Let me tell you about internet censorship in Saudi Arabia (1/?)

As an Arab, I am blessed to be using the internet in America with almost no censorship over internet websites. When I visited Saudi Arabia two years ago, the only way I could access the internet in my apartment was through slow dial-up connections which can subscribed to for a monthly fee or you may go the alternative way of buying an internet card from internet cafes and local convenience stores. It was a very unpleasant time indeed, I could not stand the time it took to load a page and many of the websites I usually access were blocked for no reason at all (some open source news websites -i.e shoutwire- , music websites, magazines, etc..). On the other hand, suspicious and terrorism supporting websites and forums seemed to be available for public access with no problem at all.

Let me tell you briefly about the nasty history of the internet in Saudi Arabia,

  • Before 1994:

The internet in Saudi Arabia was first preceded small local networks which subscribers had to pay a relatively very high price for, these networks were very limited in content and focused on local email, news, prayer times and probably phone numbers of local shiekhs (for fatwas and questions), local undertakers for emergency, and overnight pharmacies in certain places. In fact, the internet itself was not yet known to the public at that time.

  • After 1994:

“Internet was first introduced to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 1994 when state academic, medical, and research institutions got access to it. Internet was officially made available in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1997 by a ministerial decision…” – internet.gov.sa

Aramco, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

The first time I have ever heard about the internet is when it was first introduced to high ranking Aramco employees, engineers, and researchers only in their offices. The internet provided inside Aramco had absolutely no filtering or content censorship, the employees were simply verbally warned about accessing non-work related websites. For as long as I can remember, many employees who were privileged for internet access used to stay in their offices until very late at night surfing through the internet. Of course, some were brave enough to punch in search key words such as (sex, playboy, how to make wine , etc..). A couple of years after, the uncensored internet was made available for the same employees at home with the labe of ~for business purposes only~ while of course the families of those employees caught the addiction of browsing and reading whatever they could display on their computer screens.

For the Saudi public, the internet was first introduced by STC starting in the Saudi capitol ‘Riyadh’ -which is where new service is introduced-.. Not very soon after, internet was then introduced to the residents of the Eastern and Western regions. At that time, the internet was slowly spreading among the middle and upper middle classes who already owned computers and had the knowledge and money to use such technologies. Contrary to Aramco’s internet service for employees, STC only offered censored internet through KACST which was very intimidating to users nation-wide. The website blocking mechanism was first done manually, KACST employees had to block every website which does not appeal to them with no specified criteria at all.

To be continued…

3 Responses to “Let me tell you about internet censorship in Saudi Arabia (1/?)”

  1. You know, as a US citizen I am glad to have the freedom to blog and to access the internet. I think we all too often forget that these freedoms do not abound in some parts of the world, and we aren’t thankful enough for them.

  2. Coooooooool.
    That really reminded me of the old days ….
    the fax modem voice …
    beeeeeeeeeeb boooooooooooo teeeeeeee
    spending 10 minutes to load a page ….
    and
    desperately searching 4 C(o)(o)L stuff 😉 using ayna.com.

    LooooL

  3. After reading the article, I feel that I really need more information on the topic. Can you share some more resources please?

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