Social Media in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, an Islamic monarchy, is a known human rights violator. According to the 2012 Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians in the world, Saudi Arabia is ranked 16. Authorities have used various means to crush the freedom of people. With the advent of social media, people who have long suffered under the yoke of suppression have found the possibility for freedom of expression. They might not be allowed to congregate in street corners to voice their opinions and share their views. However, they use social media as a forum for vibrant discussion and dialogue.
In the Arab world, Saudis are among some of the most active users of social media. A recent study conducted by the Dubai School of Government concluded that Saudi Arabia has around 400,000 Twitter users--more than any other nation in the region. Facebook, with its nearly four million users in Saudi Arabia, has bridged the gaps in free speech that the autocratic society had created. According to the observation of a popular Saudi blogger, before the arrival of social media, their lives were isolated and they did not know if there were other like-minded people who would be interested in moving the country forward.
Many Christian Believers have also found for themselves a virtual community on social networking sites and the blogosphere. However, these Christians come under close scrutiny and are often threatened and sometimes imprisoned. Hamoud Bin Saleh, a Christian convert, has been jailed three times in the past eight years. He was arrested because he blogged about his conversion experience. In his writing, he detailed his spiritual search. He wrote about his journey that led him to Jesus Christ and the forgiveness and love that He offers. During his time in prison, Bin Saleh was tortured and abused. He was released, but on the condition that he would not travel outside the country or appear in the media.
Social media does open the door for Christians to share the Gospel. It also provides social reformers an opportunity to share their ideas that can transform a regressive society. However, there is a surge of Twitter users among religious clerics and conservative Islamic scholars as well. And a growing number of radical Muslims are also using social media to push their agenda of hatred and anger. An astounding 75 percent of Arabic-language posts revealed anger and animosity toward foreigners and non-Islamic cultures.
Christian Believers and other reformers face a two-fold threat. On the one hand, the authorities in Saudi Arabia are discussing methods of controlling social media. They are proposing strict punishment for insults against Islam. The term "insult" is loosely defined and puts Christians in harm's way. On the other hand, the increase in social media usage by radical Muslims can further compromise the safety of Christians.
Pray that Christian witnesses like Hamoud Bin Saleh will not be silenced (The Bible, Deuteronomy 31:6).
Pray for the continued protection of Christians in Saudi Arabia (The Bible, 2 Samuel 22:3-4).
Pray for the wise and productive use of social media site. Pray that the Gospel would be preached on social media sites (The Bible, 2 Timothy 4:2).
Sources: Time, CNB, RT, Compass Direct.
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 Edition of the Win 10/40 Reporter.
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