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Saudi Arabia: Why Should Arabs Have Access to the Internet?

For days, cyberactivists have been busy discussing the case of Moroccan blogger Mohammed Erraji, who was arrested, put on trial, sentenced – and then freed, and then put on trial again and finally acquitted.

His crime? Posting this article, part of which is translated here into English, on Hespress [Ar], in which he describes how the Moroccan King's charity and gratuities towards his people benefits “the lucky sons and daughters of this country and overlooks the rest.”

He explained his point:

Countries which respect their citizens do not turn them into beggars under the feet of nobility. Instead, they develop factories and workshops for them to work in and earn their living with dignity. Even if we assume that such gratuities are only dispersed to deserving citizens such as the special needs and poor, which is impossible at any rate, this isn't anything that makes Moroccan citizens proud. The right to work, health care and education are granted by the Constitution. Therefore, the state should provide decent means of living for its citizens – other than humiliating them in this shameless manner.

And bloggers around the region have been nodding their heads in agreement – for they might just as well substitute the name Morocco from the article and replace it with the name of their countries.

Who is Mohammed Erraji? Why did he write what he wrote knowing well that in many countries in the Middle East criticising members of the vast Ruling families is very likely to result in repercussions and punishment? Saudi blogger Fouad Al Farhan, who recently found himself behind bars for his writings in Saudi Arabia, visits Erraji's blog looking for answers.

After learning about Erraji's arrest, Al Farhan visits his blog:

زرت مدونته لأول مرة وحرصت على الذهاب لأول تدويناته لأنها في العادة تتكلم عن نظرة المدون تجاه التدوين وسبب رغبته في الإلتحاق بهذا الركب وطموحاته التي ينوي تحقيقها من خلال هذه المدونة. وجدته يقول في أحد أوائل تدويناته:
“أريد أن أملأ صفحات هذه المدونة بكل الأفكار التي تثور في رأسي مثل بركان هائج تارة ، وتارة أخرى مثل نسمات برد لطيفة باردة ، أريد أن أجلس طويلا أمام الحاسوب ، أريد أن أكتب حول كل شيء عن حياتي الخاصة ، عن السياسة ، عن الرياضة ، عن الدين ، عن كل شيء ، أريد أن أكتب بلا توقف..”..
بهذه الكلمات بدأ الأخ المدون المغربي محمد الراجي رحلته مع عالم التدوين. هذه الرحلة التي بدأت ولن تنمحى من ذاكرته وذاكرة عائلته وأصدقائه ما بقي من أعمارهم. محمد الراجي مثله كمثل الكثير من الشباب المبدع الذين لا نلتفت إليهم إلا وقت المصائب.

I visited his blog for the first time and was eager to visit his first posts, which usually speak about the blogger's view towards blogging and the reasons why he is joining this wave. They also explain what his ambitions are and what he hopes to achieve through blogging. I found him saying in one of his first posts:
“I want to fill the pages of this blog with all the ideas which are erupting in my hear like an active volcano at times, and like cool refreshing breezes at others. I want to sit for long hours in front of the computer. I want to write about everything in my private life, and about politics, sports, religion, about everything. I want to write without stopping …”

With these words the Moroccan blogger Mohammed Erraji started his journey in the world of blogging. This journey, which started and will never be erased from his memory, and the memory of his family and friends for the rest of their lives. Mohammed Erraji, like many of our creative youth, is someone we never pay attention to until tragedy strikes.

About Erraji, Al Farhan says:

محمد الراجي عمره ٢٩ عاماً وعمر مدونته سنة ونصف. لولا أنه ذكر بنفسه بأنه لم يتجاوز المرحلة السادسة في مستواه التعليمي لما صدقت. هو “أمازيغي وعربي في نفس الآن” كما عرف عن نفسه. أما توجهه الفكري فيلخصه كما يلي: “مستقل بأفكاري ولا أحب أن أكون تابعا لأحد ، عندما يكون لدي موقف من قضية ما ، أدافع عنه بشراسة، وفي المقابل أستمع بأذن صاغية الى الآخرين ، وأقبل الحوار مع الجميع ، عندما أختلف مع شخص ما ، أختلف معه حول أفكاره ومواقفه فقط ، وليست لدي خلافات شخصية مع أحد”. في آخر تدويناته يصرخ في وجه “الجبناء” كما أسماهم مطالباً “بحماية سمعة وطنه” الذي يحبه ويعشقه. أوطاننا العربية التي نعشقها ويحاول البعض بكل جد وإجتهاد وبكل طريقة ممكنة أن يفقدنا الأمل في إصلاحها إما بتهوين المخاطر التي نمر بها أو بإقناعنا بشرعية “الخطوط الحمراء” التي هي في الأصل خطوط حمراء تحمي “المستفيدين” من أوضاع حرياتنا المفقودة في أوطاننا العربية.

Mohammed Erraji is 29 years old and his blog is a year and a half old. If he hadn't mentioned that he hasn't exceeded the sixth grade at school, I wouldn't have believed him. As he describes himself, he is “an Amazigh and an Arab at the same time.” He summarises his ideaology as: “I am of independent thought, and I don't like to be anyone's follower. When I have a certain stance towards an issue, I defend it ferociously. In return, I listen to others, accept dialogue with everybody, and when I disagree with someone, I disagree with their thoughts and stances only, and I have no personal conflicts with anyone.” In one of his last posts, he screams in the face of “cowards,” as he called them, urging them to “protect the reputation of his nation,” which he loves – our Arab nation which we love, which some are exerting all their efforts, in every manner available to them, to make us lose hope in reforming it, either by exaggerating the dangers we are facing, or convincing us of the legality of the “red lines” which are in reality red lines which protect those benefiting from our lost freedom in our Arab world.

Al Farhan says he spent the entire day reading Erraji's blog. He notes:

أعجبني نقده وأفكاره وإستقرائه وحججه وقوة لغته. أعجبتني جرأته وتسميته الأشياء بأسمائها. وجدته يعبر عن وجهة نظره بكل صراحة حول الإرهاب وغيرته على الإسلام من تصرفات المتطرفين وأطروحاتهم. تناول “أسامة بن لادن” بالإسم ونقده وأختار أن لا يؤجر عقله لكل من يستغل سوء أوضاعنا بطرح حلول تدميريه وإرهابية لا تقود إلا لمجتمعات خوف وعنف وظلام.
محمد الراجي لم يختبيء تحت معرفات وهمية في منتديات الإنترنت ليعبر عن رأيه بطرح متطرف أو صراخ لا يسمن ولا يغني من جوع. محمد الراجي فهم التدوين جيداً ولديه ثقة إيجابيه في ذاته وعقله وفكره نهلها من محيطه العائلي وتربيته التي يفتخر بها.
ولذلك قرر محمد الراجي أن يدون.

I admired his criticism, thoughts, analysis, arguments, and the beauty of his language. I admired his courage in calling things by their names. I found him expressing his ideas about terrorism and his concern over Islam and the reactions of extremists and what they do candidly. He wrote about Osama bin Laden, calling him by his name, and criticised him. He chose not to sell his mind to those who abuse our situation by suggesting terrorist solutions, which only lead societies to fear, violence and darkness.
Mohammed Erraji did not hide behind pseudonyms on Internet forums to express an extreme opinion or scream nonsense. Mohammed Erraji understood blogging for what it is, and has a positive confidence in himself and thoughts, which he learned from his family and upbringing, which he is proud of. This is why Mohammed Erraji decided to blog.

According to Al Farhan, had Erraji decided not to blog, his options would have been:

1. المضي في حياته اليومية بحثاً عن لقمة عيشه فاقداً الأمل في إمكانية أن يحدث تعبيره عن رأيه أي فرق في تحسين الواقع أو إيضاح مواطن الظلم. وبذلك ينضم للملايين من الشباب العربي المحبط
2. تأجير عقله لمتطرف يقول له بأن حمل السلاح والعنف هو الحل والمخرج من هذا الواقع العربي المظلم مثلما فعل الكثير من الشباب العربي المحبط أيضاً للأسف الشديد.
3. البحث عن مواطن أخرى ليخرج “كل الغضب الذي يتزاحم في صدره مثل حمم بركان هائج” من مخدرات وحشيش ومتع مدمرة وقع فيها الملايين من الشباب العربي المحبط.

1. Continue with his life earning a living without any hope that expressing his idea would improve reality and highlight where injustice is. This way he will be ones of the millions of depressed young Arabs
2. Renting his mind to an extremist who will ask him to carry arms and commit violence as a means to get out of this unjust Arab reality, as many young men have unfortuneately done.
3. Finding other avenues to express all this anger raging inside him like a volcano such as drugs and hashish and other dangerous entertainments which have claimed millions of young depressed Arabs.

Al Farhan explains that Erraji rejected all those options and immersed himself into blogging instead.

Turning his attention to the allergy of some governments towards freedom of expression, Al Farhan writes:

مشكلة الحكومات العربية مع الجيل الجديد من الشباب أنها لم تستوعب بعد أن الوقت تغير. هذا الجيل مشتعل بالغيرة وببراكين الغضب والأسئلة التي تتزاحم في عقله تبحث عن إجابات لحال وضعنا العربي المحبط.

The problem with Arab governments with the new generation of young people is that they have not grasped that times have changes. This generation is fired up with feelings towards their nation, with overflowing volcanoes of anger and questions rushing in their heads looking for solutions for our depressing conditions as Arabs.

In explaining how the world has changed, Al Farhan says:

في زمن ما، كان العربي في المغرب يسمع عن ما يحصل في المشرق عن طريق إذاعة لندن أو مونت كارلو أو صحيفة بائتة هنا أو هناك. بعد عالم الإنترنت، أصبحنا نعرف كل صغيرة وكبيرة إما عن طريق الفضائيات أو الإذاعات أو مواقع الإنترنت أو البريد الإلكتروني أو تويتر أو الفيسبوك. لم يعد هناك شيء مخفي.

Early on, Arabs in the Maghreb used to hear about what was happening in the East though the radio stations of London or Monte Carlo or old newspapers from here and there. After the Internet, we now know everything happening through satellite channels, radio stations, websites, email, Twitter and Facebook. There is nothing which can be hidden anymore.

Access to the Internet, adds Al Farhan, has made the world a different place. He therefore asks:

إذا كانوا لا يريدون منا أن نحلم وأن نتكلم ونطرح أفكارنا وأحلامنا للحوار والنقاش فلماذا يسمحون بإدخال الإنترنت في بلداننا العربية؟

If they did not want us to dream and speak and express our ideas and aspirations in dialogues or discuss them, why have they allowed the Internet into our Arab countries?

7 comments

  • I forwarded the original post on GV about Erraji being jailed for blogging to a Moroccan friend living in UK. His response was that Erraji has not realised that things are changing fast in Morocco. The new king is encouraging extremely rapid development. People are being re-accommodated and being counted (both for tax reasons and to estimate the education, health and welfare facilities that the state needs to provide). Civil servants had a big salary increase not so long ago, but that might have been as much an emergency measure to meet rocketing rises in prices. King Mohammed wants Morocco to join the EU by 2012. Crucially, my friend maintains that it is the officials lower down in the hierarchy (eg the original judge) who have not cottoned on to the changes that the king wants to take place.

    One man cannot effect instant social change.

    I pass this on as a point of information. I don’t know enough personally about what is happening in Morocco.

  • one man, who is the kinng can.
    what I think is, when a state imprison a blogger for expressing his ideas, that is not an act of encouraging extremely rapid development. how ever, punishing the judge for violating the human rights or the law, that would be a good reaction toward those devlepoments.

  • Manus

    Sue, being a British Citizen from a Moroccan descent I am appalled from the attitudes of the Moroccan Diaspora vis-à-vis what is happening in Morocco and their misplaced loyalty for the regime.

    Let’s not beat around the bush; Morocco is a totalitarian regime where one man has ultimate power over every aspect of Moroccans lives and if you do not know Morocco , I am going to give a quick introduction to what really happens in this feudal system

    This is quick description from an earlier article I posted:

    “Firstly, I would like to thank Cindy for the accurate and honest description of the state of affairs in Morocco. Morocco is a place of many contrasts where corruption, prostitution, drugs, abuse of power, injustice, is very common.
    However, many countries have these problems, so what makes Morocco different from any country in the world?
    To answer this question one needs to understand the nature of the Moroccan regime and the Moroccan Monarchy in particular.
    Morocco remains one of the most unequal, if not feudal, societies in the world. Mohammed VI alone owns a reported quarter of the country’s agricultural land and under Moroccan law, discussion of the royal purse is illegal, but the country’s phosphate mines – the largest exporter in the world – remain a royal or Cherifian company. Also, through the biggest Economical Group in Morocco ONA he totally controls every aspect of the economy. Literally the Moroccan Monarchy owns the country.
    But the economy is not enough; the Sultan in Morocco took his legitimacy from God. He is the country’s religious mentor – the Commander of the Faithful and head of the Maliki school of Islam. He is technically the most sacred living entity in the universe. Of course, after God himself.
    The truth of the matter as described by many international institutions:
    “Eighty percent of villages are still without electricity or running water, and the UN ranks Morocco 126th on its league of developed states. A third of the country’s 30 million population live below the poverty line – many in squalid shanty towns which hug the major cities. Fifty-two years after the French withdrew, Morocco_s people remain for the most part illiterate.”
    I think to talk about freedom of speech/development in Morocco is not only misleading; it is a gross distortion of the truth, and any human been with an iota of decency and integrity should not support this last relic of human degradation.”
    For more details see: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/09/08/morocco-the-post-that-led-mohammah-erraji-to-jail/#comment-1514915

  • tenderheart

    Of course they should! God has blessed them with intelligence. I recently shared on this topic with a young American. He called me crazy. In my heart, I quickly forgave him, because Love commands me to. I don’t mind being persecuted because I am praying for Arabia, everyday. Out of obedience to Jesus, my prayers will flow. Many people around the world criticize Arab nations for their decision to limit perversion on television, and elsewhere. Maybe it’s time access to the Internet be encouraged by all citizens, to break that perception many have: the one about Arabians fighting change, and refusing to show tolerance. The Internet is a fantastic way of bonding with citizens of all nations. If friendships start online, maybe there will be more hope for world peace. Dialogue is crucial. If it has to be a chat, then so be it. Are you not all worthy of this trust? I am sure that dividing walls will fall when this priviledge is given to citizens, women included. Have you ever looked at children at play? They don’t look at skin color. They accept their respective cultures, and enjoy each other’s company – until adults teach them to hate, to mistrust, and to stay away! Then, they suffer in silence “because daddy said so” and they carry that pain a long time. We must spend time with each other, share meals, play together, and learn from each other. The more time we invest into such efforts, the greater our chance for reconciliation. All my best.

  • […] for example, parts of the blogosphere have been buzzing with news, opinions and support for Moroccan blogger Mohammed Erraji who explained his own reasons for blogging before being […]

  • […] Famed Saudi Arabian blogger Fouad Al Farhan – who features in my book, The Blogging Revolution, and with whom I spent time in 2007 before his brief stint in prison – offers a challenge to authoritarian states: […]

  • […] por ejemplo, algunas partes de la blogósfera se han emocionado con información, opiniones y apoyo para el bloguero marroquí Mohammed Erraji quien expresó sus propias razones por escribir antes de […]

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