For many people, 2011 was the year of an awakened Arabia, whose voices served as the catalyst for the oft-mentioned “Spring.” Sultan Al Qassemi, who writes the Felix Arabia blog, gained a measure of fame himself during this season of Arab discontent and revolution. Still, as powerful as these voices are, Al Qassemi recently wrote in Jadaliyya, an online publication produced by the Arab Studies Institute, about the voices who came before tweets and Facebook status updates.
Today the number of Twitter and Facebook users in the Gulf is estimated to be in the millions. Many are outspoken and critical of Gulf Arab regime policies, religious establishments, and the stagnation of social and political reform. There is no doubt that this space for online peaceful dissent would be even narrower and less tolerated than it is today had it not been for the courageous activism of the Arab and Gulf blogging pioneers. A majority of these social media pioneers have incorporated new mediums into their activism, but a few chose to stop blogging altogether. Some are no longer with us today, while others have gone into hiding in fear of being jailed.
The story introduces readers to many of these pioneer Arab voices, some of whom are now silent — willingly or unwillingly. As we look forward to 2012, which will likely reveal further change in the Arab world, it’s worth keeping in mind those who spoke out even when the world’s spotlight wasn’t shining on them.