Social Media in the Middle East: Conflicts Between Saudi Arabia and Qatar Unfolds on Social 

This is the ninth in a series of ten short extracts from my sixth annual round-up of social media trends from the Middle East and North Africa (written with University of Oregon student Amanda Lam). Social Media in the Middle East: The Story of 2017 is available for download from the University of Oregon Scholars’ Bank and on Scribd, SlideShare and Academia.edu.

In June, Saudi Arabia announced it had closed its border and cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing its neighbour of supporting terrorism. Qatar denied the claims, as a number of other MENA countries followed Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic lead. At the time of writing, the dispute was ongoing. Here’s how elements of this situation played out on social media:

  • In a statement, UAE Public Prosecutor Hamad al-Shamsi announced that social media users in the UAE who “show sympathy” for Qatar could face three to 15 years in prison, alongside a minimum fine of 500,000 dirhams ($136,000).
  • Snapchat blocked Al Jazeera’s “Discover” channel on their network, in Saudi Arabia. Snapchat said that the move was in response to claims by the Saudi government that its content violated their cybercrime laws.
  • In response to the Saudi blockade, #DohaUnderSiege saw some Qatar residents highlight that life seemed to be continued as normal. Meanwhile, a stencil-style image of Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, can be readily seen on social media, cars, murals and t-shirts in the country.
  • Outside of the region, President Trump tweeted on the subject, whilst senior White House officials such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have both visited Qatar, a long-standing US ally (as is Saudi Arabia).
Image: Screenshot of tweet from @realDonaldTrump, President of the United States.
  • Months before Saudi Arabia cut ties with Qatar, an “unknown entity” hacked the Qatar News Agency and published false statements on its website and Twitter account, local news website Doha News noted, also highlighting previous hacking of social media accounts in Qatar.
  • As WikiTribune recounted in a short explainer article: “The Washington Post reported in July that the United Arab Emirates hacked Qatar in May, which the Emirates have denied.”
  • Meanwhile, Quartz stated this “was nearly the first “fake news” war to transform into a physical conflict” as the role of bots and hacking were put under the microscope. The diplomatic implications of bots, automation, as well as wider cybersecurity considerations, will only grow in importance to diplomats and nations around the world.

Sources:
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/egypt-saudi-arabia-among-gulf-states-cutting-ties-qatar-n768161 https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/05/middleeast/saudi-bahrain-egypt-uae-qatar-terror/index.html
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-40173757
https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/01/qatar-visit-washington-aims-break-gulf-gridlock.html https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/22/world/middleeast/qatar-saudi-emir-boycott.html
http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/07/middleeast/uae-social-media-qatar/index.html http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2017/09/censorship-social-media-saudi-arabia-170919212901082.html https://twitter.com/LauraofArabia/status/889017315286814720 http://bit.ly/2nmaP26 https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/872062159789985792 http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/28/politics/secretary-of-defense-mattis-unannounced-visit-qatar/index.html
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-30/mnuchin-joins-tillerson-in-praising-qataramid-saudi-led-embargo https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2017/07/272522.htm https://dohanews.co/hackers-take-aim-at-qatar-bypublishing-fake-news-on-qna/
https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2017/12/04/middle_east/gulf-council-summit-proceeds-despite-diplomatic-rift/25928/ https://qz.com/1107023/the-inside-story-of-the-hackthat-nearly-started-another-middle-east-war/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/07/hacking-bots-and-information-wars-in-the-qatar-spat/
http://edam.org.tr/en/computational-diplomacy-foreign-policy-communication-in-the-age-of-algorithms-and-automation/

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