Bloggers test boundaries in Saudi Arabia
By Asma Alsharif
JEDDAH (Reuters) - Armed with a computer, an internet connection and his own intellect Ahmed Al-Omran is one of a few Saudi bloggers trying to push for change and make themselves heard in the conservative Gulf Arab monarchy.
Blogging provides a rare platform for speech in a country which has no elected parliament, where clerics have strong influence on public opinion, newspapers often parrot the official line and public demonstrations are banned.
"I want to do this because I want to be part of the change that is taking place in the country, I want to push for the changes to go faster," said Omran, a student who writes on his Saudi Jeans blog (saudijeans.org).
King Abdullah has tried cautious reforms since taking office in 2005 and removed two hardline clerics from top positions in a cabinet reshuffle in February while promoting reformers.
Saudi Arabia recently allowed foreign media to expand their presence in the kingdom and the new information minister even signed up for his own facebook page, but analysts and diplomats say conservatives remain wary of changes.
"In the end, we care about something, we desire something and through blogging we call for the change. We ask for it. We sponsor it," Fuad Alfarhan said in a rare gathering of bloggers in Jeddah, the kingdom's most liberal city.
"Now for the first time we, as individuals in our society, have this power in our hands to call for change," Alfarhan told the meeting which was meant to encourage bloggers to continue despite difficulties.