Saudi Arabians are buzzing about an anonymous Twitter user who claims to be exposing the corruption in the Saudi government.
He goes by the name “Mujtahidd.”
Anchor Lisa Mullins talks to Madawi Al-Rasheed, a professor of anthropology and religion at King’s College, London, to find out why “Mujtahidd” is so popular.
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Lisa Mullins: Social media and the internet have played a big role in the uprisings of the Arab Spring. Now, one outspoken Twitter activist is trying to shake things up in Saudi Arabia. This activist goes by the Twitter handle Mujtahidd and he’s out to expose corruption there. Saudi authorities aren’t too pleased, but more than 200,000 Twitter followers are intrigued. Nobody knows who’s writing the tweets or even if it’s a man or a woman, but that’s not the point says Madawi Al-Rasheed. She’s a professor of anthropology and religion at King’s College, London.
Madawi Al-Rasheed: Anonymity obviously allowed Mujtahidd to explore areas that are never discussed in Saudi public sphere, such as in the local press. And it seems to me that he has an insider’s knowledge or some kind of leaks that allow him to discuss cases of corruption of the ruling family, which is a taboo in Saudi Arabia. Mujtahidd has become the gutter press of Saudi Arabia I think.
Mullins: The gutter press of Saudi Arabia, 140 characters with each message, but how do you yourself even evaluate whether or not he’s telling the truth. Maybe he’s a really good storyteller?
Al-Rasheed: Yes, absolutely, sometimes the corruption cases are realistic and I must say that they are convincing. People know about them in Saudi Arabia, for example, you know, groups of people who object to the fact that part of their villages are confiscated for a compound to be built for this prince or that prince. So they can actually see these kinds of corrupt practices. And Mujtahidd provides the context and the background, and therefore, it is likely that he or she has an insider knowledge. Obviously, we cannot say that they are accurate 100%, but it is a phenomenon.
Mullins: Now, is there censorship of for instance, in terms of social media, of tweets? Why is this person, man or woman, allowed to do what he or she does in terms of blowing the whistle on the government?
Al-Rasheed: So far Twitter has escaped censorship, but I think a lot of Saudis are extremely worried when last month it became general knowledge that Prince Walid bin Talal, who is a very wealthy businessman, bought a $300 million worth of shares in Twitter. And it is very interesting how Saudi participants in Twitter perceived that move. They were very, very worried about censorship. And they called on Twitter to boycott Twitter for 24 hours just to make a symbolic statement that they really do object to the Saudi prince owning shares in Twitter, and also they announcement by Twitter that they may be sensitive to local context in the sense that they’d allow the government sensitivities in some part of the world to block certain domains or certain names.
Mullins: So is the government responding in kind? Is it engaging in retaliatory tweeting?
Al-Rasheed: Well, of course, one thing about this kind of new media is that it is a double edged sword. Saudis themselves are very active. I myself have an account on Twitter and I do tweet, but at the same time all of us realize that the Saudi government is one of the wealthiest states in the region and it can buy western expertise to help it censor certain sites. And they have their own agents on Twitter who would propagate ideas and propaganda, basically.
Mullins: Overall, what would you say the impact Mujtahidd is having?
Al-Rasheed: A person like Mujtahidd is just simply one voice among many others. Mujtahidd is most sensational obviously, because he names the princes and he names, intrigues and talks about corruption. There will be other Mujtahidds no doubt.
Mullins: Dr. Madawi Al-Rasheed, whose Twitter handle is @madawidoctor (m-a-d-a-w-i-doctor), thanks very much.
Al-Rasheed: Thank you.
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