Friday, March 09, 2007

Middle East blog ferment

Some of my previous posts on the Middle East have emitted an unmistakeable aroma of pessimism about the place, leaving me wondering if I'm just too damn negative. Are there any positive trends? Yes, there are. I don't know how significant they are, but they are. One of those trends is bloggers and their sometimes-brazen challenge to both authoritarian governments and authoritarian cultures.

The bloggers in question are often brave, in ways that bored and pampered Americans can't even begin to understand. Many must use pseudonyms or noms de blog. Here's a partial list (partial in multiple senses), a taste of what the Middle East has to offer. Whatever my serious doubts about the future of the Middle East, I hope these bloggers prove me wrong!

I've organized the list by country/region and picked the ones I know the best. But that's just my experience and bias. Many of these sites have links to other bloggers, who shouldn't be missed. Be adventurous. Notice also that many of them, like Kavanna, are housed by Blogspot/Blogger. It's Google's mitzvah, whatever else they might do right.

North Africa: I couldn't find many here. These are two I've looked at a few times.
* The Moor Next Door (Algeria)
* Winds of Change in Algeria (Algeria, mostly in French, some English)

Egypt: Largest and most important Arab country, with small but active blogging culture, not as conservative as the Gulf countries (see below). Nonetheless, the Egyptian government can move slowly but effectively against bloggers it doesn't like.
* Big Pharaoh
* Mona Eltahawy (blog by a well-known professional journalist)
* Sandmonkey (Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman - now the best-known Egyptian blogger, because he was recently sentenced by the Egyptian government for his blogging)

Lebanon: Very active and varied blogging culture. Played an important role in covering the March 2005 protest movement against Syria and the Hizbollah war last summer. Israeli bloggers (see below) and Lebanese bloggers communicated via blogs even as the missiles and bombs were dropping.
* Lebanese Political Journal (important multi-blogger site)
* Lebanese Bloggers (clearinghouse for many individual blogs)
* Daily Star (Lebanon's most important newspaper, in English)

Iraq: In spite of all the violence in and around Baghdad, Iraq has a significant and very informative blog culture. It's a useful corrective to the inevitably misleading conventional media coverage of Iraq.
* Salam Pax (the famous pseudonymous "Raed" of pre-2003 fame, who went off the air in 2004 - he has a book out)
* Iraq the Model (best-known and most important Iraqi blog)
* The Messopotamian (Alaa is the pseudonym - life in Baghdad)
* Iraq Pundit (an Iraqi exile comments from afar)

Perisan Gulf: The most conservative part of the Middle East, outside of Talibanland, dominated by the Salafi (Wahhabi) school. These bloggers have to tiptoe.
* Silly Bahraini Girl
* Saudi Jeans
* Arab News (the most important English-language Saudi newspaper)

Iran: The largest and most active of Middle Eastern blogging cultures, apart from Israel. Bloggers there play a complicated cat-and-mouse game with the Iranian government. There are too many blogs for me keep track of. Here's a partial list. If you look at only one, look at this one:
* Hoder (Hossein Derakhshan - he has a Persian blog too)

Israel: Israeli has a large number of blogs, some more active than others; some highly political, others mostly personal. Ones I look at:
* Israpundit (multi-blogger, with an excellent linked list of other blogs)
* IsraellyCool (Australian and Israeli - check it out)
* An Unsealed Room (Allison Sommer's sharp-witted diary from a Tel Aviv suburb)

Another newspaper I should mention is Al Hayat, the London-based independent, Arabic-language publication. They have an English edition. And all serious students of the Middle East must keep up with MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), which bridges the language gap between Arabic-, Farsi-, and Turkish-language media and English.

Finally, anyone who thinks or writes about the Middle East these days is indebted to the indefatigable Michael Totten, who has without question the best English-language blog on the region. In a just world, his lengthy postings would be articles in the New Yorker or Atlantic. When you visit his site, consider donating via PayPal. I don't think he has any other regular source of income right now.

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