Facebook and Middle Eastern politics

Perhaps it's common in other parts of the world, but I am struck to what extent Facebook has become an integral part of Arab politics — a place where people organize, debate and even government officials weigh in. There is of course the ElBaradei for President Facebook group in Egypt, which from 65,000 members the day ElBaradei returned to Cairo to 176,000 this morning. It had been preceded by the 6 April strike group. And they have a plan for more:

The ElBaradei Facebook group plan for world domination.

In Morocco, a campaign started in defense of a Facebook user who had set up a mock fan page for the king's brother, Moulay Rachid.

I just came across this news item from Saudi Arabia about how its minister of culture used Facebook to squash rumors of book bans at the Riyadh book fair. It seems Facebook is more convincing medium for PR than the ministry's pres release:

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Just hours after the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Media denied rumours that Abdo Khal’s novel ‘Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles’ was withdrawn from the Riyadh International Book Fair, Minister of Culture and Information Abdulaziz Khoja also dismissed other rumours about the fair via his personal Facebook page.
There are rumours that books by the prominent Saudi intellect Turki al Hamad have been banned at the fair and that the Al Jamal publishing house has been shut, which was denied by Khoja who said, “Al Jamal publishing house has not been shut, and I have just returned from visiting it. It has also been rumoured that Dr. Turki al Hamad’s books have all been banned, but the truth of the matter is that the publishing house that publishes his work did not bring his books to the fair. Therefore, this rumour is false.”
Despite that the Ministry immediately reacted by denying the successive rumours about the fair, they continued to spread. There are two possible sources of the rumours; the owners of publishing houses who use rumours to market a specific book, and internet websites that contribute to spreading false news about the book fair.

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Just hours after the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Media denied rumours that Abdo Khal’s novel ‘Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles’ was withdrawn from the Riyadh International Book Fair, Minister of Culture and Information Abdulaziz Khoja also dismissed other rumours about the fair via his personal Facebook page.
There are rumours that books by the prominent Saudi intellect Turki al Hamad have been banned at the fair and that the Al Jamal publishing house has been shut, which was denied by Khoja who said, “Al Jamal publishing house has not been shut, and I have just returned from visiting it. It has also been rumoured that Dr. Turki al Hamad’s books have all been banned, but the truth of the matter is that the publishing house that publishes his work did not bring his books to the fair. Therefore, this rumour is false.”
Despite that the Ministry immediately reacted by denying the successive rumours about the fair, they continued to spread. There are two possible sources of the rumours; the owners of publishing houses who use rumours to market a specific book, and internet websites that contribute to spreading false news about the book fair.

Can anyone think of more examples of Facebook playing a role in official politics or opposition movements in the region?

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.