Better be careful blogging

Perhaps surprisingly for a region in which users are used to finding access to websites blocked, the recent imprisonment of an Egyptian blogger for making anti-Islamic and anti-Presidential remarks online appears to have shocked many. For readers heading into cyberspace with visions of pushing the envelope then, it pays to proceed intelligently...

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By  Matthew Wade Published  February 26, 2007

|~||~||~|It’s strangely ironic really, that in the week Abdel Kareem Soliman was jailed for four years, our magazine’s editorial team had just gone to press with an extensive ‘Blog in an hour’ feature. It’s with this guide and this news story in mind then that I’ll suggest how you might want to proceed, particularly if you log on with ranting in mind. My Arabic colleagues who are, as you might imagine, rather more capable than me of digesting Soliman’s blog, inform me that overall the site represents a liberal and broadly considered read, but that doesn’t detract from just how seriously he caused the University, his previous employer (which pressed for Soliman’s prosecution), to react to his writings. There are then simple lessons would-be personal publishers can learn from Soliman’s case: * The first is obvious: criticising religion and major religious institutions, particularly this region’s predominant religion, raises temperatures quickly. It’s obvious to state, but the over-riding consideration here needs to be understanding and appreciating the country or region you’re operating in. Religion in the Arabic world does not, as it does for many Christians in the UK for example, constitute a yearly visit to some otherwise little-known building a car journey away; instead it’s at the heart of everything. Therefore to blast it in a generalistic manner or use highly emotive language borne to offend is, arguably, not the way to start affecting your readers’ views. * The second factor to bear in mind is that criticizing the ruling government or powers has a similar effect. Take the case of Dubai’s popular Secret Dubai Diary expat blog. Once blocked by the UAE’s regulator, this site is thought to have been returned thanks to popular reader demand and complaints directed at the TRA. It has since remained online. And why? Because, in my view at least, of its editor’s awareness of the ‘no slating government or religion’ rule. He/she does manage to slate everything else however, so in freedom of speech terms that writer isn’t actually doing too badly. Alternatively, check out popular Saudi blogger 'Blue Jeans' considered piece in Lebanon’s Daily Star on how Middle East governments can actually benefit from blogging by learning more about the problems, thoughts and desires of their people. This is a fine example of how a blogger operating out of a strict media environment can get their thoughts across whilst remaining online and out of jail. So long as you weren’t planning to create a blog purely for the purpose of thoughtlessly slamming these two subjects then, there’s really nothing to fear from heading onto the internet with your own diary site. And lastly, nor is there reason to think that freedom of speech progress cannot be made. Ihsan Attar is one blogger who will personally attest to that, as the Syrian “realistic dreamer” helped persuade the team behind - the largest Syrian online community in the world - to open up free forums there. Not a massive leap for sure, but a notable one and made by one user through reasoning and persistence. Is blogging here like the West? No of course not, but that’s the point; understand what’s possible, and what will cause you strife, and your blogging future should remain bright. ||**||

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