Genie out of the Bottle: Social Media and the Expansion of the Public Sphere in the Arab Gulf

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Leila DeVriese

Abstract

The economic liberalization launched by Gulf governments in order to integrate their markets into the global economy, has created a paradox for their monarchies. Investment in sophisticated telecommunications grids and expansion of the national labor force through intensive education and training programs for women – as a matter of economic survival – has let the proverbial genie out of the bottle. The top-down integration of women into the public sphere has inadvertently contributed to their politicization. This paper focuses on women’s appropriation of the building blocks of globalization – Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and social media – to not only make their voices heard, but also contribute to an active critique of the socio-political realities of their societies. Subsequently, they now play a role in reshaping public discourse on controversial issues. Engaging new voices which previously had no outlet, most notably women, has expanded the sphere of public discourse in the Gulf. ICTs in general, and social media in particular (in the form of blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook), facilitate the creation of online communities engaged in carving out new public spaces to increase participation in discursive interactions in an expanded public sphere.

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