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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2006, 08:31 GMT 09:31 UK
Saudi Arabia's bold young bloggers
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

Ahmed al-Omran, writer of Saudi Jeans
Ahmed al-Omran's site Saudi Jeans was blocked earlier in 2006
There's not just an oil boom in Saudi Arabia - there's a blogging boom too.

"It really took off last year," says Saudi journalist Rasheed Abou-Alsamh.

There are now between 500 and 600 Saudi blogs - in English as well as Arabic - and the bloggers are women as well as men.

"I think young people see the internet as a way of expressing themselves easily and in an uncensored fashion," says Mr Abou-Alsamh.

The Saudi kingdom is still in many ways a closed society.

"The media here are controlled," says blogger Fouad al-Farhan, who is 31 and runs an IT company in Jeddah. "We can't express our thoughts on TV or in newspapers or magazines."

Unusually, he includes his mobile phone number, as well as his full name, on his Arabic blog (www.smartinfo.com.sa/fouad/).

He uses the blog to comment on political and religious issues. Others call him a conservative - a term he dislikes. His views are certainly very different from those of liberal young bloggers who attack the religious police - or discuss their love lives.

Fictional love story

One young woman blogs under the name Mystique.

I am born - a man chooses my name,
I am taught - to appreciate that he did not bury me alive,
I learn - what he wants me to know,
I marry - who he wants me to marry,
I eat - what he wants me to eat,
If he dies - another man controls my life
A father, a brother, a husband, a son, a man

Extract from poem: Rantings of an Arabian Woman
"I want to remain anonymous," she says, adding that only a small group of friends know her real identity.

Her English blog (www.mystiquesa.blogspot.com) is, by Saudi standards, outspoken.

"I have this fictional series, a love story between a man and a woman. And I get into the most intimate details of the relationship - like sexual details."

Not surprisingly in such a conservative society, she gets hate mail - as well as support from like-minded young Saudis.

Another anonymous woman blogger, Saudi Eve, had her site blocked after she had written freely about sex and religion.

Global discussion

There is a cyber-battle under way, says journalist Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, between liberals and conservatives.

Ahmed al-Omran found his site (www.saudijeans.blogspot.com) blocked earlier this year.

He is a student in Riyadh who blogs in English.

"Most of the other bloggers supported me - even those who normally disagree with me," he says.

His blog was soon back on-line.

"I started blogging over two years ago," Ahmed says. "It has become an integral part of my life."

Outsiders, he says, tend to have a one-dimensional view of Saudi Arabia.

"I can have a discussion with the rest of the world, and we can show them how we live."

Slow pace of Saudi change
07 Oct 06 |  From Our Own Correspondent

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