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Cyberspace and Social Movements and the Authoritarian Governance of Digital Public Sphere

Session I-16, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, December 1 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
  • In November 2021, Qatar held its first-ever Shura Council elections. The Shura Council, a consultative assembly, is one of Qatar's two central legislative bodies. Sharia Law is the primary source of Qatari legislation and is based on the principles of religion and culture. The Council, first established in 1972, can propose bills, prepare draft laws, and assist the Emir (de facto ruler) and the Council of Ministers. The Council consists of 45 members, 30 elected by the citizens and 15 appointed by the Emir. The Media Support Committee for the Shura Council employed the services of Qatar Media Corporation (the public service broadcasting network), offering free media services for the candidates. Candidates could have an introductory video of themselves and their agendas on the government channel in alphabetical order. A dedicated website to the campaign was created to offer a platform for the candidates and information about election rules. The candidate's budget was capped at 2 million Qatari riyals ( about USD 550,000), and a maximum of 10 posters and banners were allowed. Candidates were provided only two weeks for campaigning. Amid these, many of the candidates turned to social media for campaigning. Laws that limited the participation of certain sections of the Qatari society stirred tribal sensitivities, and there were manifestations of these sentiments on social media (Reuters, 2021). The use of social media by government officials is an established practice (Akdenizli, 2018). The recent blockade of Qatar, 2017-2021, further illustrated social media's role. Countries involved in the conflict found themselves in a diplomatic rift on social media. Twitter bots were mobilized to create negative information and propaganda from the blockading countries towards Qatar (Jones, 2019). Online deception, fake accounts, and trending hashtags alleging fraud during the Shura Elections were not a surprise (Jones, 2021). This paper analyzes the Twitter accounts of 27 elected candidates (out of 30) who campaigned online. The study is a content analysis of 1878 tweets between September 15-30, 2021, the two weeks candidates were allowed to campaign. The preliminary data shows that candidates regularly tweeted, some more than others. Some candidates opened Twitter accounts just for campaigning. With the analysis f tweets and the evaluation of reports and coverage of the Shura Election, this paper aims to showcase the context of digital interaction and online dialog in the first-ever elections in Qatar. References:not included beacuse of word limit
  • In this paper, I research how Egyptian women-only Facebook groups are spaces for exchange and learning about intimate relationships. My argument is that the groups provide a ‘safe’ space by acting as a perimeter where women can express themselves without being reprimanded for inappropriate public conduct, while exchanging advice and relationship-oriented education. This is anthropological research including participant observation, content and discourse analysis, and interviews. There is a performative identity to enter the group as a woman (in the absence of a physical body) and once in as a member there are expectations of behavior to remain a member. In contrast to sexual explicitness online by male profiles (and offline in person), female sexual explicitness is selectively punished. Secondly, the group acts as an educational space for relationships and sexuality where anonymity allows for advice seeking without retribution to her in-person “in-real-life (IRL)” identity. Thirdly, the group allows for spaces for entertainment and sexual humor. Additionally, it is a space where there is a degree of “men bashing” which is uncontested as the male voice is absent and appears to be empowering as well as a form of entertainment. Lastly, while the rules stipulate restrictions on religious advice, religious notions still find expression in advice comments, conversational language, and karmic predictions. This and further research could show how millennial urban women in Egypt negotiate relationships and agency in comparison to anthropological research of an earlier generation of Egyptian women, highlighting the role of social media in their lives.
  • Nawal al Saadawi writes that the “liberation of women is by necessity dependent on the liberation of the land as well as liberation from economic, cultural and media domination.” (1988, p.1). As an information, media and gender studies scholar, I am drawn to the observation on Arab feminism that “if the 1890s print revolution gave rise to the Arab women’s press, creating new forms of outreach and connection among women, the 1990s information revolution opened up unprecedented opportunities for transnational and global networking” (Badran and Cooke 1990, xvii). More specifically, I am drawn to how infrastructures of power, information management and media are negotiated and transformed by Arab feminist movements’ information activism, and what we can learn from them. English-language scholarship around Arab women has largely focused on their use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in the Arab Uprisings. While much of this body of scholarship has been crucial for recognizing the tactics used by activists, the large focus and credit tend to be given to the technology itself. There remains a need for contextual considerations of information that is comprehensive in its evaluation of media. Borrowing from my dissertation work on Arab women’s movements, this presentation situates digital activism by addressing histories of cross-regional Arab feminist organizations, such as the Arab Feminist Union, and the communications outputs they wrote and circulated from the twentieth century. The presentation investigates how Arab feminism has long had to refuse and navigate colonial heteropatriarchal manipulation of their calls for liberation, and showcases the immense contributions from key Arab feminist publications of the twentieth century. The aim of this presentation is to provide context to the use of digital media by feminist movements in the MENA today through tracing the genealogy of using communications media for the collective project of liberation. Nahid Toubia, eds. 1988 “Women of the Arab World: The Coming Challenge” Papers of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association Conference. London; Atlantic Highlands: Zed Books. Margot Badran and Miriam Cooke, eds. 1990. Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.