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?” http://whowhatwhy.com/2012/02/02/close-reading-the-saudis-a-twitter-investment-and-the-end-of-arab-spring/
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: http://blog.twitter.com/2012/01/tweets-still-must-flow.html 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? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQ55rXZvTEY&feature=player_embedded For more on this Prince this is his Wikepedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Waleed_bin_Talal 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