Facebook making waves in Saudi Arabia

Conservative clerics in Saudi Arabia are railing against Facebook, calling it 'a door to lust,' and a strange story surfaces about a girl who was allegedly killed by her father for using the social networking site.
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BEIRUT/RIYADH, April 1, 2008 (MENASSAT) – The U.K. newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, on Monday claimed that an unidentified woman in Saudi Arabia was killed by her own father for communicating with a man on the popular social networking site Facebook. The incident allegedly took place in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in August last year.

The information stems from a report issued by the Al-Arabiya news network which was translated by the Lebanon-based translation service Mideastwire.com and made its way to the Cairo-based Arab Media & Society website where it was picked up by the Telegraph.

A cached link to the original Al-Arabiya report (in Arabic) still works but it proved impossible to find the article from the Al-Arabiya site itself, leaving much room for doubt among readers and activists.

"People are debating whether or not this is a scam. No sign of this story on Al Arabiya or any other Arab site. The sources so far are not entirely reliable," a human rights activist told MENASSAT.

Some even went as far as asking whether the report could be a "really bad April Fool's Day joke."

The Daily Telegraph journalist who wrote the article had not seen the original Al-Arabiya piece.

From the desert kingdom, Saudi blogger Saudijeans told MENASSAT that the Saudi blogosphere has not brought the case to light.

"There is a lot of talk about the general role of Facebook in Saudi Arabia but not about this particular case. Yet," said Saudijeans.  

The leading social networking site has recently caused a stir among some Saudi clerics who claim that Facebook encourages young people to engage in unsuitable activities. 

"It is sparking debate because the site facilitates conversation between girls and boys," said Saudijeans. "Facebook is very popular in Saudi Arabia. You receive requests all the time from people you don't know in the Saudi network who want to be your  friends."

There are reportedly more than 30,000 Facebook users in Saudi Arabia, and the site does appear to help break taboos and facilitate communication among young Saudis.

The group, "Single and Looking in Saudi Arabia," has almost 2,000 members.

"I am hoping to find new friends to chat and share thoughts with. Being a single man and a single father in this country is NASTY," wrote one of the members on the group's public message board.

One of Facebook's most outspoken critics is leading cleric Sheikh Ali al-Maliki is. He has said that the site is "corrupting the youth of the nation," and has asked for the site to be banned.

"Facebook is a door to lust and young women and men are spending more on their mobile phones and the Internet than they are spending on food," Al-Maliki previously told Al-Arabiya.