The Evolution of Saudi Security and Enforcement Policies on Communication

Article excerpt

Communication, including social media, is vital to Saudi policy concerns--pursuant to both national and internal security. The evolution of Saudi security policy on communication and social media is being derived to a significant extent from recent external precedents, particularly government actions in the United States and Great Britain, as well as India, Israel, and other countries. The consensus among such countries appears to be that antiterrorism and other anticrime objectives, including public safety, civil order, and governmental alleviation of economic hardship, take precedence over political notions such as democracy.

Despite broadly analogous restrictions under American, British, Indian, and Israeli laws and government actions, some in the West seem to romanticize social media as a tool for protest in Saudi Arabia. It is therefore ironic that by mid-2011, social media in America, Europe, and Israel expedited the organization of large illegal protests by citizens against their own governments, as a function of economic deprivation that could not be adequately resolved by political activities associated with democracy. In recent years, Saudi government policies have focused on economic development intended in part to address the concerns of its citizens, which has so far tangentially preempted widespread social media-organized unrest that other countries have begun to experience.

This article argues that Saudi Arabia and many other nations have found that communication access, particularly including social media and the Internet generally, may both facilitate and co-opt antigovernment protests and criminal acts including terrorism. Moreover, and analogous to usage by other governments such as those of the United States and Israel, communication infrastructure may be deployed by the Saudi government to track and arrest criminals, including potential terrorists. In fact, relevant Saudi laws may be deemed analogous to U.S. national and internal security policies upheld by Supreme Court decisions. Saudi laws may also be broadly analogous to restrictive Indian Internet laws in the world's largest democracy. Next, the article argues that the Kingdom's experience with Internet technologies is that they provide effective communication methods toward rehabilitation of terrorists and other criminals. The analysis concludes by observing that America and other countries may wish to learn from the Saudi experience in antiterrorism and other criminal rehabilitation through social media. However, social media-organized protests by Israelis due to economic hardship may possibly lead to greater Israeli compassion for Palestinian economic hardship under occupation.

Lessons from Israel and Great Britain

By mid-2011, the Israeli government faced public protests, which were brought about by widespread economic deprivation. Some estimate over a quarter million Israelis participated in protests at some point--similarly organized by cell phone and social media, particularly Facebook. (1) An editorial in London's Financial Times stated, "a perception that too many people cannot make ends meet, or even live in outright poverty, motivates Israelis as it did Tunisians and Egyptians in January and February ... [I]t is evident that public spending on education and healthcare is low partly because the [Israeli] government's military budget is so high. Nothing better illustrates how a peace deal with the Palestinians would benefit Israeli society as a whole." (2) Among the poorest are Israel's Arab citizens and orthodox Jews. (3) Another commentator in the Financial Times points out that Israeli discontent is also caused to a significant extent by a widespread resentment that the country may be under the influence of powerful, small interest groups including Israeli settlers in the occupied territories: the "settlers ... enjoy cheap, subsidized housing and benefit from public services that are far superior to those available to Israelis living inside the Green Line. …