Twitters Arab Winter?

Submitted by Mike Spindell, guest blogger

It has long been my conviction that Saudi Arabia is a bigger player on the world stage than it is given credit for in media reports. The normal Western prejudice viewing this country as a cultural, repressive backwater may be true if one looks at the non-royal Saudi citizenry. However, the Saudi Royal family and its minions are quite sophisticated in worldly matters and for years have skillfully played the game of international politics. Odiously repressive Royals, enforcing an archaic view of Sharia Law, can nevertheless be quite modern and sophisticated in outlook. Everywhere in our current and in our historic world, there have been many examples of a nation’s elite demanding adherence to repressive religious standards, while indulging themselves in what is forbidden.

“WHOWhatWHY” an excellent investigative news site run by Russ Baker, a distinguished investigative journalist, ran an article that caught my attention. This article discussed the fact that most media was diffident and/or silent in reporting that Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal, had invested $300 million in Twitter, a privately held corporation:

“Twitter’s market valuation is something like $10 billion (choose what huge number you prefer). Given that, why would this company, which is all about empowering ordinary people to communicate unfiltered and thereby get control of their lives and their governments, sell a big chunk to a representative of one of the quintessential repressive forces—an element that has a stake in preventing exactly the sort of communication that defines Twitter?”

It is common knowledge at this point that Twitter has been the driving force in much of the uprisings now characterized as “The Arab Spring”. With Twitter, government opponents were able to organize their ranks/actions and quickly communicate news updates to people who would not be able to get this information from a controlled media. In an oil rich country, such as Saudi Arabia, ruled with an iron fist by the top half of one percent, there is great danger of overthrow by a people poverty stricken in the midst of great opulence. Mr. Baker finds it curious when in the past year Twitter has had an ominous change in policy, at the same time allowing an investment by a member of one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Is this merely coincidence or an indication of an underlying effort to prevent the Saudi Royals from following the fate of other Islamic countries ruled by despots?

Twitters policy change may have enormous negative consequences for nascent freedom movements in various countries, by shutting off communications by dissident elements, who are already handicapped by a controlled media. As Russ Baker puts it:

“Is Twitter (a) a leading vehicle for freedom movements, or (b) primed to control and shut down open discourse throughout the world? This question emerged recently when we learned that the global messaging service was planning to abide by the rules of each country in terms of content it carries. Here’s the New York Times:

“This week, in a sort of coming-of-age moment, Twitter announced that upon request, it would block certain messages in countries where they were deemed illegal. The move immediately prompted outcry, argument and even calls for a boycott from some users.”

Twitter said it would also “give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world.””

Twitter’s full announcement and rationale can be seen here:  Please consider the impact that Twitter’s policy change would have on communicating news to people starving for it, in country’s whose media is under the control of elites, providing their population with propaganda, rather than information. At the same time think of the curiousness of a successful, privately held company, getting cash infusion from the scion of a despotic family and almost simultaneously announcing a policy to block messages deemed illegal by a country’s rulers.

In the United States the fact that our media is controlled by a small number of interlocking corporate conglomerates has been disturbing to many of us for quite awhile. The Internet has replaced traditional news sources for many citizens. Many have come to realize that traditional media has failed to give us the full picture of the world around us we need as supposedly free citizens in a supposed democracy. Recently, an attempt to control Internet content was beaten back for the time being, yet there will be future efforts to try to impose corporate control over the Internet.

The Saudi’s represent one of the most repressive and backward countries on this planet. Yet their ruling family controls great oil wealth and has been sophisticated in playing “The Great Game” of international politics. My own opinion, stated here many times, is that the Saudi’s are actually the United States closest ally in the Mid East. To me, it is an open question whether our country’s policies there are manipulated by the Saudi’s and Big Oil, or whether they instead do our bidding. During the first Iraq War, the feeling that our troops were the “Hessian’s” in that conflict kept running through my mind.

Whether my assumptions above are right or wrong is immaterial to the questions raised here. To me the Saudi Prince’s investment in Twitter and the change of policy looks more than merely coincidental. In the midst of the great wealth of Saudi Arabia and the luxury enjoyed by its rulers, the average person is relatively poor and lives in backward conditions. This is an absolute monarchy, aided by a pact with the ultra Fundamentalist Wahhabi Sect, which keeps its citizens brutally under its thumb. If ever there was a nation ripe for revolution Saudi Arabia is that country. It is therefore in the best interests of the Saudi rulers to keep the tools for organization and revolt out of the hands of its citizens. We have seen these phenomena all over the world as repressive states like China, make efforts to block Internet content from citizens.

Below is a video of this Arab Prince whose lifestyle and demeanor seems quite different from that of a committed Wahhabi. However, hasn’t that always been the human way where our leaders demand we abide by their moral strictures, while enjoying sybaritic existences themselves?  For more on this Prince this is his Wikepedia page:  You will note that the investments of one of the world’s richest people include: AOL, Apple Inc., MCI Inc., Motorola, Fox News and other technology and media companies.

Perhaps I am merely being too cynical to not believe that these investments are purely business for the world’s 26th richest person, who has been called the”Warren Buffett” of Saudi Arabia. If you think I am being too suspicious, I would love for you to ease my disquiet. However, until your responses and proof, I continue to see this investment and Twitter’s policy change as ominous.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

31 thoughts on “Twitters Arab Winter?

  1. I read something the other day that I find interesting…You could walk down a street or enter a bank with a ski mask on and get less scrutiny (government) than if you tweeted…

    You can thank the Big Oil and Banks for the wealth and influence of the Saudi’s….

  2. The Prince you mention was on Link TV two nights ago with his wife the Princess.
    They were being interviewed by the PBS guy who is all over the networks now: CNN, Bloomberg, PBS–that North Carolina guy who likes dogs. Before you folks get all huffy about some Saudi Prince, the Prince and more dramatically and more eloquently, the Princess, are the powers behind equality for women in Saudia Arabia and the Arab world. If you readers can get LinkTV or Free Speech TV the interview with them again. The couple invest in a variety of prudent companies and the Prince is the most knowledgeable economist I have seen in recent years on television. They spend millions on the goal of equality for women. She has a foundation and if I can dig up the name and more on it I will. But what do I know, just a dog talkin, and diggin.

  3. A side note:

    Re: populace control, the military option was chosen in Saudi, as in other despotic regimes.
    Then the military revolts. (Egypt-Nasser, Libya-Kaddafi, etc)
    They have done our bidding at OPEC, so unless there really is a secret 7-nation/5 year plan, that seems the only possible way of changing.

    The fact that big internet social media and service companies are copping out is worrisome. Of course, selling out can be considered by them as a way of guaranteeing their future dominance. They are just stupid in not realizing it is a guarantee of the future end of their independence. And of ours.

    2011 and 2012 will be milestone years, I think. Is it just due to the increased pace of things (time between epochs?) or is it coordinated? Who knows? They don’t inform us of what they plan to do with us.

  4. The prince is an ally of the Murdoch’s. He does want to be viewed as a shrewd investor after citigroup crashed around him. He lost a lot of money as he kept piling into citigroup before the crash. Social networking seems to be the way to go with the facebook ipo doing so well so the primary purpose could be to make money and seem relevant or something more sinister as you suggest.

  5. Talkin’Dog,

    They’ll need lots of billions to change the effects of the Brotherhood and Salafists in Egypt on women’s apparel and freedom. From miniskirts to…’s burkas. I was in Teheran during the Shah’s time. Very disturbing with women in such clothing. Oh, it was OK for them, but they attacked my western clothed French girlfriend on the main street in broad daylight.
    We left next plane for Beirut.

    PR stuff for the princely family is my gut reaction.

    But do show us not only money spent, but effects attained.

  6. Before you judge the Prince and his wife Princess Ameerah, as being judgmental islamists, do this: Google: Charlie Rose, Alwaleed Bin Talal; Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel. Watch the interview of two days ago. The full interview is available now. Then come back with some comments. Perhaps some mea culpas.
    I tried to download the video of the Charlie Rose show but I am just a dog using a dogalog translation device and my paw wont hit the save button.

  7. Speaking of Murdoch:

    Eight Arrested in British Tabloid Scandal


    Published: February 11, 2012

    LONDON — British authorities arrested eight people on Saturday, including five employees of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun, as part of an investigation into bribery of public officials by journalists, Scotland Yard and the newspaper’s parent company said.

    The arrests were made on suspicion of corruption in conjunction with a search at the homes of those arrested and at the newspaper’s office complex, detectives said in a statement.

    The five Sun employees, who were not identified by name, are between the ages of 45 and 68. A person with knowledge of the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing operation, confirmed reports that the arrested Sun employees were a deputy editor, Geoff Webster; the chief reporter, John Kay; the chief foreign correspondent, Nick Parker; a picture editor, John Edwards; and a reporter, John Sturgis.

    The Sun is Mr. Murdoch’s British flagship and the best-selling daily newspaper here, with a circulation of just over 2.7 million copies daily, according to figures from late last year. It had previously been on the fringes of a scandal that led to the closing of its sister tabloid, The News of the World, last summer over accusations of illegal news-gathering techniques including intercepting voice-mail messages, hacking computers and bribing public officials. (end of excerpt… the article continues…)

  8. TalkinDog,

    Please not that I described the Royal Saudi regime as being quite sophisticated. The Prince is a front-man for the regime and so little is lost in backing more freedom for women to Westerners, as their situation worsens in in Saudi Arabia. Do you think Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel is allowed to drive in her home country or approves of her husbands disporting himself, without her in nightclubs, as my YouTube link detailed? When you are the head wife in a harem, in a medieval country, you do as you’re told. Islamic divorce is easy and there is no community property in Saudi Arabia.

  9. Walid is both the son of the “red prince” Talal, and (at least in the Saudi Arabian spectrum) a liberal. I doubt that he is a “minion” of the ruling absolute-monarchist Wahabite cycle of the House Saud, actually I would guess that most of them quite dislike him.

    Saudis, even the members of the House of Saud, are not a monolith, but a group of individuals.

  10. There are no coincidences anymore. This Twitter change of heart stinks to high heaven and I smell a royal rat. Great story Mike. We need some lefty billionaire from Nebraska to invest in one of these social network technologies to keep it open and really free for all. It might even help his secretary.

  11. Go view the Charlie Rose interview with the Princess and the Prince, on Google with the tag line I referenced above and then come back and pontificate about these two individuals. Watch the whole thing. The Princess is not invited out by Charlie until half time and the two are quite engaging and modern by glorious Western standards. Save the rocks for throwing after you watch the interview. While you are at it look at that Yahoo article which revisits the high school year book photo dispute. No head scarf necessary in this country is the title.

  12. Twitter is probably on a par with that high school in the U.S. of A. that wont let the kid post her own choice of photo in the year book. They published her school ID photo instead. This is America, so free, so above the rest. The Exceptional America. That story about the year book photo is on Yahoo right now. The comments by the Yahoo commenter on that subject are soooo Islamic.

  13. The Prince is twitterpated about Twitter because of business acumen, as well as having a better understanding of the world than many of our own politicians.

  14. Dog,

    Back again. I rely on my prejudices, built upon 50 years of no progress in muslim dominated countries, unless secular leaders take over.
    No progress is an exaggeration, but beyond sharing out the oil money and free house loans, there’s been none in terms of personal freedom nor political. Perhaps it is the Gordian knot of the Muslim faith, but that these muslim rulers shall loosen it in our life times is impossible—to use that word.

    Who would have expected this attack on the bastion of freedom, the Web, only 25 years after its founding? DHS and NSA and the two-hundred thousand intelligence analysts have confirmed to the world’s leaders that it is a hotbed of unrest and collusion. Thus the shutdown measures. Expect to see more of the same.

    Leaders of the world are basicly the same, as Altemeyer proclaimed.
    That’s why we have stability and eternal war.

    You seem charmed by this couple. Remarkable!

  15. AN,
    While my comment there is awaiting moderation, I’ll publish here:

    While not necessarily true, this might be an interpretation of his gesture, (which the editors had comment on):
    Arab man to arab man. “I’ve done them all”.
    To which the bunny ono the left say:s “Five times, I’m leading the bunny hutch”.
    And the one to the right says: “Obscenity censored censored”.

    Need a good interpreter of arabic? Cheap! Special price for you.

  16. TalkinDog,

    In fairness to you I listened to the entire video. The Prince and Princess are very impressive PR spokespeople. However, given the aftermath of 9/11, which incidentally saw the elimination of an oil-rich secular thorn in the Saudi side, coupled with the recent “Arab Spring” they are using his skills in order to change images. When he talked about the need for Assad to leave, I’m sure you recognize that the Saudi Royal Family’s claim to power is no more legitimate than Assad’s and through the years just as ruthless. It’s good to be a rich Prince in an absolute monarchy, with a beautiful young wife and your choice of women on the side. He is the “velvet glove” covering the “iron fist” of the Saudi regime. However, as I alluded to in the article I might just be “barking at the moon”.

  17. A saudi tribal chief who was given some support by the British in the 30’s, and who suppressed the other tribes and then was bestowed with 25 per cent of the world’s oil reserves. A fairy tale.
    That Talal is listed as the 19th richest is a joke.
    The royals regard it ALL as their personal possessions, to dispose as they wish.
    Only certain American wealthies can match that in hubris against mankind.

  18. The policy annonced by Twitter was that they would not publish offensive items in countries which proscribed them. I wonder if some person had a video of a priest raping a child and posted it on Twitter if there would be a prosecution in America.

  19. Mike:
    Wayne Madsen, among others, question whether Western intervention is involved in the variety or color revolutions and their aftermath, and that (perhaps) social media is a conduit to propaganda and provocation as much as a channel for intelligent and critical communication. Both sides of this coin need to be scrutinized and in retrospect the violent outcome of contagious civil wars and revolution in the so called Arab Spring requires some questioning of cause and consequences of real politik in the multiple (strategic) countries impacted and ongoing in the region.

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