a challenge to the regime. In this case, the government would likely scrutinize – and possibly threaten or detain – participants in this electronic society, particularly those they may consider political opponents. Unfortunately, this has been one reaction to the growing number of blogs by many states in the region already.
However, terrorism emerged from the womb of such oppression, injustice, lack of awareness and political disenfranchisement. Subjugating this type of online activity may encourage these frustrated writers and readers to go underground and find other means of making of their thoughts known.
In the second scenario, the respective governments would see this mode of communication as an opportunity. They could employ specialists to follow up on blog activity, monitoring the different ideas and discussion in order to identify and build upon solutions to issues that fall within their spheres of interest or political mandates. Such activity would provide an alternate method of understanding and channelling public opinion so that it can inform the work of political decision-makers.
Various private companies and public institutions could be invited to provide funding to explore these latent channels through which civil society is making its voice heard. In return, these companies might receive online space for advertising goods and services, which could in turn be reviewed by members of the network, providing valuable market research information.
Both the public and private sectors would become more attuned to the concerns of the “man on the street” rather than depending on traditional lobbying groups, the political and business elite, or conventional marketing methods. In time, networked blogs like Kbret may become a viable tool for decision-makers and interested media consumers, and evolve into more sophisticated tools people can use to communicate with governmental and commercial entities in which they have a vested interest.
Should governments decide to foster this space, rather than crush it, this interactive collaboration and brainstorming has the potential to bring individuals and groups together to develop solutions to current political, economic and societal challenges, and to share constructive outcomes with policymakers and kindred thinkers around the world.