Blogging for change in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Jeans is one of the most influential blogs in the Gulf region. It is run by pharmacy student Ahmad Al Omran, who through his blog hopes to "be a part of the change that is taking place in Saudi Arabia."
Ahmed Omran aka Saudi Jeans. © AFP

Saudi Jeans focuses on topics such as freedom of expression, human and women's rights, as well as democracy and justice. Al Omran also runs the yawmyat blog in Arabic and is one of the co-founders of Saudi Blogs. In addition to that, he regularly appears in mainstream media through interviews granted to outlets ranging from CNN to the Saudi Gazette or Agence France-Presse.

APN: Why do you blog?

I started Saudi Jeans in May 2004 without a clear goal in mind. I just wanted to try this "new cool thing on the web" and practice my English. But a few weeks later, I noticed a good amount of interest and curiosity from readers in Saudi Arabia, so I started to take the blogging thing more seriously. Why I blog? Because I want to be part of the change that is taking place in our country. I want to push for political and social reform, and I want to push for more freedom and more justice.

What topics inspire you?

I try to focus on political and social issues in the Kingdom, but of particular interest to me are topics like freedom of expression, human and women's rights, as well as democracy and justice.

Do you practice self-censorship?

try very hard not to censor myself because if I did, there wouldn't be any point of having a blog. I don't think there are many taboos that I would refrain from touching. Yes, it can be dangerous to elaborate on one or two topics, but I believe you can always find a way to express your opinion without jeopardizing your safety.

What do you see as the difference between a blogger and a journalist?

That's a big question, and a difficult one as well. I think one of the main differences is the absence of an editor. Bloggers get a chance to communicate with audience directly, without filtration or being edited, which gives them more freedom and more power over information. Another big difference is the style: bloggers use a human voice that is more genuine and more natural, while journalists must adhere to certain standards when reporting, which yields a bland and mechanic voice. I think both can be combined in one way or another: the human voice could be the result of the absence of editing.

What has been your most popular post?

I'm not quite sure but I guess it's the one titled, "Women's Driving: Do We Need Another King Faisal?" Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive  a car, and it is one of the biggest debates in the Kingdom during the past years. In my post, I argued that we need a firm political decision by our leadership to solve this situation, similar to King Faisal's decision to introduce the education of girls in the 1970s when many people in our society were against it. However, he stood firmly behind his decision and today more than half of the college graduates in the country are female.

What kind of comments do you receive? Do you moderate them?

There is a lot of diversity in the comments, from those who agree with me wholeheartedly to those who fiercely disagree with me, and everything that is in between. I don't moderate comments, and enjoy the discussions amongst my readers, but sometimes things can get out of hand, in which case I am obliged to shut down the comments on a certain post.

How did you choose the name of your blog's?

As I explain in my About page: "The fact is, there's nothing called "Saudi Jeans" but this blog. There is no Saudi Jeans. I made up this name because I'm Saudi and I do like jeans. I think that "jeans" is a symbol of a lot of different things and ideas here in Saudi Arabia. Things and ideas that a lot of people say it's bad and it has no relation with our culture and traditions, but in the same time everybody use it and believe in it."

Why did you choose to blog in English?

As I said earlier, it was just to practice my English, but soon I realized that blogging in English means that you have a very wide and interesting audience, since it is a universal language.

(This article is part of a series of interviews with prominent bloggers in the Arab world by The Arab Press Network, a web portal by the World Association of Newspapers.)