Leading up to the Uprisings of 2011
The Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy commissioned this report, Social Media in the Arab World: Leading up to the Uprisings of 2011, several months before the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, and it was
completed just as they broke out. It is published as a stage-setter for the events that are rapidly unfolding in the Arab world.
The Arab world has experienced an awakening of free
expression that has now entered the body politic of Tunisia and Egypt and has helped break down the stranglehold of statesponsored media and information monopolies in those countries. Indeed, from Morocco to Bahrain, the Arab world has witnessed the rise of an independent vibrant social media and steadily increasing citizen engagement on the Internet that is expected to attract 100 million Arab users by 2015. These social networks inform, mobilize, entertain, create communities, increase
transparency, and seek to hold governments accountable. To
peruse the Arab social media sites, blogs, online videos, and other digital platforms is to witness what is arguably the most dramatic and unprecedented improvement in freedom of expression, association, and access to information in contemporary Arab history.
Worldwide, the number of Internet users by late
2010 was expected to exceed 2 billion users. The
number of Internet users in the Arab world is ever
increasing, but governments are said to exaggerate
their numbers. Between 40 and 45 million
Internet users were found in 16 Arab countries
surveyed in late 2009, including Arab nationals
and non-Arabic speakers in the region, according
to the Arab Advisors Group, a research and
consulting firm based in Amman, Jordan. The
Arab Knowledge Report 2009 placed the number
of Arabic-speaking Internet users at 60 million.
Clearly, the region’s vast potential is recognized
by Google, which sponsored its first G-Days
conference in Egypt and Jordan, in December 2010,
gathering regional computer scientists, software
developers, and technology entrepreneurs, among
others. A Google executive told attendees that 100
million Arabs are expected to be online by 2015.
Yet the advances are not without considerable
limitations and challenges posed by authoritarian
CIMA Report Highlights
regimes. Arab governments’ reactions to social
media have given rise to a battle of the
blogosphere as proxies or other means are used to
bypass government firewalls only to have those
efforts meet further government blocking.
Government authorities in the region also have
waged widespread crackdowns on bloggers,
journalists, civil society, and human rights
Hundreds of Arab activists, writers, and
journalists have faced repercussions because of
their online activities. In Egypt, blogger Abdel
Kareem Nabil Soliman, known as Kareem Amer,
was released in November 2010 after more than
four years in prison and alleged torture for his
writings that authorities said insulted Islam and
defamed Mubarak. In Bahrain, a social networking
campaign has called for the release of blogger Ali
Abdulemam who has been imprisoned for
allegedly posting “false news” on his popular site
BahrainOnline.org. They are just two of the scores of
To download this report, visit http://cima.ned.org/publications
Arab Internet users across the region who have
faced arrest and other repercussions stemming
from their online writings.
Government challenges and other impediments,
notably low broadband high-speed Internet
penetration rates as a percentage of population,
stand in the way of wider and faster Internet
access. According to the Arab Advisors Group, the
top three countries in broadband adoption in the
region as a percentage of population are the
United Arab Emirates at 14 percent, followed by
Bahrain at 12 percent, and Qatar at eight percent
as of late 2009.
In 2009, the Arab...