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Kuwaitis jailed for tweets


It took me quite a while to warm up to Twitter, albeit a little quicker than Arab regimes overthrown in part by the micro-blogging site. But Kuwait seems to get the social network’s power, as it plans to try two citizens for criticizing Gulf Arab ruling families.

Twitter was the last frontier of free speech in many of these oppressive regimes, and the United States understood this. But typical to any form of innovation, the second movers on a technology can easily copy the guys who make it to market first. In this sense, Arab governments now know what Twitter is and how to use it — and now they know how to use it against their own citizens. Arab rulers seeking to hold onto power will now watch Twitter for “subversive” activity and attempt to cut dissent movements off at the head. Kuwait’s preferred method appears to be legal intimidation.

From the Lebanon Daily Star:

Nasser Abul, a Kuwaiti Shi’ite Muslim, was arrested for posting criticisms of the Sunni Muslim ruling families in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and Lawrence al-Rashidi posted defamatory comments of Kuwait’s emir, he said.

He said both would remain in detention for two more weeks before a hearing is scheduled, where they will likely face charges of harming the Gulf Arab state’s interests and defaming the country’s ruler after being arrested earlier in June.

I’m afraid this may become more of the norm in Arab countries. Iran is already building a state-run internet to monitor social networking (and they were kind of late on that one, too, about two years after the 2009 Green Revolution). Arab nations that could suppress freedom of speech in the physical arena and closed social networks like Facebook were slow to respond to the instantaneous and more open Twitter.

The U.S. realized the benefits of social networking long ago. The U.S. government secretly was on the ground in Egypt teaching protest organizers how to use Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. In April, the U.S. State Department also announced $28 million in grants for such activities.

I trust the U.S. has trained protest organizers better than the two disgruntled Kuwaitis in custody. The Arab Spring’s figureheads have been sophisticated, not merely using Twitter for banal opining or complaining about oppressive governments. But now that Arab governments are watching, it will be interesting to see how protesters adjust.

 

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