GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Media, Social Media and Political Awareness in the UAE
Paper Proposal Text :
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) hydrocarbons resources are arguably enough to maintain the current state-society rentier relationship for a long period of time. However, calls for political participation have taken place in this country and some reform has been undertaken by the government, such as the implementation of Federal National Council elections in 2006 and 2011. Opinions of citizens and residents of the UAE about those and other political processes were widely expressed through the traditional and the social media during the years prior to the Arab Spring. However, as this top-down ‘gradual’ process of political liberalisation has been replaced by a more state-security oriented approach (including the detention of political activists accused of plotting to overthrow the UAE Government), the number of opinions expressed online has declined and the level of fear to express ideas openly has increased, especially after a Presidential Decree amending the 2006 Cyber Crimes Law was issued in 2012 (thereafter described as the most detailed and comprehensive cyber law in the Middle East). From a political culture perspective, and taking the UAE as a case study, this paper suggests that there is a necessity to revisit the rentier state theory, and to look through new lens into the dynamics explaining the persistence of the present ways of ruling and the factors, which could bring about political change in the Gulf. How the complexity of an everyday more urbanite and globalised society affects the state-society relationship; how citizens’ political awareness is affected by the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs); how governments react to the online public spaces where people exchange political ideas. It is within this context that this paper presents a discussion of the important role that social networks play in the political landscape of the UAE, and presents an analysis of Emirati university students perceptions regarding their feelings of freedom to express political ideas, and as to how traditional and social media have influenced the interest and knowledge they have in politics. Overall, an argument is made that the rentier nature of a state can actually empower its citizens to challenge authoritarianism and make them more politically aware through the exposure to new ‘agents of political socialisation’, including the traditional and the social media. This research is supported by data collected through the conduction of interviews in the UAE since April 2011 until today, as well as a survey submitted to United Arab Emirates University students between March and May 2012.