Kuwaiti blogger Abdullatif Alomar, 30, caught the blogging bug in January 2005 and has never looked back since.
In January 2007, he started doing weekly round ups for Global Voices Online, covering his country's blogosphere, which now spans about 800 blogs.
Like many others, Abdullatif saw the potential of blogging early on, as a means to articulate his thoughts and opinions. Following is our interview:
Why did you start blogging?
“I started blogging because I wanted to express myself, to improve my English typing skills and also because I have many ideas and not everyone in my close ring would understand or be interested in them. I write about nothing and everything and post what I feel people should notice – sometimes it is political, sometimes funny and sometimes what some may call a brain fart,” says the management information system student, who is working towards obtaining his Bachelor's.
Do you get the reactions you anticipate from readers?
Most of the time, no. Sometimes I talk about something important and people do not care; sometimes people do not understand what I mean by the post and over look it. But my experience as a blogger is fulfilling, because when I write something I feel as it's an idea that is out of my mind, and archived outside it, and that it may get a look someday or that it already got a look and made people discuss something.
Can you describe to us the Kuwaiti blogopshere? What do bloggers write about?
I don't think the Kuwaiti blogsphere is describable. It covers many topics and in many formats – Arabic, English, Arabic in English letters (which I personally hate – but hey, some people like that!). I have read many topics – some are personal about their lives; some talk and discuss politics; others are trying to start something (change) or are simply talking about the latest fashions in shoes or cake recipes.
Is the blogosphere reflective of the Kuwaiti society? Are blogs the new mirror of society? Are they its pulse?
I wouldn't say the blogsphere reflects the whole of Kuwait – but it reflects a big part of it, and it's growing every day. Youth have a bigger foothold on blogs than elders, which is normal because blogs are a product of technology. But things are changing. In the 2006 Parliamentary elections, no candidates opened blogs or forums. A lot did not give much thought to blogs. But bloggers are playing an important role in the upcoming elections on May 17, 2006. There is more participation from blogs and although politicians aren't campaining online, bloggers are writing about it. Some have even announced their support for certain candidates.
Are politicians following what is being said on blogs? Are they interacting with it? Or are blogs in one world and the politicians in another?
This is hard to say. Also bloggers aren't going to ask or say something that no one is thinking of. Well for the majority, I mean most bloggers, would want a better Kuwait and that what most politicians will promise them.
Kuwait is a forerunner in freedom of expression. Compared to the rest of the region, your newspapers are freer. Why do you think people are blogging? And are blogs an alternative to mainstream media?
There are many reasons why we have blogs. Some bloggers wish they worked in a newspaper but aren't, so they blog; some just like me, aren't interested in newspapers and just want to write whenever they feel like; and some write stuff that newspapers wouldn't run. Newspapers in Kuwait are free to a degree. Newspapers in Kuwait, just as in the US, are controlled by advertising revenue in most cases. Most wouldn't run an article badmouthing a bank because that would equal losing revenue.
Is there any censorship in the Kuwaiti blogosphere? And why do a lot of bloggers prefer to remain anonymous?
There isn't censorship on blogs – but most of the control is due to self-censorship. As to why would a Kuwaiti like to remain anonymous, it's rooted in Kuwaiti culture. First of all, Kuwait is considered a small country by most standards. People are close and kinship is very important. So when a blogger writes his name, he is known and people will discuss what he said in his blogs and sometimes people do not want to discuss these topics with people they know or with their relatives. For example, if a blogger writes about a bank, saying they are bad, and if his name is known to someone working in the bank as his relative, irrelevant about how far or close they are, people would feel that complaining about it on a blog is cheap shot. And people sometimes discuss the man and not the idea – which I consider the main reason why people avoid going public with their blogs. For instance, if a liberal explains an idea, no matter how good or bad it is, there is a big chance his audience will not think of it because of what he is.
Explain this point some more. Why wouldnt people consider the ideas of a liberal?
Because he is not one of us, it's not only with liberals. It's him against us. We are liberal , he is Islamic Brotherhood. We are tribal, he is a city dweller. People label others and say: he sucks, he has an agenda, he is getting a kick back, and so forth. So some bloggers try to avoid this by not saying who they are.
So people would only listen to those they agree with ideologically?
Most of the time, yes.
Why is that?
It is easier for them. When you only listen to people you agree with ideologically, you don't need to activate the logic department in your brain. You are stuck in thinking: oh my people are good, oh them, bad!
I can't agree more. When do u think we will move on from this mentality? When will we take criticism as something constructive and not a personal attack?
When we can stand in one line? People do not stand in one line for anything – be it a condolence or buying bread.
Is there a sense of Arab nationalism in Kuwaiti blogs?
I wouldn't say there is Arab nationalism in Kuwaiti blogs, since after the Iraqi invasion in 1990, Arab nationalism was withdrawn from most Kuwaiti minds after the shock of what we saw and how the Arab street reacted and how it felt about Kuwait.
Is the pain of the Iraqi invasion still evident in Kuwaiti blogs? Are there still scars?
Not many speak about it, but after years of no Arab nationalism injection in schools and homes, generations have grown without any.
Has the arrest and release of Bashar Al Sayegh effected the way bloggers write?
At the start it sparked fear in many bloggers. Some stopped writing political topics altogether and others cut down on criticism of the government because everything was foggy. But when the fog was lifted and people realised that Bashar wasn't arrested for his blog but for a post published by someone else on a forum he runs, people went back to writing what they wanted.
What are your hopes for the Kuwaiti blogosphere?
I hope the blogsphere would become more mature and have a bigger more positive influence on Kuwait, and generate a more positive look from people towards bloggers.