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The Internet in the Arab World: Egypt and Beyond

Author: Rasha A. Abdulla
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang, 2007
Review Published: August 2009

 REVIEW 1: Antonio A. Garcia
 REVIEW 2: Laurence Raw
 REVIEW 3: Natasha Ritsma
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Rasha A. Abdulla

First of all, thank you to RCCS, David Silver, and to the three reviewers for their interest in my book, and the time and effort they put into the reviews. I'm very happy to know that they found it interesting and informative.

In the next few paragraphs, I will briefly answer to or clarify some of the points they raised.

In any major academic work, the author has to make some choices about the scope and parameters of the work. This book is about the Internet in the Arab world, and so while I tried to draw comparisons and put variables into context as much as I could without distracting the reader, I did not go into details about aspects of the Internet in other areas of the world because it would have taken the work out of focus (and there are other books that tackle the Internet in other areas of the world).

In my discussion of freedom of expression on the Internet in the Arab world, Reviewer 2 would've liked to see me "challenge Western perceptions of the Arab/Islamic world as restrictive (because) as it stands, (my) research tends to reinforce this image." I would've loved to do this as well, if it weren't for the fact that the research shows that there are serious threats to online freedom of expression in the Arab world. True, there are also threats to online freedom of expression in places like China, Cuba, and North Korea, but that doesn't make the offenses to freedom of expression in the Arab world any less serious. There are currently four Arab countries on the Reporters Without Borders list of Internet Enemies (out of 12), and three more on the list of Countries Under Surveillance (out of 12). More information about this issue can be found in my latest book Policing the Internet in the Arab World.

The survey that I administered (this research did not use focus groups nor ethnography) looked at patterns of use, mainly through the uses and gratifications approach to media effects, as well as the use of Arabic language on the Internet. Again, Arabic language use could be the topic of a separate book, and more information about it could be found starting on page 112 of this report, which I wrote for the Alexandrina Bibliotheca.

Reviewer 2 argues at the end of the review that more research is needed to "challenge Abdulla's orientalist conclusion that the Arab world needs to 'catch up' with the West." I'm not sure if the word "orientalist" is used here in a positive or a negative sense. I personally tend to agree with Edward Said's conception of orientalism, and in that sense, I am definitely not an orientalist: I was born and bred in the Arab world, I have lived all my life (except for my Ph.D. years) and still live in the Arab world, and I believe in the potential of the region if certain political and cultural changes were to take place. I definitely agree with Reviewer 2 that more research needs to be done, but I doubt that in the near future, any research can propose that the Arab world is already caught up with the West in terms of information technology. I certainly wish that were the case, but it's not.

Finally, I do not claim that my sample is necessarily representative of all Internet users in the Arab world, but I do believe it is representative of a broad section of them. Because of high illiteracy rates in the Arab world, and because of the multi-literacy levels required of any Internet user, most Internet users in the Arab world are educated, speak at least some English, and belong to at least a middle or higher socio-economic class. I am not aware of any scientific surveys or studies of Internet users in the Arab region that contradicts or challenges my results, although it has to be said that research on that aspect is lacking in our part of the world.

Again, I'd like to thank RCCS and the reviews for their interest and effort, and I hope other readers will find the book useful. I would appreciate any and all feedback at rasha [at] aucegypt [dot] edu

Rasha A. Abdulla

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