GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Internet, Youth, and the State in the United Arab Emirates
Paper Proposal Text :
Among many consequences, the Arab Spring contributed to shifting the general perception of the role played by the internet in Arab societies, and especially the role of online social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. In the United Arab Emirates, where more than 75% of the population has a regular access to an internet connection, these new media are a major part of young people\'s everyday lives; and they have been a subject of concern for the state, as illustrated by the controversy surrounding the encryption technology used by BlackBerry devices* or the arrest and trial of the “UAE 5”** in 2011.
Based on my fieldwork in Abu Dhabi, this paper offers to look at the complex relations between the state and online communities through the exploration of internet practices by the youth in the United Arab Emirates -in particular blogs and social networks (Facebook, Twitter and their local avatars), as well as instant messengers such as the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). If young people mainly use these online media to socialize and communicate with their peers, this is not necessarily disconnected from the discussion of public affairs: interactions on social networks, for example, often consist in commenting daily news or sharing information. The term “virtual majlis”, sometimes used to describe online forums and chat-rooms in the Arabian Gulf, further reflects the ambiguity of the virtual space- the majlis being this public room in the private home where rulers and public personalities receive their guests, and where political decisions were traditionally made. Through the analysis of the practices and contents of these online media, I would like to question the extent and the limits of the networked public sphere in the United Arab Emirates.