Anonymous, 22 Jun 2018
Research on Middle East, Islam and digital media
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Behind the Screen: the Syrian Virtual Resistance

Six years have gone by since the political upheaval that swept through many Middle East and North African (MENA) countries begun. Syria was caught in the grip of this revolutionary moment, one that drove the country from a peaceful popular mobilisation to a deadly fratricide civil war with no apparent way out. This paper provides an alternative approach to the study of the root causes of the Syrian uprising by examining the impact that the development of new media had in reconstructing forms of collective action and social mobilisation in pre-revolutionary Syria. By providing evidence of a number of significant initiatives, campaigns and acts of contentious politics that occurred between 2000 and 2011, this paper shows how, prior to 2011, scholarly work on Syria has not given sufficient theoretical and empirical consideration to the development of expressions of dissent and resilience of its cyberspace and to the informal and hybrid civic engagement they produced.
CyberOrient

Big Data in the MENA Region: The Next Path towards Socio-economic and Cultural Development

As elsewhere, big data is perceived as central to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) nations’ socio-economic and cultural development. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, by virtue of its advanced information technology infrastructure, relevant knowledge economy policies and flexible free government and market orientations, stands at the forefront of MENA’s big data integration. This article discusses selected sectors in the GCC region that leverage the power of big data including the media business industries and the oil and gas industry. The authors argue that in addition to bolstering big data applications in the aforementioned sectors, MENA countries also need to ensure that those applications embrace other sectors like education, government services and cultural development. Yet, to be able to achieve those goals, the region needs to address numerous challenges pertaining to knowledge infrastructure, human capital, technology mindset and regulation.
CyberOrient

Transnational Religious Practices on Facebook

Access to cyberspace by Yezidi populations has given this group a platform for rebuilding their religious identity, which, in turn, has enabled them to challenge existing geographic, political and cultural constraints in Iraq. The Yezidi in Iraq have to live with the threat of discrimination and even violence. On the Internet, self-identification as Yezidi is done much more freely. The rise of the Yezidi in Iraqi media and in foreign media (via the diaspora) is closely interconnected. Experiences of persecution and of persistent libel and prejudice by the Muslim majority has forced the Yezidi to adopt distinctive religious practices due to forced migration to foreign countries. This article is an exploration of whether notions of sacred spaces and perceptions and practices of religious rituals are transformed in digital media, i.e. when moving from physical to virtual spaces. I will do this by applying visualization through visual imagery and virtual ethnography. This paper represents a theory on the Internet and religion: asking what implications the Internet holds for spiritual identities, worship and sense of ethno-religious community.
CyberOrient

Middle Eastern Women’s ‘Glocal’: Journeying between the Online and Public Spheres

Despite the fact that the Arab Spring did not necessarily materialize with the political effects anticipated by some of its activists, it has brought into the spotlight the significance of the role of women in direct connection to the online space. In this respect, the article addresses the online world as Middle Eastern women subcultural capital in their traversal to the public sphere, which is otherwise rigorously enforced particularly on women. The hybridity of the private and the public exemplified in the online world in effect plays a pivotal role in rendering the visibility of Middle Eastern women in the political public sphere possible, where new media provides an effective vehicle for those women to establish social and political networks and organizations. Though the goals for those women activists might vary based on the nature of their countries, they have shown to have aptly journeyed between the online and public spheres in order to voice their glocal experiences.
CyberOrient

Saudi Women and Socio-Digital Technologies: Reconfiguring Identities

Drawing on research conducted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this paper explores the specific uses of digital technologies by Saudi women. It shows how these women – whose gender identity is strongly constrained by a host of social and religious norms characterizing Saudi society – make use of digital technologies, and particularly mobile telephones. The various applications available for mobile telephony open up to them a whole range of choices on how to communicate and use photography, thus enabling them to circumvent their assigned gender identity, at least at the margin.
CyberOrient

Science and Islam Videos: Creating a Methodology to Find “All” Unique Internet Videos

This methodology article explores the process through which we sought to catalogue videos addressing natural science and Islam on the Internet comprehensively. This data was then used to select videos for inclusion in the Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies’ Science and Islam Video Portal (www.scienceandislamvideos.com), which evaluates the videos based on their representations of science, Islam and history. As a growing body of research is demonstrating, Internet videos provide a window into the lives of both celebrity and ordinary Muslims and their critics worldwide. The article describes the methodological decisions of what to include and exclude from the study, framing them in a discussion of some of the key terms. We then step through the process of searching for videos and cleaning the data, providing flow charts with details. In the last section of the article, we discuss the results and their ramifications on our continuing research.
CyberOrient

Youth Activism and Social Networks in Egypt

The arrival of the Internet-based technologies has made the work of professional activists much more effective and has attracted the attention of society and observers, if only because their internal and external communications became much cheaper and harder to be monitored. The new social networking technologies have provided the youth with new channels for participation and empowerment. This became true in a part of the world where the older generations, in either government or opposition, controlled the traditional political and cultural arena and dominated the public sphere. However, the younger generations gradually launched creative initiatives using online media in recent years. The younger generations have engaged in public affairs by peaceful means to bring about a change and to influence the decision-making processes and policies. In this regard, the new social media played a facilitating role in the long wave of continuous politics in Egypt, although it is not a causal role. It basically helped in the mobilization and framing process aiming to delegitimize the regime and demoralize its policies. The ideas and ideologies spread in the public sphere, and, in addition to grievances, enabled the young activists to present new claims and to behave in ways that fundamentally challenged the authorities. Indeed the social media impact could not lead to real change without physical offline action in society. In this respect the most notable actions, such as the April 6 Strike in El Mahala 2008 and January 25 revolution, were triggered by the marriage between online and offline activism, particularly when activists moved smartly between online and offline activities to create real challenges to the regime and to escape from police repression.
CyberOrient

Constructing and Consuming Gender through Media

Gender is constructed, performed and consumed through media in multiple ways. In this special issue of CyberOrient, we aim to bring together research on a range of Middle Eastern and Muslim cultural media products. In addition, a couple of the articles and essays shed light on the ways in which gender and gender activism may be enacted online in a variety of ways. The overarching goal of this special issue is to examine how gender roles are constructed, transmitted, performed and negotiated, and at times put forward as part of lifestyle or ideological choices. At the same time, we are interested in how such media products are received, imagined, and consumed in the every day lives of audiences. This special issue focuses both on media practices and media cultural production in the Middle East as well as products intended for consumption by Muslim and Middle Eastern diaspora.
CyberOrient

Contextualizing Internet Studies: Beyond the Online/Offline Divide

This essay discusses the issue of contextualization in studies of online platform usage and online material. It argues that a separation between online and offline cannot be sustained, as social media users relate to many different online and offline contexts simultaneously. Why protagonists make use of online platforms, which platforms they use, how they make use of them, who they seek to reach, and so on, is all dependent on the various geographical and social contexts within which they work. At the same time, these users are also part of and are influenced by different online contexts that may be based on topic, identity, or geography, and which may be local, national, regional or international. When we study online material – be it activism, language use, discourse, or something else - we must do so with all these relevant settings in mind. Throughout the essay, I seek to illustrate these complex relationships between different online and offline contexts through concrete examples from Egypt and Kuwait. I argue that the material shows that we cannot generalize and simply assume similar patterns of usage of online platforms producing similar outcomes across different contexts. Still, research so far has provided insights that are important both in their own right and, not least, as methodological and theoretical considerations for future studies, and I conclude by suggesting three principles that should guide our investigations of online material.
CyberOrient

Five Questions About Arab Women’s Activism Five Years After the ‘Arab Spring’

The Arab world witnessed unprecedented waves of revolt in 2011, which have taken the whole world by surprise, and led to many unexpected outcomes and varying results. Five years after this wave of revolt, it becomes necessary to examine its wide array of effects, especially on certain groups who played a significant role in the midst of these uprisings, such as youth and women. This article addresses a number of important points pertaining to Arab women and their future, such as the effect of the turbulent political environment in the Arab region on Arab women’s movements and their ability to organize; the impact of violations of human rights and the curbing of media freedom on Arab women’s online and offline activism; the implications of the prevailing environment of fragmentation and polarization in many parts of the Arab world on Arab women’s activism, both offline and online; rethinking the potentials and limitations of “cyberactivism” and “cyberfeminism” in terms of enhancing Arab women’s empowerment, activism, and inclusion; as well as coming up with a more inclusive and comprehensive approach, which accounts for different categories of Arab women, when rethinking the notion of “cyberfeminism.”
CyberOrient
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