email 12 oct 2005
Q. When and why did you start writing a blog?
A. I started blogging late 90's. However, that time blogs where not known as they are today. I used to focus on technology and IT security issues. Early 2002 I became more and more focused on Middle East issue. The reason was my disappointment of what I used to read about what and how the Middle East is presented to the world online. It was (and maybe still) an image drawn with black painting on a black background. I felt that I have a duty to do. At least try to erase one line from that dark painting and replace it with a white one that represent some of the unknown shiny facts about this part of the world. That's when I decided to focus my own blog (http://sabbah.biz) on Mideast. Slowly the blog topics encouraged healthy discussions, which encouraged me to write more on political, cultural, religious and life of Arabs.
Q. Can you define your blog?
A. I'm interested in everything, but my chief interest is in the intersection between politics and individual liberty in the Middle East and Muslims world. My blog tries to dispel the rough and ugly image that we suffer from the rest of the world, specially from the west. The vast majority of my blog posts touches on this in one way or another, and try to create a better understanding that we are not as bad as the western media painted us for decades.
Q. What role does the blog play in your life now? (where do you write, how time a day, is a kind of addiction? it has changed you in some way..???)
A. Well, I run and participate in several Internet website projects that are geared to spread freedom of speech and enable everyone who wants to speak to have the means to speak -- and everyone who wants to hear that speech, the means to listen to it. Writing from home and sometimes while in office, at least I spend 10 hours on daily bases. It has changed the way I live and has become an addiction. My family understand that, and even support me to do more.
Q. How many visitors do you have? What kind of people?
A. Last few months average is half a million hit that comes from over 40000 unique visitors. Sorted by percentage of numbers of visitors, they come from USA, Australia, Europe, China then Arab countries such as Saudi, Jordan, Bahrain, etc...
Mostly open minded, moderate and people searching for alternative views and news.
Q. I know that you are working to organize a Middle East Bloggers Meetup. Could you explain me something about that?
A. The idea started last year. I organized the first blogger Meetup early 2004 in Bahrain. We even had one blogger coming from Qatar to join us. The Meetup was very successful and most of the bloggers who attended shared their experience online. Later the news of our meetup encouraged more bloggers from few Arab countries to start such a meetups and they liked the idea. Now I know that on regular bases, meetups are held on Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and of course Bahrain. Needless to say that these countries have the most active bloggers in the Arab world, and more is coming.
In the coming future, I'm coordinating with few Middle East bloggers to hold an annual regional bloggers conference. This should give us a forum to discuss tools and strategies to develop blogging in the Arab world.
Q. How widely read do you think are the blogs in the region? Which are the main problems? (languages, internet access, restrictions, freedom...?????)
A. All of what you said. Due to some cultural restrictions in the Middle East, majority of the surfers are usually go searching for material that is censored or restricted or banned to distribute in the Middle East. Starting with books, political articles, art, MSM, tools and ending up with adult material, most (if not all) of which are not available through other resources.
On the other hand, due to low level of education in some countries, and high cost of Internet access in others, language and censorship, Internet is still not so publicly used resource. In fact it is very much under utilized in so many parts of the Middle East.
When it comes to blogging, we are witnessing now a huge increase in the numbers of blogs, both in Arabic as well English. Earlier, it was difficult for Arabic blogs to take off due to limitation of tools online. Now that many open source projects, volunteers and tutorials exist to assist and help spreading the use of blogs, both in English and Arabic, the number and quality of blogs are improving.
Q. You are one of a few bloggers that is not afraid to show his identity and photo. Why?
A. Why should I? Identity plays a major role in establishing credibility to what a blogger says. Beside that, I believe and practice my right in freedom of expression.
I'm not an enemy to my society, nor I'm a missionary. Having said that, we have to lead by example. Not only in the Arab world, but in front of the whole world as well. If I criticize any, that's because I like to find a solution to it, or to dispel the myth that surrounds all the taboos around us. Now, that is not a crime, so why should I hide behind a anon ID?
Beside that, moderate Arabs and Muslims are in fact majority of the Middle East public now. Unlike what is said about Arabs and Muslims in the MSM and the tags and labels that were stick to us. Therefore, speaking without hiding faces is in fact a reflection of what we live these days. It is very important for me to be transparent, so that visitors to my blog are encouraged to practice the same. This makes it easy to break ice and establish bridges of communication.
Having said all that, I don't believe one should hide his ID when blogging. The world is becoming even smaller than a global village, and one should not fear that he will be accused for something he said or thinks as far as what he says is objective and does not break rules. One has to remember that a big mass of supports and NGO's will jump in if a blogger is detained or accused unfairly by any local authorities. Unlike the old days, authorities can not hide this. I believe one of the best ways to fairly protest and express his freedom of expression can be online, and with original ID. This way he will establish support, beside get interaction and maybe form or reform his ideas for best, yet not fall in the trap of negative criticism.
On the other hand, if blogging anonymously is extremely important due to personal security reasons, then that's welcome. But one has to keep in mind that blogging anonymously opens the doors for intruders to spread lies and rumors claiming an ID of a local or a country that he might never even visited or knew. Organized propaganda is a serious tool that is cleverly used by extremists of all parts of the world as well to spread poisoned theories among bloggers thus society. So, one has to be careful to what he reads and whom he believes and support.
Q. I need also some help, if it is possible. 1) Can you send me a photo (of you)? 2) Do you have some kind of statistics about bloggers, internet access, etc, in the Middle East?
A. You can a photo here: http://sabbah.biz/mt/about/
as for statistics, I don't have much, sorry, but I can tell you of some aggregators which list many (but not all) of the best Middle east blogs. here are they:
Bahrain: http://bahrainblogs.com/Another Bahrain: http://ping.bahblog.com/Saudi: http://saudiblogs.blogspot.com/Tunisia: http://www.tn-blogs.com/blogsMaghreb: http://www.maghreblog.net/Palestine: http://palestineblogs.net/Kuwait: http://safat.kuwaitblogs.com/Arab: http://arablog.net/Iraq: http://iraqblogcount.blogspot.com/Arabic: http://arabblogcount.blogspot.com/