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Abstract

I am a current student researching the findings from the QNRF NPRP grant, “Media Use in the Middle East” (NPRP 7-1757-5-261), a seven-nation survey by Northwestern University in Qatar. I am particularly interested in the potential of the Internet to increase feelings of political efficacy among citizens in the Arab region. The Internet has been shown to create feelings of political efficacy in many instances around the world, like how social media accelerated Egypt's 2011 (Gustin, S, 2011), but it can also create feelings of disempowerment (Bibri, S, E, 2015). I am interested in this topic specifically because, with the lack of freedom of expression in the Gulf region, many are turning to the internet to share their opinion on their country's political matter. Although there are consequences to those who criticize Gulf governments, the growing significance of the internet has become a communication tool between the country and its people. In my research, I look only at nationals in the Gulf countries of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Although the survey covers expatriate residents as well, I choose to use data on nationals only due to the personal nature of the question. Expatriates living in one of these Gulf countries might answer the question with their own country in mind or they might answer with their residence country in mind. How can we analyze the meaning of their responses without knowing exactly what they were thinking about? However, we know that nationals of specific countries will be thinking of whether they have increased political efficacy in their own countries, making the analysis clearer. Also, nationals on the Internet would most likely have a bigger political influence on their country than expatriates, and officials would probably prioritize their opinions over expatriates, which also justifies the look at only nationals. I investigate feelings of political efficacy through the Internet by focusing on a set of two questions. The question begins with, “Do you think by using the Internet…” and then asks the respondents two different statements: “…People like you can have more political influence?” and “…Public officials will care more what people like you think?” The response options were a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 means strongly disagree and 5 means strongly agree. These two statements probe different, but important areas of political efficacy. They probe the freedom of expression in the Gulf and whether these expressions are being heard and acted upon by the government, both in terms of citizen perceptions of political influence and emotional connection. My initial research demonstrates differences in levels of political efficacy across the three countries, including over time, and also within different demographics. The overall results show Saudi Arabia (58%) with the most belief in the political efficacy of the Internet, followed by Qatar (36%), then the UAE (18%). For Saudi, the majority of the sample believe they have a political influence on the internet, whereas in Qatar and the UAE, less than half believe so. This demonstrates a significant difference between the nations, which will need further investigating. We also see some interesting changes over time. Overall, more people in 2017 believe that officials care about what's being said on social media than in 2015. In Saudi, it moved up 15%, whereas in the UAE, there was only a 4% increase. Since this particular question was asked differently in Qatar in 2015, the comparison data wasn't given. However, the overall showings implicate that Gulf governments have begun to respond to the public's political input on the Internet. This will further be explored through interviews with nationals from the three countries. I've also found that there are similarities among the three countries as well. By looking at the results by gender, I find that more men (for example, in Saudi, 62%) than women (54%) believe they have more political influence by using the Internet. Also, when looking at the results by cultural conservativism or cultural progressivism, more progressives than conservatives believe they have political influence (Saudi: 65% vs. 53%) and that the government cares more about what people like them think when using the Internet (Saudi: 61% vs. 59%). My next stage of research is to investigate the number of issues about free speech and political efficacy in the Middle East that I have begun to uncover through analysis of the survey data. The main story I want to explain is the belief that the use of the Internet increases political influence in this region. I am particularly interested in investigating questions about gender inequality on social media, the extent to which the public is able to talk about important issues facing their countries on the Internet and if they feel they are being heard. I am also interested in learning more about the perceptions of conservative and progressive people on free speech and politics and how these perceptions have changed over the years. My analysis will be based on data from the survey as well as interviews conducted by myself of citizens from the three countries, which will give context to the survey data. Work cited: Bibri, S. E. (2015) The Shaping of Ambient Intellience and the Internet of Things. Norway: Atlantis Press. Dennis, E. E., Martin, J. D., & Wood, R. (2017). Media use in the Middle East, 2017: A seven-nation survey. Northwestern University in Qatar. Retrieved from www.mideastmedia.org/survey/2017. Gustin, S. Social Media Sparked, Accelerated Egypt's Revolutionary Fire. (2011, Nov 2), Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2011/02/egypts-revolutionary-fire/

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/content/papers/10.5339/qfarc.2018.ICTPD953
2018-03-15
2019-12-13
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