Saudi Arabia – online interpretations of Islam

A country that in many ways has been neglected in media- and intellectual debates around the Arab revolution during 2011 and onwards, since the media spotlight for various reasons often fell on Egypt, Libya and Syria instead, is Saudi Arabia. This doesn’t however suggest that protests or resistance movements have not been active in the kingdom during the last couple of years. On the contrary, several social debates has been taken to the streets in different regions, especially surrounding women’s rights issues, unemployment, costs of housing etc. One of the regions that has experienced significant oppositional tensions is the Ash-Sharqīyah province. This is a predominantly shia-populated province, with a Sunni-ruling regime. Needless to say, political tensions are evident. These tensions were magnified during 2011 when parallell protests in the MENA-region accelerated in the Ash-Sharqīyah province as the Sunni regime was assisted by Bahraini government to supress the shia population.


The uprisings however differed substantially from the ones taking place in the surrounding Arab peninsula, atleast in terms of objectives. As citizens (or oppositional groups to be precise) in countries such as Egypt and Libya demanded new rule of government and a distortion of the regime itself, protests in Saudi Arabia in general, and the Ash-Sharqīyah province in particular, were characterized by demands for reforms rather than anything else. There are of course exceptions and examples of strong criticism of the political system, but still, western media coverage as well as current research being made on the Arab spring, to a large extent exclude Saudi Arabia.


Lessons learned from this? First of all, traditional media (nowadays integrated with social and digital media as well) has a lot better chance to get audience and ratings if reporting on spectacular events that are easy to understand and describe. Considering it has already taken me about thirty lines to contextualize protests in Saudi Arabia, it is not a surprise that when choosing between covering a) a ”united” people against a dictator, or b) mainly religious conflicts seeking reforms on social issues, newsrooms predominantly turns to the first option intially. As the events proceed, the media coverage spins around itself through continous reporting in almost every major news channel about the same issue and the spotlight is already set and hard to move. The domestic media system in Saudi Arabia is also a part of this explanatory model, as by law the media are to educate and preserve national identity – hence, critical journalistic approaches are as in many other countries, rare and seldom published. There is a sense of self-censorship regarding the media outlets in the country (including social media) however it is strongly, though perhaps implicitally, characterized by state regulations.


(In addition, one should know that King Abdullah at the early start of the arab revolutions spent about 100 billion dollars on domestic incentives to keep people from taking it to the streets. Several thousands of security forces were deployed to control public squares for precationary measures, obstructing assemblies of oppositional kind to take place.)

saudi-riyadh-protest Image: Courtsey of


So why this take on Saudi Arabia? Well, as those of you who read this blog already know (or should know by now), my interest in the MENA-region derives from the significance of media technology in the protests, and I am keen to comprehend the use for mobilization, the media as a platform for freedom of speech, as well as the surveillance technology used by regimes to control citizens (and obstruct protests and activism). Saudi Arabia is interesting in this context due to the fact that the division between religios groups and advocates for certain interpretations of Islam (shia, sunni) really empowers perceptions about the need for technology as an arena for expressing views, community building and possibility to defend faith and religion– rather than mobilizing for a specific political change of government. The role of the media in relation to the protests mentioned above seem to have been more focused upon the promotion of dialogue about social issues, religion and ideology rather than using the technology for organizing protests offline (this was used of course, especially through mobile phones, however not to the extent as in the surrounding countries at the time).


Now, even if users and advocates for these type of religious discussions, taking place in forums and social media platforms, work hard to empower freedom of expression in the country, is must still be considered dangerous to take part in these discussions and the state exercises monitoring control, especially when it comes to religious content on social media platforms.


”Speech involving religious themes is especially risky, as the government is willing to use serious religious charges, including the death penalty and corporal punishment, and tools of international jurisprudence like extradition, to detain and punish those who violate its strict norms for political, religious, and cultural speech.”



And when researching this area it becomes rather clear that censorship of both traditional media as well as social and digital media, is often aimed at religious content and with references to Islam rather than anything else. For example, about a month ago Reuters reported on how the editors behind a forum of ”Saudi Liberals” was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 600 lashes, charged with ” cyber crime and disobeying his father” (read the story here)

t1larg.saudi.arabia.protests.cnn (Image: Courtsey of

In any case, my point is to say that the role of media technology in Saudi Arabia, in comparison to countries such as Quatar, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Syria, during the Arab spring of 2011 and onwards, seem to have a different approach, more focusing on freedom of expression connected to religious conflics rather than, as in the mentioned countries, use of ICT for direct political change. Reasons for this are several, however the arguments above should be considered vital.

Short update before leaving for Toronto

The stay here in New York is moving towards its final hours and tonight we fly to Toronto to attend the conference at the University of Guelph, starting thursday morning. But first we have a meeting this morning with Reboot, on organisation devoted to enhance social progress around the world. Hopefully we can have an interesting exchange of ideas and further decrease the distance between social organisations and academia, especially in terms of international relations.
During our stay here we have had meetings with both NYU and New School University as well as Unicef, discussing possible cooperations with our master in Communication for Development. So far all meetings have turned out well and strengthened our international contacts and above all, they have opened up for more collaborative efforts in the future.
The content of these meetings will need longer posts to be described, but I will do so in the near future.
We leave New York tonight and go to Toronto for an early start tomorrow with the seminars on Communication for Social and Environmental Change. The event will be streamed live and you should be able to follow it in real time on video, Twitter and other social platforms. I will post links as I get them when arriving to the conference. My presentation will focus on Middle East media and political activism and more specifically on the correlation between perceptions of digital resistance technologies and the actual use and implementation of it. And as I read that last sentence I realised I should start preparing.

First day in New York

After spending about 14 hours on planes, airports and endless security checks, yesterday we arrived to Newark Airport and New York City. This morning our delegation, so far consisting of me, Tobias, Oscar, Rebecka and Micke R (few others will join later on) walked the streets from our hotel in Chelsea (no, not the famous Hotel Chelsea but another one) and all the way past Madison Square Garden, Times Square and Central Park. Since our meetings starts later this afternoon we have all had time to experience parts of this magnificent city and for me, who has never been here before, its been a totally wonderful experience. The majestic buildings, the atmosphere, the sounds and smells – everything is simply amazing. I will definitely try to come back as soon as possible.
Right now it is about three in the afternoon and we are preparing to go separate ways. I will visit New School University and meet the Dean of The School of Media Studies, mainly to discuss collaboration and possible exchange agreements between our departments. The rest of our group will meet up with NYU and the Centre for Global Affairs to present our educational programme and discuss future cooperations with our master in Communication for Development. Lets hope both of our meetings will be successful. Later tonight I will try to find my way down to lower Manhattan and meet the rest for dinner. Big day tomorrow as well.
Will try to write a longer post later tonight or tomorrow, but for now it will have to be enough with the following pictures of our time here so far. Enjoy !
IMG_2421 IMG_2424 IMG_2431 IMG_2446 IMG_2451 IMG_2456 IMG_2457IMG_2415 IMG_2416

Visit to NY and Toronto

So tomorrow I am off to New York and Toronto for meetings and conference participation. Never been there so I hope to enjoy every minute of it.
The purpose of this trip is two-fold. First of all, three days in New York will mostly consist of meetings with two universities, The New School University and NYU, in order to discuss possible collaborative efforts regarding student/teachers exchange as well as other forms of cooperation between our respective master educations. I am travelling with colleagues from Malmö University and the master programme in Communication for Development and my department are launching a new two year master in Media- and communication studies, focusing on collaborative media, in late 2015. Just as ComDev, the new will be web-based and therefore global cooperations between universities is an important aspect of running such an educational form. I hope to contribute to develop such a cooperation through this trip.
The second part of the trip is a conference at University of Guelph in Toronto, within the project The Glocal Classroom (financed by Stint). Different types of presentations concerning communication and development will constitute the core of the conference, and I will present on Media activism in the Middle East. Hopefully it will be stimulating discussions and interesting experiences. I will try to blog while I am away, so stay tuned:)

Video activism in the age of networks

A few months ago I wrote a paper proposal to a CFP on the theme Videoactivism, culture and participation. Theory and practice of social change in the age of the networks.

The other day I received the news that my proposal was accepted, hence I will submit a full paper for publication before September. The work title for this paper is currently: New forms of social control in a sousveillance society – the case of online video streaming during the Arab Spring.


What is the context?

Two prefixes (sur- and sous) are commonly used for defining what type of veillance (watching) that is emphasized, which actors are involved as well as the power relation between them. Surveillance represents the ’few-watching-many’ and sousveillance defines how ’many-watching-few’ manifests itself in social environments. The paper centers around a specific dimension of contemporary media technological discourse, namely the expansion of types of veillances – both regarding technology itself and the techniques to use it. As the title suggest I will draw upon the previous work I have done for a forthcoming book (on MIT Press later this year) on innovation, design and democracy in which I contribute with a chapter. The focus is somewhat different though, as this paper will emphasize the implications of a sousveillance society, rather than the use of live streaming technology itself. It will also be narrowed down to the Arab world and MENA-region in particular.


And my main interest in this case lies on how the path on which media technological development currently proceeds, often is characterized by discourses of improvement, advancing humanity and strengthen democratic ideals. Authoritarian regimes in the Arab world have during the uprisings since 2011 declared the need for sur-veillance in order to secure stability for its citizens, just as citizens through sous-veillance, using cellular phones, cameras and social media platforms, have adopted the rhetoric and claimed positions in the Arab public sphere and to some extent succeeded in achieveing socio-political change.


The argument

The role of online video from activists and social movements during the uprisings has without a doubt been both vital and significant. However this development also raises questions on new forms of social control, in the sense of dissolvment of former power structures (political powers exercising social control over citizens through use of surveillance technologies). Several events during the last couple of years have however shown how grassroot-sousveillance, activists filming police brutality, can be understood as a new form of this social control, making the surveillers watched and thereby altering behaviours, changing procedures for exercising politics as well as forcing new strategies for upholding power.


And through the sound of it, this may seem as a very democratic and positive development. But before making such statement, one should carefully scrutinize the implementation, the consequences of this. For example, several nations involved in the Arab spring are currently experienceing a complex and tragic aftermath of accelarating turmoil, clashes between activists and military, diffusion in the earlier outspoken demcratic reforms as well as religious and ethnic conflicts. Not to say that technology bare guilt of these, but I strongly argue that the fact that alternative political spheres (activists in this case) this extensively use social networks and live streaming video technology to both show the surrounding world of the events and encourage further resistance, at the same time forces for example totalitarian regimes on the brink of falling, to take extreme measures and desperate acts in order to maintain control and uphold the govering. This does not mean that the advantages with this balancing of veillances is neglegted, however it is vital to discuss these type of consequences.


So, to summarize, this paper will be a critical theoretical discussion and hopefully an important contribution to the understanding of the implications of contemporary sousveillance society, in this case in the MENA-region. The aim is to develop an explanatory theoretical framework on the relation between sousveillance technologies and new forms of social control in the Arab public sphere, in which power positions have shifted from government or regimes to a critical mass of new media activists.

Social media within companies

The last two weeks have been intense, in more than one way. As an academic researcher it is usually a rarity to get the opportunity to speak in front of businesses, managers and people within the private sector in general. However as I try to be involved and accept offers from different organizations to come and present/lecture, and if the context is closely related to my work and can be considered important for Malmö University to be visible in, I usually accept and perform guest lectures or workshops related to media and communication strategies.


One of these guest lectures took place last Tuesday on Internet i Fokus, an annual gathering of (mostly) national small- and middlesized companies and representatives, all interested in getting inspiration and ideas for their current and future use of digital media to enhance business and communication strategies. My presentation opened the day in front of almost 400 spectators and the main topic was how companies can use social media platforms as an important part of internal communication. As several reports have shown, for example by the McKinsey Global Institute 2013, the strategic use of social media for companies in an international context is mainly external. A majority of organizations has expanded their visibility on different platforms as a mean for targeted marketing and proximity to potential customers, however not integrated social media within the company itself as a potential mean for efficiancy and improved internal communication and work ethics. During my talk I tried to emphasize the advantages with considering the characteristics of private use of sociala media (curiosity, sharing, collaboration, confirmation etc.) and implement them in a professional context. This could embrace instant feedback from colleagues, transparency, finding competences and expertise as well as collaboration across boundaries.


My main argument was to consider organizational cultures to be expanded in the digital world, hence strengthening individual sense of participation and belonging through the internal use of social media technology.


From the reactions I have got since this lecture I have noticed that this way of thinking was both interesting and stimulating for several people in the audience and I am happy to have got the opportunity to meet, talk and discuss the possibilities of social technology for businesses with everybody who particiapted last week and those who have contacted me afterwards. Please continue to do so.


A review of my lecture (in swedish) can be found here, and a small image gallery from this event can be seen here.


And if you still haven’t found it, don’t forget to follow my official Facebook page.

After the protests in Gezi Park and on Tahrir?

As the newspapers are filled with images and stories of civic engagement, protests and demonstrations around the world and citizens trying to collectively achieve change within the national context of politics, I start wondering over the actual effects; the pragmatic achievements of these protests.


During the last few weeks there have been several cases of demonstrations, protests, clashes and uprisings in for example Turkey and Ukraine. Political reasons aside, as they differ substantially, these demonstrations are the result of an increased civic engagement as counter-reactions to political establishments and governmental attempts to control the public spheres of society. One of these spheres is constituted by digital technologies and social media in particular; tools for which activists can organize and mobilize the protests with pace and low budget in coordination efforts. Social movements are dependent on high numbers of participants in order to have effect (as in get attention and gain further support) and social media simplifies the path to reach this high number. And when protests become mass events, like the case of Ukraine and Turkey during the last days, as well as Egypt in 2011, pundits often refer to this as spectacular events through which days for regimes must be numbered.


However, as for example the case of Egypt hs shown, the long-term aim of the protests is seldom achieved as new forms of authoritarianism and repressive powers seem to take charge. Since the Arab spring of 2011, this retainment has taken place in several nations in the region. One important explanation for this is that before the Intrenet and digital mobilization, social movements had to take time to coordinate actions during a longer period of time, thinking about sustaining momentum after the initial phases of the protests (including infrastructure for decision making, political renewal strategies, long term policies etc.) These days, movements leap over this work, taking mobilization beyond these processes, all in the midst of excitement over possibilities for rapid change but without a solid preparation for the times to come. Occupy Wall Street is yet another example of this. Noble ideological agenda, rapid growth, excessive international support with minor fractions, but the result so far… well.. not correlated with the stated aim.


The Indignados in Spain 2011 (a group of protesters who labelled themselves this, meaning ”the outraged”) is another example. What happened in Gezi Park in Istanbul last year did however get wider attention and a more progressive outcome, however when reaching the local election, the ruling party is still set to remain in power.


This does not mean that I oppose to the civic engagement and use of social media to organize or mobilize. On the contrary, the fact that the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the Gezi protests called Twitter and other social media a ”menace to society” bear witness of the need to actually use the available tools to challenge and to question the political establishments. But the last couple of years can actually enlighten and help future social movements and civic engagement to combine pragmatic political work and organization with rapid mobilization through digital technologies. In that way, the effect, outcome and pragmatic socio-political change may actually succeed and remain in a longer period of time than the days people were on the street chanting for freedom.

When nationalism becomes larger than the nation

We are experiencing a Ukraine on the brink of war as Russia is mobilizing. The tension in the region is focused on how Putin will proceed his military intervention. It’s rather hard to write on the subject as events are changing hour-by-hour and the situation is, as always in these type of evolving events, complex and characterized by lack of information and/or dis-information.


Something that however is possible to discuss is a clear pattern of political ambitions that are now at stake in the rebuilding of the country. And I am not just talking about parliamentary posts, but rather a larger conceptual understanding of ideological tendencies thoughout Europe.


Let’s take a starting point in the simplified image of Ukraine’s opposition movement and demonstrations that has been prominent during the last weeks. The demonstrators have often been depicted as a homogenous ”opposition movement” or just simply ”protesters”. But when scrutinizing the images, the interviews and the more solid information on who is participating, who is seeking power and who is setting the agenda for the political future, one soon learn that there are very close links to right-wing extremism and nazi-organizations at play among the opposition movements. In the contours of Maidan, we can observe a progressive trajectory of intensified transnational unification of far-right movements in Europe. Let me explain.


This form of transnational ideological warfare against minorities and oppositional dissidents are now beginning to seriously take root in this continent where national mobilization gradually accelerates to supranational ideological propagation. In a short article in swedish newspaper DN today it is described how both swedish and nordic parties and organizations at the far-right in various ways support the right-wing parties in Ukraine, both with people on site and via fundraising online. There are numerous examples of similar support across borders between right-wing parties and extremist organizations in countries such as France, Poland and Bulgaria. Ukraine represents only the latest and most recent high-profile case.


What this example expresses is both worrying and a significant historical development. Firstly, the ultra-conservative definition of ’nationalism’ is extended in times and contexts of political instability into a trans-nationalist (or pan-European) idea where dystopian ideologies become greater than the nation itself. Previously, national introversion around a set of ideas has started off from an extremely strong bond between leader, country and ideology (Mussolini-Italy-fascism, Stalin-Soviet- communism, Hitler-Germany-Nazism). What distinguishes today’s ideological state is above all how repressive and violent tendencies, much due to the radical right forces strategic use of the Internet as mobilization tool, are spreading at a much faster rate than before and get a wider scope. It’s not the existence of the Internet creating this form of unification, but network society’s global and largely democratic nature may thus have the opposite effect and turn to itself.


Secondly, this right-wing ideological propagation is happening additionally in parallel with an increased xenophobic and anti-Islam rhetoric which not only demonizes religious dissident groups and individuals, but also oppressed minority groups who are fighting for their human rights and equality (in Ukraine hatred is directed mainly against homosexuals, Russians and Jews).

The intersections between these two developments chains already had, and could get even further and more direct, wide-ranging implications.


It is time to look beyond the national mobilization of right-wing, fascist and Nazi-parties and instead scrutinize its transnational propagation.

It is time to mobilize to counter the ideological transnational spread of xenophobia.

It’s time to take the ideological condition of Europe seriously.


Otherwise, tomorrow’s history books will be written with even greater regret than those we read today on European and human darkness during the 1900s.

Something about who I am

Not too long ago I wrote a post on my experience of being an academic, how this in many ways privileged position influences my personal self and way of life. I had several reactions to this post, both positive and negative. But above all I noticed that the personal reflections are more read than the professional. This will however not change my purpose of this blog, since it has a focus on the professional subjects and thoughts I struggle with in my head.

But the struggle is of course not exclusive to the professional sphere. Sometimes it can be of help for me, as well as evidently interesting for readers, to write/read more about the private sphere. And as I explained in the earlier mentioned post, to me the professional and private goes very much hand in hand. But for once I will focus only on the latter.

I would like to think that I am a simple man. A man of needs and passion. A man of faults and good. A lot of people though see me rather one-dimensional, either good or bad. I guess this is the way we observe and categorize people not really known to us. I often discuss this aspect of construction of the surrounding world with students in class; how we as human beings are schematically categorizing, stereotyping and make divisions of people around us. And the grade of truth in our perceptions of other is not really important, rather it is a matter of distance between how we see ourselves and how others perceive us.
I tend to believe that those who know me, know me very well. Those who don’t seem to talk about me as if they know me, but their perception is far from how I see myself. Probably my own fault.

In any case, this is me. A small part of me.

– I totally adore creativity and love my job, including lecturing.
– Being rather tall in combination with confidence in the classroom, I think I can be perceived as arrogant. But I just try to be confident. Otherwise few would listen.
– I spend most of my free-time writing or reading. This is what I do. If not I run. And swim.
– Through persistence (and curiosity) I have learned a few languages. Also to write for and play musical instruments.
– I often forget my own birthday.
– I have a family that loves me for who I am. Once I had my own family. I failed them in keepin it together.
– I have chosen a life without too many real friends. The ones I have I try to be good to and help. Because they help me.
– I don’t have many regrets in my life. But the ones I have really hurt.
– I believe kindness is the best way to be a good person. I try to be kind.
– I have faith in myself. Managing life.
– My daughter is everything to me. I cannot find words for the humanity, strength, love and kindness she personifies.
– Those who know me also know that there is nothing I wouldn’t do for her.
– The only thing that bothers me is that she’s disappointed that there are no fairytale images in the type of books/articles I write.
– But I still love her.

She makes me want to be a better person. A better father. And I know she wishes me to be happy in every aspect of life. I know she is happy and safe and really enjoys the best of life. One day she will be aware of the impact she has on my well-being. Perhaps she is the only person who perceives me in the exact same way I try to see myself. That makes us one. In our own special little way.


And since you are learning english at school..
You are always present in my life. Even when you are far away. And I hope you feel the same way about me. I learn from you and worship your existence. To me, you are the most valuable thing to protect and love, and I would easily give up everything around me to ensure you feel that every day of your life.


Back to reality.