Saudis resort to Twitter to defend country

Manama: With soothing music in his ears, Rami was tweeting, enjoying the early morning breeze at the esplanade of Al Khobar, a major city in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.

He was upset over the media onslaught against his country over the case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

For him, like many Saudis, the case was purely criminal and should be treated as such, without the need to attack Saudi Arabia, mock its values, undermine its traditions and denigrate its way of life.

Given the anti-Saudi articles, analyses and features in the media, he felt it was his duty to contribute to clarifying facts, rejecting allegations and explaining cultural and religious dimensions through social media, the only means available to him to communicate with the world.

“I am aware my contribution would be a drop in a vast ocean, but I feel I have a duty to do it. I cannot accept to remain idle while others are attacking the very foundations of my country. I do pray for Khashoggi’s soul, but I also pray for the safety, security and wellbeing of my country,” he told Gulf News.

Saudi Arabia has one of the highest social media penetration in the world, and Saudis enjoy taking to the keyboard to share all kinds of stories, make statements, offer comments and react to pictures and events.

“We were initially bewildered by the news about Khashoggi’s disappearance, but it was the targeting of Saudi Arabia that really shocked us, so we reacted in different ways,” Abu Ahmad, a teacher, said. “Of course, some of the reactions were too emotional and even too trivial to be taken seriously, but overall, we needed to defend our country. We saw how the foreign minister of Bahrain and the UAE state minister for foreign affairs used Twitter to express the stance of their countries towards the relentless attacks on Saudi Arabia. It reinforced our conviction in what Twitter and other social media could do to make our voices heard.”

Most of the Saudi tweets initially spoke of a conspiracy involving other countries keen on embarrassing and damaging the reputation of Saudi Arabia, while others attributed the attacks on their country to domestic matters in the US for example.

“The amount of lies and attacks was too much. It is like when there were stories about the Germans killing Belgian and French babies with their bayonets during the First World War. People who knew that many of the reports were concocted or watched hours of non-stops attacks on Saudi Arabia had to react one way or the other,” Abu Ahmad said.

“We were not the only ones to use Twitter to debunk stories. Many conservative Americans also resorted to the microblog to defend Trump against the deluge of the accusations against him for not taking aggressive action against Saudi Arabia.”

Other countries had used Twitter to defend themselves as well, he added.

“Last week, an analysis by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab indicated that Twitter accounts originating in Iran masqueraded as foreign journalists and concerned US citizens in their attempt to spread regime messaging through covert channels. Other countries set up online echo chambers as well,” Abu Ahmad said, defending the use of Twitter by his compatriots.

However, when Riyadh on early Saturday morning announced the facts about the death of Khashoggi and King Salman issued orders against those who were involved, several Saudis again took to Twitter to explain their initial aggressive posts.

“It was a deplorable incident. Yes, we were confused. Yes, we made a mistake by not issuing a statement earlier,” Nasser Al Qasbi, one of Saudi Arabia’s best-known actors posted on his Twitter account.

“But at least, we did not keep on denying. We admitted the mistake, unlike others [in other countries] who did not and who are now foolishly burning their country. This is … Saudi wisdom. When we make mistakes, we recognise then, and we fix them.”


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