For people who live here in this country, the dreaded green and white screen saying "Dear User, Sorry the requested page is unavailable" is a familiar sight. Many web pages are blocked here by a branch of the government which surfs the internet and flags unsuitable websites, usually for either moral or religious reasons. So imagine my surprise when a couple of days ago, I was unable to access my own blog here in Saudi Arabia and instead saw that green and white page looking back at me.
So what does this mean? People in all other countries around the world can still see my blog without any problem. Only residents within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are blocked from viewing it. It also means that I cannot reply to any of the comments that readers post on my blog. I am able to make new posts and change various elements of my blog, but I cannot actually SEE the blog myself. So, instead of having the comments post to my blog automatically like I had it set up before, I have changed that option so that I receive all comments via email and I must individually approve each comment before they will appear on my blog. This is the only way I could figure out at this point how to maintain some control over this area since I can no longer delete comments after the fact. So please keep that in mind if you are writing any comments - it may take a while for your comments to post since there is a process they will go through now, and I may be asleep or out and about when you write a comment.
How do I feel about my site being blocked? Well, I actually have mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, it is frustrating, discouraging, and makes me sad. I honestly feel that for the most part, my blog has presented many things about Saudi Arabia in a very positive light. I really feel that I have managed to change some people's prior misconceptions about the people of this country and its culture. My opinion is that with knowledge comes understanding, and that is what I have tried to do with my blogs. Too many people around the world just don't know what this mysterious place is really like and I have tried my best to give an accurate glimpse into real life here. Is this wrong?
On the other hand, maybe it is better for me that people here in KSA cannot read my blog any longer, although that thought saddens me greatly. My intention was never to write for the people here. I have always written for my family and friends back home, so they would know that I was safe and happy, and to try to show them in my excited wide-eyed way the wonders of this amazing land and its people. I really set out to break down those preconceived notions that the rest of the world has of this exotic and mysterious country and to put a more human face to the people here. I think I have achieved that, and I hope that my family and friends back home have learned a lot from what I have presented and have changed some of their negative opinions into positive ones.
I was delighted when I first moved here less than two years ago to discover that my friends and family were as interested to learn about Saudi Arabia as I was. Naively I didn't recognize that the whole world was too. Somewhere along the way, my audience grew and widened. There apparently is much more interest in this closed society than I had ever realized. My blog captured the attention of the Saudi Tourism Agency, the Saudi Gazette newspaper, and a few other publications in the region. When I wrote about censorship here in the Kingdom, Perez Hilton picked up my post on his blog and as a result I experienced a wild ride that week, when my blog got more hits in one single day alone than I usually get in an entire four month period! Unfortunately that post may be the reason for the blocking of my blog. I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because of my posts lately about women’s issues here in the Kingdom. It could be a number of things.
What I do know is that I am overwhelmed and touched by the outpouring of support that I have received from my readers, my friends, and my fellow bloggers, including a surprise email of support from a blogger I have the utmost respect for – Fouad Alfarhan. Fouad is a legend here in Saudi Arabia. Last year he endured four months in prison without ever being charged with anything. He was jailed for blogging, for speaking out on what he sees are problems here in his country, for voicing his opinions about how things could be better here. So thank you, Fouad – I am humbled.
Thanks also to Ahmed at Saudi Jeans blog, Michaelle at Adventurous Women blog, Nebz over at Isla de Nebz blog, Yoli at Musings, and any others who have highlighted my plight on their own blogs. My sincere appreciation goes out to you for your support.
Many of you have commented or written to me about a notable change in my writings the past few months, and you are right. I had an epiphany one day when I realized that maybe I was painting too rosy of a picture about life here. Maybe I was glossing over and ignoring the rough spots, the issues that Saudi Arabia would rather sweep under the rug and pretend don’t exist. This happened when two female readers from other countries decided to accept positions to work here in the Kingdom, partly based on my glowing reports about life here. I know that they didn’t base their decisions solely on what I had written, but it was then that it hit me that I was presenting a lopsided view of what it was really like here, and that’s why I started tackling some of the issues that had really started bothering me about living here. When their experiences turned out to be not what they had hoped for and they both returned home much sooner than they had planned, I recognized that I had a responsiblity to be more forthcoming and truthful and not to appear oblivious to major problems - as I see them - in this society.
I’ve tried to be diplomatic and constructive, but when there are opinions being expressed, there are bound to be disagreements with those who don’t feel the same way I do. But I had felt that I had been holding back for too long. I am not a negative person – I am quite optimistic – and my hope is that change will come to Saudi Arabia in these areas that I had focused on recently.
There should always be hope.