Saudi Life Online

The Internet can still be a means for change:
Ebtihal Mubarak is one of several talented female reporters and editors on the Arab News staff. That in itself is a change from my days at the paper more than a decade ago. In recent years the News has doubled its full-time Saudi female staff and put more female reporters out in the field. Mubarak reports on the small but growing movement for greater political and social rights for Saudis. Persecution by extremists is a common theme in her work. As she surfed Saudi Internet forums one day last fall, she came across a posting describing an attack on a liberal journalist in the northern city of Hail. “A journalist’s car had been attacked while he was sleeping,” she said. “A note on his car read: ‘This time it’s your car, next time it will be you.’”

Young and Restless Saudi Arabia’s baby boomers, born after the 1973 oil embargo, are redefining the kingdom’s relationship with the modern world, By Afshin Molavi, Photographs by Kate Brooks, Smithsonian Magazine, April 2006

Being a journalist herself, Mubarak didn’t stop with web surfing.

She turned it into a story:

A few years ago, such an episode would probably have ended with the Hail journalist intimidated into silence. But now, Mubarak worked the phones, speaking with the journalist, the police and outside experts, and put together a story for the next day’s paper, quoting the journalist: “What happened to me is not just a threat to one individual but to the whole of society.” Thanks to the Internet, the episode became a national story, and the subject of vigorous debate.
So the Internet can still be a medium beyond communication to politics and maybe even change.

The Smithsonian also notes that even national and international news has its limits as far as effects:

Beyond matters of mobility and employment opportunity is the issue of spousal abuse, which, according to Saudi newspapers, remains prevalent. In one high-profile case, the husband of Rania al-Baz, the country’s first female broadcaster, beat her nearly to death in 2004. Saudi media covered the case with the zeal of British tabloids, creating widespread sympathy for the victim and sparking a national debate on abuse. The case even made it to “Oprah,” where al-Baz was hailed as a woman of courage. Once the spotlight dimmed, however, the broadcaster succumbed to pressure from an Islamic judge and from her own family to forgive her husband.

Still, the Internet makes it easy to find both original stories and followups. And Mubarak’s success with the more recent story helped bring the this followup to the earlier story about Rania al-Baz back to attention.

Plus the rest of that story:

A television presenter and mother of two, Rania al-Baz was attacked by her husband on 4 April at their home in Jeddah, apparently for having answered the telephone. She suffered 13 fractures to her face. Her husband then put her in his van and reportedly dumped her unconscious at a hospital in Jeddah, claiming that she was a victim of a traffic accident. He went into hiding before surrendering to the police on 19 April. He was reportedly charged with attempted murder but this was later reduced to severe assault for which he was convicted in May. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and 300 lashes. Rania al-Baz had the option of a civil action to seek retribution (qisas) in the form of compensation or corporal punishment commensurate with the harm she sustained, but apparently chose to pardon her husband in exchange for divorce and custody of her two sons. The husband served over half of his prison sentence. It was not known if he received the lashes.

Report 2005, Saudi Arabia, Covering events from January – December 2004 Amnesty International

She didn’t just pardon him; she made a deal involving divorce and child custody.Maybe knowledge of her experience will help prevent more brutality like it.

And perhaps these are more datapoints indicating that secrecy is not good risk management in a world connected by the Internet.