The Internet and Freedom in the Middle East

Two interesting pieces from today’s opinion pages pertained to the Internet and politics in the Middle East.

The first, by our own Guy Taylor, appeared in Beirut’s Daily Star. “Syria Today: Online and Hard-Line,” was adapted from an earlier article Guy wrote for Reason. Here’s a taste:

The last six years have seen an Internet explosion in Syria. Close to 1 million of the country’s 18 million people are now online, compared with just 30,000 in 2000, when President Bashar Assad ascended to power. Syrian writers are churning out blogs, news and commentary Web sites in a fashion that – at first glance – seems to show that Assad is committed to building the “contemporary and progressive” society he spoke of upon coming to power.

But paradoxes abound when it comes to the Internet in Syria, and a closer look reveals an authoritarian state apparently obsessed with manipulating the content of independent Web sites. While the government claims to be intent on spreading information technology to the masses, its desire to extend traditionally heavy-handed media restrictions into cyberspace raises the question of whether Syria’s rulers merely seek to use the Internet as a tool to enhance their own power.

For more on the Internet and Middle East politics, see “Brotherhood of the Blog,” by Marc Lynch in The Guardian. Lynch reports on an interesting development in Egypt’s blogosphere:

Over the last few months, young Muslim Brotherhood members have begun blogging in force. This sudden, dramatic development may come as a surprise to western observers, who generally assume that blogging empowers liberal, pro-western voices. . . .