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Islamic fundamentalism on Saudi online communities


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Title: Islamic fundamentalism on Saudi online communities

Islamic fundamentalism on Saudi online
  • Yeslam Al-Saggaf
  • Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics
    Charles Sturt University, Australia

Asia Pacific Computing and Philosophy Conference
November 2 - 4, 2007, Sasa International House,
Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
The version of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia
  • Often called Wahhabism
  • It emerged to wash out deviating aspects of
    modern religious practice such as portraits,
    gambling, music and dancing
  • Followers adopt an uncompromising approach, which
    is based on a literal interpretation of Islam
  • Agreement between Al Sawood (the ruling family)
    and Al Shiekh

Saudi Arabia
USSR invasion of Afghanistan
  • Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries wanted to
    librate Afghanistan
  • Emergence of terrorists (Mujahideen)

1991 Gulf War
The acceptance of US army angered Islamic
Tragic events of 9/11
Overview of the study
Political Online Forums are
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Research Methods
  • Focused or structured silent observation
  • Conducted over a period of three months (May-July
  • Thematic Content Analysis
  • Sample consisted of 2000 topics posted during
    May-June 2007
  • In-depth interviews
  • Followed a semi-structured format with open-ended
  • Conducted in Arabic (one face to face, 5-6 by
    phone, rest via MSN Messenger)
  • Sample consisted of 15 key informants
  • Selection depended on the availability of an
    email address in the key informants profile in

Islamic fundamentalism
  • Islamic fundamentalists are divided into several
  • One of these is Jammys who support the Muslim
    scholars recognised by the government
  • 5.89 of all the topics posted to the forum
    during May-June 2007 were in favour of
    fundamentalism (in Sept 2004 the figure was
  • Islamic fundamentalists in the forum are the
    majority (80-90)
  • In 2004 only 1.625 of the topics were in favour
    of religious police in 2007 the number has risen
    to 7.
  • Two men arrested by the religious police were
    killed during interrogation

Extremism and Jihad
  • Extremists group (Takfiris) are those who
    disagree with the government scholars and try to
    destroy their image.
  • They express their disagreement and disapproval
    of things that are wrong (un Islamic according to
    them) by resolving to violence.
  • While Islamic fundamentalists may use their mouth
    to make their point, Islamic extremists use
  • Takfiris are shallow and narrow in their
    thinking. They lack depth. Their goal is one
    cause maximum damage to the Americans

Extremism and Jihad (Cont.)
  • This group encourages Jihad even inside Saudi
    Arabia according to one of the key informants.
  • Between 1995-2005 more than 50 terrorist
    activities took place in Saudi Arabia
  • Top 26 Terrorists killed or captured, only 2 are
    on the run

Extremism and Jihad (Cont.)
  • The number of topics, which favoured terrorists,
    has dropped from 0.813 to 0.38
  • The number of the topics, which criticised
    terrorists, has also dropped from 8.222 to
  • Many terrorists have disappeared from the forum
    as four interviewees have noted
  • Many of them have been put in jail
  • Many of them have been suspended from the forum
    because of their links to terrorism or because
    they often discuss the personality of the writer
    or attack him instead of engaging with his ideas.
  • Many of them are fighting the Americans in Iraq.

Saudi liberals
  • In September 2004 the figure of the total forum
    content which was derogatory and belittling of
    liberals was 7.12,
  • In this study the percentage is 7.69
  • Liberals, like Jammys, are against Jihad and
    supportive of the Saudi government.
  • The general public and the government, however,
    don't not like them
  • One reason the government does not like them,
    according to one of the interviewees, is because
    liberals can serve as the cornerstone of a new
    government if the US invaded Saudi Arabia
  • One reason the public does not like them is
    because liberals support women driving cars,
    working along side men, and becoming more
    independent. They also want to see theatres,
    cinemas, and discos in the country.
  • Liberals are not given a chance to operate among
    the fundamentalist majority who hate them
  • Liberals are very active in the local press

Freedom of expression online
  • Although 700,000 people (Al Arabiya, 2004) visit
    Al-Saha Al-Siyasia everyday and hundreds of
    people (mainly Saudis) contribute to it, access
    to the forum is actually blocked
  • There is also censorship of content in the forum.
  • Topics that support the Takfiri ideology or the
    insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Bin Laden,
    or Saad Al-Fagiah (reformer), or criticise the
    high profile princes, or the Ministry of Interior
    or the religious police are often deleted
    according to several interviewees
  • Several interviewees have also mentioned during
    the interviews that they had been arrested by the
    Saudi Secret Service and some served jail
    sentences because of their writings on Al-Saha

  • In the past there were many voices operating in
    thew forum i.e. fundamentalists, liberals,
    reformers, extremists, government supporters and
    maybe a few Shiaa
  • Today mainly fundamentalists write in Al-Saha
  • The forum has lost many great writers who were
    more famous than some columnists in local
  • There is no dialogue, no deliberation, no
    diversity of opinion and no rational critical
    debating between members because those who
    disagree are not welcome in the forum
  • Fundamentalists are becoming stronger and louder
    liberals are struggling extremists, Shiaa,
    reformers and government critics are disappearing
  • Even though political online forums are the only
    media tool in the hands of the public they are
    blocked and content on them is censored
  • Those who talk about sensitive issues are arrested

Thank you
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