Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Could Saudi Arabia be next?

Track tweeting in Riyadh in real time here.

A political revolt in Saudi Arabia is probably beyond the the imagination of most people. But the recent events of Egypt would have been impossible to imagine a few months ago. When I was in Cairo at the start of January there was nothing to indicate that a revolution was be coming in 30 days time. But now looking back at it some key pre-conditions for rapid mass organization were in place, pre-conditions that lead to one of the most dramatic events in history.

These conditions are also in place in Saudi Arabia.

  1. A corrupt undemocratic regime most people would probably be happy to see the end of.
  2. A old arrogant set of leaders with no idea how globalization has changed their world.
  3. Mass use of tools that give people the ability to communicate with the outside world and between each other.
  4. A interest inside of the nation for outside revolts.
We have noticed a number of factors that make us wonder if Saudi Arabia, as unthinkable as it might seem is actually on the point of revolt:

  1. People are openly tweeting and giving away their geo-position. They are not silent and not hiding. We are seeing a lot more twitter activity giving geo-positions in Riyadh than we would have anticipated. Last measurements from Riyadh were 25 on our tweeting model. By comparison Cairo was 35. Given Riyadh's much smaller population this is surprising. From what we have seen on twitter we suspect that they are talking about what almost all Arabs are talking about: revolution.
  2. People are becoming interested in twitter as an event, indicating an emerging revolutionary consciousness among some in the population. We are seeing a higher level of interest in twitter itself in Saudi Arabia. Our twitting tools and blogs have received a hand full of views in the past 24 hours. That may not sound like much but in 5 years of blogging we have never seen a single Saudi visitor. Obviously there are people in Saudi looking for information about tweeting in the Arab world right now. Some of it may be state officials, but not likely all.
  3. More fixed social may be forming online. Saudis are starting to use Facebook to build a social network to express a shared set of grievances and demands. Here is an excellent post on Social Networks being used in Saudi Arabia. I have been able to find one protest Facebook group http://www.facebook.com/pages/Saudi-Women-Revolution. What we are fearing on the ground is that social networks start off as small social networks on Facebook expressing shared concerns. That people join by liking and that this develops a network. This network than comes alive in full protest using Twitter.

Well okay a few hundred Facebook users might not be likely to overthrow the House of Saudi, but it does constitution an open opposition to a very ruthless dictatorship. And if revolt comes all the pieces are in place to provide rapid agile community creation.

This article is just a exploration, it will be interesting to see what response we get on Twitter.

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