Voices from the Arab Press: Twitter in Saudi Arabia

A weekly selection of the opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world

Twitter in Saudi Arabia (photo credit: REUTERS)
Twitter in Saudi Arabia
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 28
In October 2007, the famous American Time magazine published on its cover a headline describing Twitter as a “dubious” revolution. Inside the issue, the editor-in-chief dedicated a full-page editorial to discussing the tech giant’s impact on the world of communication and politics. Time magazine was right. Twitter really did change communications from end to end. It not only transformed the digital world but also had a real impact on our culture, education, and economy. Most notably, the so-called Twitter “revolution” didn’t skip the Arab world. 
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has been charting the way in terms of active users on social media networks such as Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. The past few months have seen a remarkable explosion in new users making use of these platforms in Saudi Arabia. According to Twitter, the number of platform users in Saudi Arabia increased from 11 million in 2019 to 14 million in 2020. Saudis use Twitter to discuss current events, gather insight on public opinion, and publish breaking news. On Twitter, they found the freedom to express themselves without restriction and censorship; a far cry from what they are used to with the traditional media. 
Interestingly, the Saudi people also used Twitter to rally around the flag and defend their homeland. When foreign accounts published fake news about their county, Saudi Twitter users formed a virtual army and defended the king and the crown prince. Instead of using guns and ammunition, they attacked the virtual enemy with hashtags and posts. It is around the same time that rumors began spreading around the kingdom that Twitter was allegedly discriminating against Saudi users, including through unexplainable account suspensions and closures. 
Are Twitter’s algorithms biased against certain groups? Or is it the neutral platform it claims to be? And what is the responsibility of our authorities to investigate this and take action, if necessary? These are difficult questions that will become increasingly more important in months to come, as Twitter becomes an ever-growing outlet from which the Saudi people consume their news. 
–Muhammad Al-Masoudi
The Negotiations With Iran
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, January 28
President Joe Biden’s decision to appoint Wendy Sherman, the chief US negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal (from which former president Donald Trump withdrew), as deputy secretary of state, is very revealing of the new administration’s approach to Iran. In recent decades, the Democratic Party adopted containment policies toward many opposing forces both at home and abroad, and the relationship with Iran may be a striking example of this policy. 
Under president Barack Obama, this policy resulted in the signing of the P5+1 agreement in 2015, which stipulated that Iranian uranium enrichment should not exceed 3.67% purity, that Iran’s 10,000 kilograms of low-enriched stock be reduced to 300 kilograms, and that Iran refrain from building any new nuclear facilities for 15 years. Following Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement, Iran took advantage of the opportunity and increased its uranium enrichment to 20% purity, which represents a clear violation of what had been agreed upon. 
The agreement became nothing more than a dead letter on paper. The real question experts asked was whether Trump’s aggressive stance succeeded in deterring Iran or actually empowered it? There is certainly a large camp of lawmakers and policy advisers, influential in both Europe and the United States, subscribing to the notion that Iran’s actions can be modified through diplomacy: political, economic, and cultural interactions that will empower Iranian moderates and weaken Iranian hard-liners. 
It is becoming increasingly evident that Biden will seek to pursue a similar agenda of appeasement. This agenda should not be rejected from the outset, but it must also be critically dealt with. Iran must not be negotiated with without making a firm commitment that it will end its conventional aggression toward the countries of the region. While many skeptics say that Iran cannot be reasoned with, I would like to give the new president the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps greater openness to the West will weaken the power of the religious ideology that dominates Iranian society. Perhaps this approach will give the Iranian people a taste of what their lives could be like if their leadership did not hold its people hostage. 
Granted, this approach is highly concerning for Gulf states – for good and obvious reasons. But it is important to remember that those who will pay the highest price for any military confrontation in the Middle East are not the Americans but the people of the region. There is much to fear and much to lose under this scenario. Therefore, it might be worthwhile to give the Biden Administration a chance. 
–Amr Al-Shobaki 
Al-Etihad, UAE, January 28
What the United States desperately needs right now, in the early days of the Biden presidency, is wisdom, moderation and tolerance. The US is confronting the deepest domestic crisis it has faced since the end of slavery in the mid-19th century. The social and political divisions in the US are so deeply ingrained in American society that they threaten the very existence of the country. Indeed, they far outweigh the danger posed by America’s greatest adversaries, including China and Russia, because the rupture in the American societal fabric weakens the country from within. 
The insistence of many Democratic Party leaders to take revenge against former president Donald Trump by continuing his impeachment trial in Congress even after his term ended may only exacerbate this division. Some of Trump’s opponents want to exploit the mistake he made when he called on his supporters to take to the Capitol on the day that the electorate results were being certified. There is no doubt about the fact that this was a wrong, immoral, and reckless move. But there is no need to “execute” Trump after he left office just to make a statement. This can create a great deal of damage to the US, both at home and abroad. 
Those who believe that Trump is responsible for the events at the Capitol have the right to request that he be held accountable for these events. But the Senate is not the appropriate forum to debate this. First, because there is a constitutional dispute over whether or not Congress can hold an impeachment trial for an ordinary American citizen who is no longer president. Second, because the issue at hand is legal, not political. If these Democrat lawmakers were able to control their emotions – which is exactly what they demanded Trump do during his presidency – then they would quickly realize that turning a new page is in the best interest of the American people. The national interest must triumph over partisan clashes. 
The fact remains that Trump is not simply a president who lost the elections for his second term. He is also a candidate for whom millions of Americans – more than 74 million people – voted. And these voters’ voices cannot be silenced. The only way to restore stability and end this never-ending cycle of revenge is to prevent this trial from happening.
Whether hated or loved, we must remember that Trump himself was not the creator of the deep political crisis experienced in the US today. This crisis preceded Trump and, if anything, contributed to him getting elected in 2016. President Joe Biden knows, or should know, the extent to which political institutions have failed to meet the aspirations of large sectors of the American public. This crisis requires unconventional and far-reaching solutions that embrace a serious national reconciliation process, not by a desire for revenge
. –Wahid Abd Al-Majeed
Al-Qabas, Kuwait, January 26
Kuwait is a small country covering less than 7,000 square miles. Its citizenry barely exceeds 1.5 million people. It is home to a wide range of ethnic and cultural groups that live together in peace and harmony. Its resources are vast and its financial reserves are huge. But it still suffers from deep-seated problems: It insists on relying on a single source of income, it refuses to hold senior officials accountable for their actions, it has an outdated political system, and it consistently turns its back on clean, renewable resources. Because of all these matters, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs – the government entity responsible for religious endowments – has become more powerful and more important than the Education and Information ministries combined.
Taking care of simple public works has become nearly impossible. For example, it took the government 10 years to clear up a makeshift dump site in Kuwait City that boasted a mountain of used car tires. Because of our ailing government apparatus and its bureaucratic bloat, Kuwait has been unable to appoint directors for several of its most important government entities for years. It should come as no surprise that the Kuwaiti government recently announced it discovered large stocks of expired passports in a government warehouse, or that it “suddenly” ran out of license plates for registered cars. 
The truth is that, despite our countless blessings as a county, our situation is quite miserable. The good news is that not much is required to address this issue. Indeed, most of it would depend on effective decision-making and some goodwill. Our economic situation should be improved. Our commercial activity should be restored. And the morals of our community must be upheld and protected. Unfortunately, the Kuwaiti mindset seems to be guided by procrastination and delay. 
–Ahmad Al-Sarraf 
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.