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Dynamics of Internet Use: Saudi Youth, Religious Minorities and Tribal Communities

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Internet bulletin boards provide an important window into public discourse in relatively restrictive societies like Saudi Arabia. Examining the discourse on two Saudi Internet bulletin boards, one representing a Najdi tribe, the other a Shi'ite community in eastern Saudi Arabia, it is possible to observe the complex and often competing ends toward which new media in the Middle East are used. The bulletin board of the Najdi and Qahtan tribe reveals a community engaged in intensive debates over issues such as intermarriage between tribal and non-tribal Saudis and the participation of women on tribal Internet forums. The discussions on the Qahtan board represent an attempt to defend the largely state-supported prerogatives of tribal exclusivism and gender segregation against encroachment by women and non-tribal minorities, whose voices can be increasingly heard through the cracks of the Internet. The discussions on the Al-Ahsa Cultural Board show other important dynamics within the Saudi state. Here, young Saudi Shi'ites congregate to discuss cultural and political concerns from (in the context of Saudi society) what might be termed a countercultural perspective. A review of Internet bulletin board use among disparate social groups within Saudi society reveals the way in which discussion forums can allow for more freedom in the exchange of religious and political ideas, while at the same time enabling the reinforcement and entrenchment of traditional values and norms within a contemporary context.


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