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Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere

Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere

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Published by Mourad Diouri

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Published by: Mourad Diouri on Aug 11, 2009
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Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere:Politics,Culture,and Dissent
By Bruce Etling,John Kelly,Robert Faris,and John Palfrey 
Internet & Democracy Case Study Series
 JUNE 2009
Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2009-06
at Harvard University
Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent
 This case study is part of a series of studies produced by the Internet & Democracy Project, aresearch initiative at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, whichinvestigates the impact of the Internet on civic engagement and democratic processes. Moreinformation on the Internet & Democracy Project can be found at:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/idblog/. The project’s initial case studies investigated three frequently cited examples of the Internet’sinfluence on democracy. The first case looked at the user-generated news site OhmyNews and itsimpact on the 2002 elections in South Korea. The second documented the role of technology inUkraine’s Orange Revolution. The third analyzed the network composition and content of theIranian blogosphere. Fall 2008 saw the release of a new series of case studies, which broadened thescope of our research and examined some less well-known parts of the research landscape. In a pairof studies, we reviewed the role of networked technologies in the 2007 civic crises of Burma'sSaffron Revolution and Kenya’s post-election turmoil. In April 2009, Urs Gasser's three-part casestudy examined the role of technology in Switzerland’s semi-direct democracy. This case expands onour study of foreign blogospheres with an analysis of the Arabic blogosphere. This paper would not have been possible without the assistance of many individuals. The authors wish to thank our Arabic speaking coders for their tireless efforts reading and interpreting blogs; Anita Patel and Jason Callina for development work on the coding tool; Tim Hwang for researchassistance; Lexie Koss for layout and design of the case; Helmi Noman, Noha Atef, and Jillian York for assistance understanding national blogospheres in the region, interpretation of YouTube videos,plus feedback on the draft; and Terry Fisher and Karina Alexanyan for their comments on the draft. Any errors remain our own.
Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent
 This study explores the structure and content of the Arabic blogosphere using link analysis,term frequency analysis, and human coding of individual blogs. We identified a basenetwork of approximately 35,000 active Arabic language blogs (about half as many as wefound in a previous study of the Persian blogosphere), discovered several thousand Arabicblogs with mixed use of Arabic, English and French, created a network map of the 6,000most connected blogs, and with a team of Arabic speakers hand coded over 4,000 blogs. The goal for the study was to produce a baseline assessment of the networked public spherein the Arab Middle East, and its relationship to a range of emergent issues, including politics,media, religion, culture, and international affairs. We found:
 A Country-Based Network:
We found that the Arabic blogosphere is organizedprimarily around countries. We found the primary groupings in the Arabic languageblogosphere to be:
- this is by far the largest cluster and includes several distinct sub-clusters, one of which is characterized by secular reformist bloggers, andanother by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that is technically illegal in Egypt but whose online presence appears to be tolerated.
Saudi Arabia
- this comprises the second largest cluster and focuses moreon personal diaries and less on politics than other groups.
- this cluster is divided into two sub-clusters based on bloggers’language preferences, splitting those that write primarily in English fromthose that use Arabic. Both groups focus heavily on domestic news andpolitics, though the Anglophone bloggers are more likely to advocate reformand discuss economic and women’s rights issues.
Levantine/English Bridge
- this group of bloggers is located mainly in thecountries of the eastern Mediterranean sometimes referred to collectively asthe Levant, including Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Syria, as well as mostbloggers from Iraq. Bloggers in this group frequently use English in additionto, or instead of, Arabic. They are joined in this section of the network, which connects to the US and international blogosphere, by ‘bridge bloggers’from other Arab countries, who write mainly in English.
- this cluster features frequent, though often mild, criticism of domesticleaders and both includes Arabic language bloggers with closer links to thosein Saudi Arabia, and English language bloggers closer to those in theLevantine/English Bridge region.
Maghreb/French Bridge -
this group is comprised of a cross-national setof bloggers located mainly in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Many of thesebloggers write in a mixture of Arabic and French. Other bloggers from theMaghreb eschew French and are found among the religion-focused bloggers.
 – this cluster is a loosely connected set of bloggers from various Arab countries who are focused mainly on Islam, mixing personal,theological, and political topics.

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