First Monday

The use of the Internet for political action by non-state dissident actors in the Middle East

The use of the Internet for political action by non-state dissident actors in the Middle East by W. Sean McLaughlin

This paper examines how non-state dissident actors in the Middle East use the Internet for political action in the face of state-imposed constraints on Internet access. Non-state dissident actors have revisionist goals and the Internet offers certain advantages for accomplishing these political objectives. States seek to limit the effectiveness of these dissident objectives and can use various methods, such as limiting Internet infrastructure or imposing censorship constraints, in efforts to oppose Internet-based dissidence. In response, dedicated dissidents can find ways to overcome these state-imposed constraints and continue with their dissident activities. Based on this understanding, this paper develops a dynamic model for Internet-based dissidence and then applies it to three different case studies: The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA). All three case study groups used the Internet in a surprisingly competent and sophisticated manner, overcoming the various state-imposed constraints on their activities. That non-state dissidents in the Middle East have successfully used the Internet for political dissidence may have important implications for the political landscape in the region.


Case studies





In the past decade, the rise of Internet technologies has wrought swift and sweeping changes around the world. Increasing global interconnectivity has changed the global financial architecture, as international financial markets have become linked together across time and space, allowing a transnational "electronic herd" [ 1] of investors to trade currencies around the clock. At the micro level, the explosion of Internet-enabled electronic commerce has changed business models and impacted local economies. Societal interactions have been impacted as well. Internet users from around the world fill up popular chat rooms to argue and discuss an inexhaustible range of topics. Politics has not been immune to the impact of the Internet either, as the Zapatistas, a dissident group within Mexico, used the Internet as an important tool in their campaign against the Mexican government, attracting international support and effectively constraining the government’s response [2].

This final example highlights the ability of the Internet to impact political action in new and surprising ways. Dissident actors seeking to alter the political status quo may see the Internet as a potentially potent tool, capable of shifting the balance of power between states and dissidents in favor of the latter. However, this is only part of the story. The Internet is not all-powerful. State policies have important implications for how accessible and usable Internet technologies are.

To fully understand the political implications of the Internet’s impact on the balance of power between states and dissident actors, a more detailed and focused discussion is needed. This paper represents one step towards a more complete understanding of this state/dissident balance of power. Rather than focus on this interaction at a global scale, this paper seeks to examine how this balance of power plays out within the context of one region: The Middle East. In this way, this paper seeks to understand how non-state dissident actors in the Middle East use Internet technologies in affecting political action vis-á-vis the state in the face of state-imposed Internet constraints. This paper continues by defining key terms and then by providing an overview of relevant literature within this paper’s purview. It then goes on to present a dynamic model of Internet-based dissidence which takes into account both dissident and state objectives as well as dynamic responses by dissident actors to state-imposed Internet constraints. To test the applicability of this model, this paper then examines three case studies of dissident actors within the Middle East. The paper concludes by providing an overview of the paper’s evidence and analyses and by drawing broader implications from these findings. Despite this paper’s regional focus, the implications drawn from its analyses are global in scale and have important implications for the future of non-state dissident activities everywhere.

Defining terms: Non-state dissident actors

Non-state dissidents actors have two defining characteristics. First, as their name suggests, these actors are not states. This distinction is logical and perhaps seemingly trivial but it is critical in understanding the relationship between states and non-state actors. As sovereign actors, states exercise supreme authority within the international system and therefore are free to formulate domestic policies and conduct official relations with other states. Non-state actors have no such official powers and ultimately come under the sovereign jurisdiction of one or more states. This means that all non-state actors, be they dissident or not, are subject, theoretically at least, to the power of states. While the media has often identified non-state actors with terrorist groups, narco-traffickers and other insidious groups, the term is definitionally neutral. Non-state actors can include businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and single individuals as well.

Second, non-state dissident actors oppose the political agenda of one or more states. This is what makes these actors dissident. The focus of this political opposition can vary. Dissidents may dispute specific domestic or foreign policies that states are pursuing or hope to pursue. Dissident actors may also oppose an entire political regime. The means of opposition can vary as well. While dissidence is often associated with violence, the two are not necessarily linked. Non-state actors can use non-violent means such as demonstrations, strikes and political pressure to demonstrate their opposition [ 3]. Regardless of the focus and the means of political opposition, dissident groups are inherently revisionist and challenge state power.

The relationship between states and non-state dissident actors is therefore inherently frictional. Theoretically, the sovereign power of states is supreme. In reality, non-state dissident actors seek to challenge this sovereign authority through political action. A balance of power therefore exists within states, pitting the relative strengths of states and non-state dissidents against each other.

The Middle East is a valuable forum to examine this internal balance of power. Within the region, there is no shortage of non-state dissident actors — some seeking limited objectives and others demanding the overthrow of entire regimes. The emergence of these dissident activities is not a regional coincidence but rather is linked closely to the types of regimes found in the region. While a full discussion of the comparative politics of the Middle East is not possible here, suffice to say that democracies are the exception rather than the rule in the region. Within the Middle East, one finds a multitude of non-democratic regimes, ranging from monarchical kingdoms to authoritarian polities. Unlike democracies, which enable citizens to express political opposition through the voting booth, non-democratic regimes provide little or no formal outlets for political dissent. In the absence of these formal outlets, actors that oppose specific policies or entire regimes must express their opposition via extra-legal means directed at state authority.

Literature review

The emergence of the Internet has spawned an extensive range of literature that assesses the impact of this technology on a host of levels. Perhaps the broadest and most ambitious effort at synthesizing these impacts can be found in sociologist Manuel Castells’ three volume tome, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture [ 4]. For Castells, the Internet and other network structures "constitute the new social morphology of our societies," impacting the "processes of production, experience, power, and culture" [ 5]. Castells’ work is representative of current sociological analyses that examine the macro-level impacts of information technologies on societies and cultures in the globalized, post-industrial, information era [ 6]. While these cultural and societal interactions are important, these discussions are broadly theoretical and non-political in nature, viewing the Internet as part of a larger globalizing process that is largely distinct from politics.

Beyond this broad theoretical work, there is a growing pool of literature that examines the Internet’s potential as a political tool. A considerable amount of attention has been paid to the technological capabilities of the Internet to influence politics through cyberattacks [ 7]. The networked structure of the Internet and the increasing dependence upon these networks for key infrastructures may enable "hacktivists" and cyberterrorists to influence political decisions or to pose security threats. Dorothy Denning’s work has highlighted how groups have utilized virtual sit-ins, denial of service attacks, Web site defacements and viruses in efforts to influence foreign policy [ 8]. While there has been much talk about the prospect of cyberterrorism, the worries of a crippling attack on a state’s infrastructure have not materialized to date [ 9]. However, this work has focused too narrowly on the area of cyberattacks, ignoring the possibilities of using the Internet as a broader political tool. Defaced Web sites and denial of service attacks may cause short-term inconveniences, but the utility of such measures for gaining long-term political goals is difficult to ascertain.

Building upon the aforementioned sociological analyses, a second school of political writing examines how networked structures (such as the Internet) influence the nature of the security environment. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt of the RAND Corporation have written extensively on this topic, arguing that the information age has heralded the dominance of the network, diffusing power away from hierarchical state actors to networked non-state actors [ 10]. While enlightening in its theoretical rigor, this set of literature has been too broad to shed much light on the Middle East region. General discussions on the coming of "netwar" and a new political order enabled by the Internet and other information technologies provide a broad theoretical framework but do little to assess how this framework relates to the Middle East. In a region where Internet access is often limited by infrastructure constraints or governmental censorship, the theoretical power of the Internet may face serious practical challenges.

Within the regional literature on the Middle East, discussions of the Internet have likewise remained general in nature [ 11]. In the broadest sense, there has been a realization that the Internet does present something new for the region. Anthropologist Jon Anderson’s work has provided an overview of how Arab society "enculturates" the Internet and has assessed the interaction between the new technology and culture, society and religion [ 12]. Presenting the situation from a more political perspective, Jon Alterman has provided a general summary of the new media in the Arab world [13].

These initial attempts at understanding the Internet in the Arab world have remained largely descriptive in nature. These broad descriptions have summarized the new possibilities offered by the Internet, the legal and cultural restrictions often placed on the technology, and the reality of how Internet technologies are used throughout the region. These works provide an initial understanding that the Internet is causing change within the Middle East. Yet, this understanding is only somewhat helpful. Case studies of Internet portals, examinations of governmental policies and similar descriptive exercises do nothing to shed light on the processes behind the historical descriptions.

A more useful exercise is to distill these initial descriptions into more specific analytical frameworks that are explanatory and predictive rather than merely descriptive. While it is the conventional wisdom that the Internet is an important potential political tool in the Middle East, analyses of how this tool is used, for what purposes, and to what effects are critical to understanding and explaining the power of the Internet. More importantly, a useful framework can detail not only how the Internet has already been used as a political tool but also under what circumstances actors in the future may use Internet technologies. This paper seeks to fill this gap by providing a theoretical model of Internet-based political dissidence that will yield both predictive and explanatory results.




Assumptions for use of Internet technology

The Internet is a tool: It can be used and manipulated by humans to accomplish a wide variety of tasks. The networked nature of the Internet allows actors to tap into a nearly limitless source of information and data that can be shared across the network. People can use the Internet to educate themselves, to conduct business or to carry out forms of political action. Yet, there is no a priori reason why actors should use the Internet over any other potential tool. Generally speaking, for actors to use the Internet, three conditions must be met.

First, the Internet must offer advantages. Examining absolute advantages is a useful starting point, but does not tell the whole picture. As with any tool, the Internet does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, actors are presented with different options and make choices based on relative advantages. If actors are to seek to use the Internet, it must offer relative advantages over other potential tools. If no such comparative benefit exists, actors will see no utility in using the Internet, opting instead for some other, more effective option.

Second, potential users must have access to the Internet. If actors are to capitalize on the advantages of the Internet, these actors must be able to access and use the technology. Assessing user access requires going beyond pure numbers. Statistics about the number of computers or Internet hosts in a given population provide only a basic understanding of potential access. Internet access also depends on other context-dependent factors. Issues such as the security environment and government censorship can directly impact how specific actors are able to utilize the Internet. While Internet access may be thought of as a given within the United States, as will be discussed below, user access in much of the world, including the Middle East, faces many possible constraints.

Third, and related to actor access, use of the Internet requires audience access as well. To a large extent, the Internet is an interactive technology. Actors create Web sites, post messages and write e-mails for one or more audiences, be they intra- or trans-national in scale. The Internet offers little utility if Web sites go unvisited, messages unread and e-mails unchecked. The effective use of the Internet therefore requires that potential audiences have access to the technology. As with actor access, context-dependent factors can and do influence the ability of messages to reach their intended audiences.

With this understanding of the Internet in mind, it is possible to examine the use of the Internet for political action and to translate this understanding to the Middle East region. The next sections provide brief overviews both of the advantages associated with Internet use in political action and of the theoretical constraints on such Internet use. Based on this discussion, this paper develops a model for how non-state dissident actors use the Internet for political action, and seeks to apply this model to the Middle East. This model examines how Internet-based forms of political action influence the balance of power between non-state dissident actors and states in the Middle East.

Advantages of the Internet for conducting political action

As discussed above, for the Internet to be used by political actors, the Internet must offer advantages. In the realm of political action, the Internet offers two primary advantages: Reduced transaction costs and altered transparency.

Reduced transaction costs

Perhaps the most far-reaching advantage of Internet technology is its ability to reduce transaction costs. At the broadest level, the highly networked structure of the Internet allows information to be exchanged cheaply, quickly and globally. Registering a Web site costs less than $50 and many Internet sites allow users to create Web sites at no cost at all. Free e-mail services are commonplace on the Internet while newsgroups and message postings are likewise available at no cost. Perhaps more importantly, these low-cost Internet technologies offer access to a truly global network. This global network allows actors to transmit and share information throughout the world nearly instantaneously. The networked structure of the Internet finds the quickest and most effective route for information flows. Web sites from anywhere in the world take only seconds to view while e-mails can circle the globe in an instant. The Internet therefore enables political actors to share and disseminate political information at reduced costs and gives these same actors access to a pervasive venue with global reach.

Altered transparency

The Internet also enables political actors to alter transparency. Whereas transaction costs are a measure of the speed and scale of information, transparency is a measure of the accuracy, clarity and freedom of information. Internet technologies can therefore be used to increase or decrease transparency. For increasing transparency, the Internet provides a forum for actors to share and disseminate political information that can clarify or bring to light political realities. Web sites and e-mail lists can be used to document and publicize political improprieties, such as corruption or human rights abuses. Political actors can also use the Internet to decrease transparency by using these same technologies to spread disinformation and propaganda. While the two are separated here for analytical purposes, reduced transaction costs and altered transparency are clearly interrelated. The high speed and global scale of the Internet is the driving force behind the technology’s ability to alter transparency.

Constraints on Internet use

There are two practical constraints that may limit or prevent actors from accessing the Internet for political action. First, infrastructure limitations can negatively impact actor and audience access to the Internet. The Internet relies on a significant amount of technological infrastructure, requiring that computers, routers and means of connection all be present for the Internet to work within a given locale. The absence of one component within this infrastructure can cut off localities from the larger Internet network. While this basic infrastructure is often a given within the United States, in much of the world, including the Middle East, Internet diffusion has been limited by the lack of this basic infrastructure. Based on statistics from 2000, there were less than two million total Internet users in the Middle East out of a total population of over 220 million [ 14]. More recent statistics further highlight the lack of connectivity within the Middle East, as Arabic speakers constitute only 0.9 percent of the global online population [15].

Second, government censorship can likewise limit actor and audience access to the Internet. Whereas infrastructure limitations constrain actual Internet access, censorship limits the freedom of Internet activity. Through a variety of legal and technological means that will be discussed later, governments can put limits on the Internet content acceptable within their sovereign territory. This type of government censorship is particularly commonplace in the Middle East where authoritarian regimes seek to maintain near-absolute control of information flows within their territory. According to report from Human Rights Watch on Internet censorship in the Middle East, only Algeria, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority have avoided efforts to limit or control Internet content within their territories [ 16].

Internet-based dissident model

With these general understandings in mind, it is now possible to develop a model that explains and predicts how non-state dissident actors use the Internet as a political tool in the face of infrastructure limitations and government censorship. This model is constructed around three interrelated dynamics. The first dynamic assesses the objectives of non-state dissidents, presents the types of political action undertaken to achieve these goals and examines the Internet’s role in conducting these forms of political action. The second dynamic assesses the goals of states and presents ways that states can limit the effectiveness of Internet-based dissidence. The final dynamic examines how dissidents are able to adjust to efforts by the state to limit political action via the Internet.

Dynamic I: Non-state dissident objectives, political action and the Internet

As political actors, non-state dissidents have political goals. Ultimately, these actors exist because they are dissatisfied with the political status quo within their respective countries and therefore seek to influence and change political outcomes. As noted earlier, non-state dissidents can have either limited or total objectives. Actors seeking limited goals attempt to use political action in an effort to influence and change specific policies of states. Non-state dissidents seeking total objectives do not simply oppose specific policies, but rather oppose the very existence of entire regimes.

Accomplishing political objectives requires resources. Dissident efforts to exert political pressure on states require both political and financial resources. However, non-state dissidents face considerable disadvantages vis-á-vis the power of states, which have at their disposal a wide range of financial, institutional and military resources. Dissident groups are often initially based around a core group of individuals, limiting the amount of resources available to them [ 17].

Political action undertaken by non-state dissident actors seeks to level the playing field between themselves and the power of the state. For dissidents, attempts to improve this relative balance of power can involve trying to accumulate their own resources or trying to erode the resources of states. Based on this understanding, it is possible to identify three types of political action that dissidents can seek to undertake: Mobilization, internationalization and support erosion.


Mobilization seeks to organize and mobilize key domestic actors in support of political objectives. For dissidents, the goal of mobilization is therefore twofold. First, non-state dissidents seek to increase their overall base of power to increase their access to domestic resources. Efforts at recruitment are designed to move from an initial core group of supporters to larger groups of adherents. As an example, the student-led pro-democracy movement in China has recruited actively from liberal university settings, giving the movement a membership in the hundreds of thousands [ 18]. Increasing this powerbase to larger and more powerful segments of society gives non-state dissidents access to domestic resources that can be used to exert political pressure on states.

The second component of mobilization involves rallying the established powerbase behind specific political objectives, be they limited or total. In this way, the recruitment phase gives non-state dissidents access to domestic resources, but it is the rallying phase that seeks to "cash in" those assets and produce tangible political changes within states. This component of mobilization can include calls for financial support or, more often, involves calls for political support. With sympathizers numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the pro-democracy activists in China were able to mobilize their supporters in a series of demonstrations that culminated in the famous standoff at Tiananmen Square [ 19]. A dissident group armed with material resources and backed by the support of key domestic actors is well equipped to exert political pressure on a state. It is this domestic political pressure that can directly influence and pressure the policies of states.

Based on this understanding of mobilization, one expects dissidents to direct this type of political action at two important actors: Domestic elites and society at large. Elites are clear targets for mobilization because they possess considerable resources, both financially and politically. Denoeux’s important work on urban unrest in the Middle East demonstrated the disruptive power that "counterelites" possess within the region [ 20]. In the aggregate, society at large likewise controls significant resources. Within the Middle East, the 1979 Iranian Revolution demonstrated the power of a society mobilized for political purposes [ 21]. Combined, the cumulative power of these two societal actors gives non-dissidents good reason to recruit and mobilize them. Successful mobilization of one or both of these groups can help to tip the relative balance of power in favor of non-state dissidents.

The Internet and mobilization

The reduced transaction costs associated with the Internet offer clear advantages for non-state dissident actors seeking to mobilize domestic support. Since mobilization focuses on the organization of resources within states, the Internet provides an avenue for dissidents to bring their messages to entire populations at limited costs. Web sites and e-mails offer low-cost and convenient ways of disseminating recruitment messages and symbols to a targeted audience. Moreover, Internet technologies allow dissidents to communicate with established supporters across long distances instantaneously. This ensures that supporters receive political messages quickly, enabling political support to be drummed up in limited time. In 1999, members of the outlawed Falun Gong in China were able to use e-mails to stage a series of surprise demonstrations in Beijing [ 22]. In the context of the Middle East and other areas where initial Internet access is limited, efforts at mobilization through the Internet may "piggyback" on other preexisting networks within the state. It may be unreasonable for dissidents to focus mobilization efforts on entire populations. By directing Internet-based mobilization at key nodal actors within preexisting networks, dissident messages can be passed on through these preexisting connections through low technologies or personal contact. In the same way that taped sermons from the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini were circulated through preexisting religious connections in Iran, [23] Internet-based messages need only reach certain key actors in order to be circulated more widely.

Efforts at mobilization are likely to involve messages, symbols and images that resonate with the domestic population. Within the context of the Middle East, one expects Internet-based mobilization to be conducted in Arabic, the lingua franca of the region. Mobilizational messages within the Middle East may also utilize overarching religious and political motifs with wide appeal. While political motifs vary from country to country, dissidents may use powerful Islamic imagery and references in order to build domestic support.


Internationalization is a political objective that seeks to gain support from groups or countries within the international community. Whereas mobilization is focused on generating support domestically, internationalization seeks to mobilize resources at the transnational scale. By internationalizing a conflict or political dispute, non-state dissident actors give themselves access to a broader range of resources not available domestically. These resources can include concrete financial assistance or may involve intangible assets such as political support and sympathy. The sheer size of the international community makes internationalization an appealing type of political action. By gaining access to international support, non-state dissidents further equalize the relative balance of power between themselves and states.

As with mobilization, internationalization involves both recruiting and then rallying supporters in efforts to accomplish political objectives. These political objectives are achieved by directing internationalization efforts at five different types of actors. First, dissidents can focus their efforts directly towards other states within the international community. The efforts of Iraqi dissident groups such as the Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi National Accord to gain U.S. support for their efforts to undermine Saddam Hussein’s regime are useful examples of groups seeking direct support from a state [ 24]. The difficulties associated with this type of internationalization make it rare. Communication between states and non-state dissidents is constrained because it takes place outside the normal channels of inter-state communication. Furthermore, assisting a dissident actor within another state’s sovereign territory can be a recipe for international conflict.

Second, internationalization efforts can be directed at societies within other countries. Society-directed internationalization seeks to bypass the problems linked to direct communication with states. By recruiting and mobilizing transnational populations, non-state dissidents can indirectly pressure foreign governments and establish dissident objectives on the international agenda. Dissidents may also be able to garner material support from individuals within other states. The Zapatistas, an insurgent group in Chiapas, Mexico, capitalized greatly on its ability to ally itself with powerful societal actors within the United States, such as student and faculty organizations that were able to publicize and support the Zapatistas’ objectives [ 25].

Third, non-state dissidents can focus internationalization attempts at diaspora populations. Within the context of the Middle East, this audience may be particularly germane owing to the large and influential community of expatriate Middle Easterners. Gaining access to this population allows non-state dissidents to tap into the financial resources of the diaspora community. For example, several dissident groups linked to terrorism such as al-Qaida and Egypt’s al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya have been linked to international charities that tap directly into diaspora populations for financial support [ 26]. Diaspora communities may also be able to influence the domestic environment by demonstrating support for the dissident group to relatives and friends who remain in country.

Fourth, internationalization can seek to involve what has come to be called "transnational civil society" [ 27]. This term most often refers to international organizations, specifically international non-governmental organizations (INGOs). The resources offered by INGOs are rarely financial but rather come in the form of political support. INGOs are increasingly powerful players in the international community because of their ability to exert political pressures on states. INGOs can directly change state policies or can influence states indirectly, by altering public perceptions and opinions [ 28]. INGOs are therefore a potentially powerful ally in non-state dissidents’ efforts to balance the power of states. By gaining access to the political resources of transnational civil society, dissidents improve their chances of directly influencing state behavior and also tap into a larger network of INGO supporters. The previously mentioned Zapatistas of Mexico were able to tap into a variety of human rights INGOs that served as political observers, successfully constraining the Mexican government from using violence against the Zapatistas [29].

Finally, dissidents can focus internationalization efforts at the media. The media provides a multi-faceted way for dissidents to broadcast their message to a variety of actors simultaneously. Media broadcasts, be they regional or international, have the ability to reach policymakers, societal actors, diaspora populations and INGO activists. Media coverage therefore presents itself as a powerful political resource for dissidents, enabling dissident messages to reach multiple audiences with minimal efforts. Referring back to democratic activists in China, the powerful media images streaming out of the country during the Tiananmen Square showdown proved to be a critical component of the students’ political strategy [ 30].

The Internet and internationalization

The Internet offers unparalleled access to the international community. The Internet’s ability to limit transaction costs over transnational distances makes the technology an appealing one for non-state dissidents seeking to gain access to various international communities. Web sites are simple and cost-effective ways of providing information to global actors, giving the international community the ability to access the information from anywhere in the world at any time. E-mail lists and message boards likewise provide instantaneous access to potentially global audiences. It is no surprise to find that many dissident actors do in fact use Web sites and e-mails to generate international support. The Zapatistas from Mexico have used the Internet extensively and built an online network of support throughout the world [ 31].

For non-state dissidents in the Middle East, the messages and symbols used to communicate with the international community are likely to be different from those directed at domestic populations. Arabic-based messages appealing to Islamic values are unlikely to find broad support within the international community. Internationalization efforts are more likely to be conducted in English, the lingua franca of the Internet [ 32] and, arguably, of the world. Internationalization efforts are also more likely to appeal to broader international norms, such as human rights.

Support erosion

Support erosion is a political activity that seeks to erode public support for an opposing actor in a conflict. Whereas mobilization and internationalization are focused on the positive accumulation of resources for dissidents, support erosion seeks to break down the resource and powerbases of states. By eroding support for the state, dissidents can limit the overall amount of financial and political resources at a state’s disposal. This in turn can further improve the relative balance of power of dissidents vis-á-vis states.

While support erosion is separated for analytical reasons here, in practice, this political action is often coupled with efforts at mobilization and internationalization. Messages designed to increase support for dissidents are likely to be paired with messages that are designed to damage support for the state. For example, Falun Gong activists have been active in seeking international and domestic support for their movement but have also actively highlighted human rights abuses against Falun Gong practitioners within China [ 33]. In this way, non-state dissidents can level the playing field with states by improving their own relative power while decreasing that of the state.

Since support erosion is closely linked to both mobilization and internationalization, the audiences for this political action can be domestic and transnational. By eroding domestic support for state policies or for the regime itself, dissidents can exert political pressure on the state and undermine overall regime stability. Likewise, the erosion of international support for a regime or its policies can further weaken regime legitimacy within the international community.

Internet and support erosion

The Internet’s ability to increase transparency and reduce transaction costs offers non-state dissidents considerable advantages in their efforts at support erosion. For non-state dissidents, the Internet can increase transparency by bringing to light the political realities within states. The power of transparency is particularly forceful for those dissidents in authoritarian regimes such as those in the Middle East where political information and internal media coverage is limited. Web sites and e-mails provide an outlet for dissidents to provide information about political improprieties and abuses that can effectively erode both domestic and international support. The reduced transaction costs associated with the Internet allow these messages to be highly visible and constantly updated. China’s Falun Gong activists have actively used the Internet, both through Web sites and through e-mail lists, as a forum to highlight political oppression within China [ 34].

Since support erosion is focused on denying and eliminating resources to the state, the messages and symbols associated with this political action are expected to be negative. For domestic populations, dissidents can use the aforementioned religious and political motifs to negatively portray the state. In the Middle East, one might expect dissidents to present regimes as un-Islamic. For the broader audience of the international community, support erosion is again likely to focus on broad international norms. Dissidents may therefore seek to erode international support for a state by accusing it of oppression or other human rights abuses.

Dynamic II: State goals and access constraint

Based on the above discussion, it may seem as though non-state dissident actors have the upper hand in attempting to equilibrate the relative balance of power between states and dissidents. Allowing dissident actors to accumulate power at the expense of state power is clearly not in the interest of ruling regimes. Dissidents capable of matching or exceeding the relative power of states stand as a direct threat to the rule of the regime. The objective of the state is therefore to limit efforts by non-state dissidents in equilibrating the balance of power between dissidents and states.

The state is not impotent when faced with dissident actors seeking to use the Internet for political action. Rather, states possess a myriad of tools to limit and constrain how dissidents are able to use the Internet to conduct mobilization, internationalization and support erosion. The successful use of the Internet for these three types of political action are based on the assumption that both users and audiences have access to the messages communicated via the Internet. States therefore can constrain the effectiveness of these political actions by limiting user and audience access to Internet technologies. States can limit Internet use by controlling the Internet infrastructure, by actively censoring Internet content or by a combination of the two. Though this paper presents state-imposed access constraints as the second component of its model, this does not imply that these potential constraints are temporally dependent upon dissident activities. In many cases, states’ efforts to control the Internet infrastructure pre-date dissident activities and are taken into account by dissident actors seeking to use the Internet for political action.

Infrastructure constraints

As noted earlier, the Internet relies on significant amounts of infrastructure. The need for a technological infrastructure means that states can impact the ability of dissidents to use the Internet by controlling this electronic infrastructure. This in turn constrains what is available for domestic actors and audiences to use. Since states exist as sovereign actors, they have ultimate control over the scope and scale of their domestic Internet infrastructure [ 35]. While the Internet may be perceived as a monolithic technological structure without geographical boundaries, this view is misguided. On the contrary, the Internet exists in states only through the approval of the ruling regime. Indeed, it is possible for governments to forego the possibility of an Internet infrastructure altogether. Myanmar provides an example of such an extreme case where the ruling junta banned the essential computer infrastructure needed for Internet access [ 36]. In less extreme cases, states can put physical limits on the Internet infrastructure by constraining the number of servers, hosts and Internet providers allowed domestically. In the Middle East, Syria has maintained a firm grip on the Internet infrastructure, slowly providing Internet access to government institutions while altogether preventing widespread public access to the technology [37].

State efforts to limit domestic Internet infrastructure negatively impact the ability of dissidents to use the Internet as a political tool. By controlling the scale and scope of the Internet infrastructure, states limit dissident access to the Internet while also limiting the access of domestic audiences. This most directly impacts the ability of dissidents to use the Internet as a tool for mobilization and for domestic support erosion because these two forms of political action rely on domestic access to the Internet for both users and audiences. This is not without costs for the state. A strategy of limiting Internet infrastructure likewise limits the beneficial impacts of the Internet, imposing opportunity costs on the ruling regime.

Government censorship

In addition to efforts to limit access to Internet infrastructure, states can likewise impact the political use of the Internet through censorship. Unlike infrastructure constraints which limit what is available to actors and audiences, censorship limits how dissidents can use Internet technologies. As sovereign actors, states have the authority to promulgate and enforce censorship regimes within their sovereign territory. States can censor Internet content through legal channels, through technological means or through a combination of the two.

States can impose legal limits on how users are able to use the Internet. Legal censorship can constrain what actors are able to view on or do through the Internet. States concerned about dissident activity can therefore make it illegal to disseminate or view such types of content on the Internet. States can practice explicit or implicit forms of legal censorship. Explicit censorship relies on standardized, written laws that express and define what Internet activities are illegal. In the Middle East, where information control is commonplace, written laws often curb the freedom of political expression, be it through the press or through the Internet. Tunisia in particular has enacted a wide range of Internet-specific legislation that limits any use of the Internet for political activity [ 38]. Implicit censorship is not formally written or promulgated, but exists as informally recognized "red lines" that cannot be crossed without punishment. In Jordan, criticism of the royal family is one such unwritten but widely recognized red line [39].

This legal approach to censorship may be backed up with a host of technological approaches. As noted earlier, Internet infrastructure exists within states only with the approval and oversight of the state. This allows the state to use technological tools such as proxy servers and state-controlled Internet service providers (ISPs) to filter and censor certain types of Internet activities. Proxy servers are special Internet servers that operate as a "middleman" between personal computers and the Internet. By serving in this function, proxy servers can limit which content actors are able to access via the Internet. States can use proxy servers as part of the domestic Internet infrastructure to filter out unwanted or illegal content on Web sites or in e-mails. Furthermore, proxy servers enable states to determine which computers attempted to access what Internet content. Proxy server technology therefore enables states to block messages and Web sites with dissident messages and to determine who is attempting to view such content. Within the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has used a system of proxy servers to filter out both pornographic Web sites and overtly political Web sites [ 40].

States can likewise censor Internet content via government-controlled ISPs. ISPs are companies that provide Internet access to domestic subscribers. With their sovereign authority, states can prevent private companies from providing Internet services, keeping Internet access in the hands of the government. Through government-controlled ISPs, states are able to limit what actors have Internet access and can likewise track the Internet use of subscribers. Dissident organizations or individuals can be denied Internet subscriptions, limiting their ability to use this technology. In Tunisia, a state agency, Agence Tunisienne d’Internet (ATI), maintains a master list of Internet subscribers, enabling the state to deny or shutdown Internet access for specific individuals or groups [ 41]. Government-controlled ISPs also provide an opportunity for state institutions to oversee how domestic actors are using the Internet: what Web sites they are viewing and what types of e-mail they are sending. Saudi Arabia’s ISP reportedly logs and warns users who attempt to access blocked political Web sites [ 42]. These ISPs therefore provide a technological way for the state to limit and monitor dissident content on the Internet.

In general, more authoritarian regimes are more likely to use these government tools to limit dissident activity on the Internet. In the Middle East, highly authoritarian regimes that view open information as inherently threatening and see the Internet as a tool for political dissent are likely to use the full repertoire of infrastructure limitations and censorship activities to limit online political activity. More open regimes are likely to recognize the potential benefits of the Internet, making these governments more likely to use censorship alone as a tool for limiting dissident activity on the Internet.

Dynamic III: Dissident adjustment

Faced with these challenges from the state, non-state dissident actors must either adjust to the constraints put on Internet use or must seek ways to circumvent the barriers erected by states. Based upon the above description, non-state dissident actors can adjust to state limitations in three ways: By adjusting the content of their messages, by adjusting technologically or by adjusting organizationally. Each of these three possible adjustments by dissident actors is a response to state efforts at Internet control.

Message adjustment

Message adjustment is an effort by non-state dissidents to change the content of their political messages. In the face of government censorship that actively limits and constrains the political content of dissident communication, dissidents can avoid politically charged messages that will most likely be censored and perhaps be punished by the state. In the short term, message adjustment is a victory for the state because it signals that dissidents cannot immediately overcome the censorship barriers erected by the state. In the long run, non-state dissidents may use this strategy of message adjustment as a strategy of delay. Rather than disband and cease dissident behavior altogether, message adjustment allows dissidents to keep their dissident organization intact and use the Internet to spread non-political information. This allows dissidents to preserve contact with their powerbase until the dissident actors are able to undertake more sophisticated responses to state barriers.

Technological adjustment

One such more sophisticated change can involve making technological adjustments to circumvent the many technological barriers erected by states that limit free Internet use. Non-state dissidents can use a host of technological tools to evade state efforts at controlling and overseeing Internet use. Messages can be encrypted so as to avoid government censors, and Web sites can use authentication processes to limit access to certain types of materials. Neither of these methods is foolproof as encryption and passwords can be broken. Even if states cannot break coded messages or gain access to password-protected areas, governments can still determine that an e-mail is encrypted or that Web sites require password authentication. Dissidents can also use anonymous electronic mailers or Internet anonymizers which allow users to send e-mails and browse the Internet anonymously, further limiting the censorship powers of the state. Dissidents can also resort to steganographic tools which can hide messages in seemingly harmless pieces of data such as pictures, allowing dissidents to communicate secretly through the Internet. The tradeoff associated with technological adjustment is that increasing technological complexity sacrifices a considerable amount of simplicity, limiting the initial reduction of transaction costs associated with the Internet.

Organizational adjustment

One final way that non-state dissidents can overcome state barriers to Internet use is by adjusting organizationally. Faced with centrally organized and bureaucratic state apparatuses, dissident actors can adjust organizationally, moving towards more networked forms of organization. These networked forms of organization offer dissident actors advantages over the hierarchical structure of states. The horizontal structures associated with networked organizations make it difficult for centrally organized states to counter dissident activities [ 43]. The networked structure of the Internet proves to be an important enabler in becoming increasingly networked. The international scope of the Internet allows dissident actors to network themselves at a transnational scale. This in turn allows dissident actors to conduct operations outside the sovereign territory of certain states. The organizational changes empowered by the Internet are particularly potent for dissidents because it allows these groups to operate transnationally and overcome the constraints of internal censorship and domestic infrastructure limitations.



Case studies

With this dynamic understanding of Internet-based dissidence in mind, it is now constructive to apply this model to case studies in an effort to test the model’s predictive and explanatory powers. This paper will examine case studies from Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In all three countries, the dissident actors examined are Islamist movements seeking domestic political reforms. These three countries were selected because they vary in regime style, ranging from the relatively moderate and open Jordanian regime to the more autocratic Saudi Arabian regime. This allows one to assess how the model of Internet-based dissidence plays out across varied regimes.

1. Jordan and the Muslim Brotherhood

This first case study examines the interaction between the comparatively moderate Jordanian regime and its political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood. While the Muslim Brotherhood does actively utilize its Internet presence for certain political goals, the Brotherhood’s official online activities appear to be constrained by the presence of informal censorship regulations. To overcome these regulations, the Brotherhood has spawned an unofficial Internet presence that allows the organization to operate covertly outside the control of government censorship.

Brief background

The Jordanian sect of the Muslim Brotherhood (al-ikhwan al-muslimoon) was founded in 1945 as a localized offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that had originated in Egypt [ 44]. As with its Egyptian counterpart, the Jordanian Brotherhood is an Islamist organization that seeks to promote Islamic ideals and practices through all aspects of life. The Jordanian regime originally supported the Brotherhood movement during its early years, viewing the organization as an important tool to legitimize the regime’s commitment to religious ideals. In 1953, the Jordanian regime legally recognized the Muslim Brotherhood as a political organization, allowing the Brotherhood to move beyond its grassroots campaigns to true political activism [45].

This political activism did not last long as the Jordanian regime dissolved all political parties in 1957. While it was banned from engaging in political activities, the Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to continue its existence as a grassroots movement, partaking in programs that stressed education, charity and social activities [ 46]. The Brotherhood remained in this informal non-political capacity from 1957 until 1989 when King Hussein reinstated the Parliament and again allowed the formation of political parties.

Since 1989, the Muslim Brotherhood has acted primarily as a sort of loyal opposition group to the Jordanian regime. In the 1989 parliamentary elections, Brotherhood-supported candidates captured 22 out of 80 seats, [ 47] and the movement has consistently remained the largest bloc within the mostly symbolic Jordanian Parliament [ 48]. In 1992, the movement formed its own political party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF). While there is no official connection between the IAF and the Muslim Brotherhood, the former clearly operates as the political wing of the latter, allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to remain as an informal Islamic grassroots organization, thus avoiding political regulations [49].

The political activities and objectives of the Muslim Brotherhood are therefore twofold. First, in its grassroots capacity, the organization serves to call Jordanians to live a more Islamic way of life. The Brotherhood operates charity organizations, educational institutions and local NGOs within Jordan to further this goal [ 50]. Second, in its political capacity, the movement seeks to harmonize Jordanian policies with its Islamic ideology. To this end, the movement rejects the secularization of politics within Jordan, seeking instead, "the application of Islamic Sharia [sic] in all fields" [ 51]. In this political context, the Muslim Brotherhood’s goals are limited in nature. The movement has never sought to directly challenge the power of the state, opting instead for limited political reforms rather than total regime change [ 52]. To achieve these limited goals, the Muslim Brotherhood has rejected all forms of violence, opting instead to use peaceful forms of political pressure. The Internet has presented new opportunities for the Muslim Brotherhood to accomplish its political objectives. The following sections examine how the Jordanian case fits within the previously presented model of Internet-based dissidence.

Dynamic I: Dissident objectives, political action and the Internet


The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan began its first large-scale Internet activity in 1999 with the establishment of its Web site,, which remained the official online voice of the Jordanian Brotherhood until July 2002, when the Web site changed its URL to Though the Web site has undergone alterations to its appearance over the last three years, the fundamental underlying structure of the site has remained largely consistent [53].

The Web site, which is entirely in Arabic, provides both frequently updated components as well as more static pages that have changed little since 1999. The dynamic component of the Brotherhood’s Web site consists largely of what the organization terms "statements." These statements are officially released by the communications office of the Brotherhood and therefore represent the organization’s official view on subjects [ 54]. The Brotherhood prominently displays links to several of these statements on its homepage, updating these links every two weeks or so. A full archived list of statements is likewise provided from the homepage.

Based on an examination of these statements, they appear to fall into three distinct categories. The first type of statement provides basic information about the Brotherhood’s political activities. These statements are typically neutral in tone and simply provide updates about the Brotherhood’s political activities. In the past, the organization has used its Web site to highlight the success of Islamist student elections at Jordanian universities [ 55] and to publicize the winner of the Brotherhood’s own internal elections prior to the national parliamentary elections [56].

Second, the organization’s site provides statements about domestic issues within Jordan. These statements serve to critique the status of domestic policies within Jordan and to call for specific actions to rectify them. In this area, the Brotherhood has been most critical of the state’s quashing of any form of political protest. Many statements make frequent note of protests and demonstrations that the regime has put down, sometimes violently. The Brotherhood occasionally puts forth calls for action, but these calls are kept general in nature and never provide detailed information or instructions. For example, a statement released in July of 2000 affirms the right of anti-Israeli/pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Jordan and calls on Jordanians to continue exercising their lawful right to protest [ 57]. Unlike the informational statements, the domestic-focused statements often include Islamic rhetoric that characterizes Jordanian policies as un-Islamic. The Brotherhood presents its solutions to these domestic problems as viable and truly Islamic. When the Jordanian regime arrested and expelled members of the violent Palestinian group Hamas, the Brotherhood released a statement decrying the regime’s abandonment of the Islamic cause and asserting the Brotherhood’s support for the Palestinian group and its "Islamic" activities [58].

The final type of political statement focuses on foreign political issues. The vast majority of the Brotherhood’s statements fall into this category. In general, the focus of theses statements has been to attack "Zionist" policies and to show support for the Palestinian movement. Since the Web site’s debut, the Brotherhood has consistently demonstrated its support for the Palestinian cause and has issued statements calling for Arab governments, including Jordan, to more aggressively support the Palestinians. The rhetoric within these statements is Islamist in tone, criticizing Jordanian foreign policy, particularly its peace treaty with Israel, as un-Islamic. The Brotherhood presents its own views as appropriate Islamic alternatives to these secular policies. A statement released in 2000 during an Arab League Summit begins with a Qur'anic quote that warns of betraying Allah and then continues to demand that Jordan and the other Arab government reject the legitimacy of Israel and support violent Palestinian groups instead [ 59].

The Brotherhood’s static content is almost entirely informational. The organization provides a general history and a general political platform of the Muslim Brotherhood movement [ 60]. The Web site then provides a history of the movement within Jordan and presents the Brotherhood’s official position on Jordanian policies [ 61]. All of these informational components clearly present the Brotherhood as an Islamist organization committed to Islamic law and ideology.

In addition to this informational static content, the site also prominently displays links to several Palestinian organizations, to other Muslim Brotherhood wings and to Islamic da'awa organizations [ 62]. The movement also provides links to fatwas [ 63] from prominent Islamic scholars on questions of Islamic jurisprudence. These scholars fit within the organization’s anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian framework. For example, the Brotherhood links to fatwas that legitimize Palestinian bombings for the sake of "martyrdom" [64].



There is clear evidence that the Jordanian Brotherhood focuses its Internet activities towards gaining domestic support for its activities. The entirety of the organization’s Internet presence is in Arabic, indicating that its Web site is designed for local consumption. This mobilizational political activity involves both building a support base and calling for political action. As an Islamist organization, the Brotherhood focuses its recruitment efforts by using powerful religious and political motifs, such as the Palestinian issue. Its effort to paint itself as a truly Islamic organization that supports the Palestinian cause is clearly designed to generate support from likeminded individuals within Jordan. Beyond this recruitment component, the Brotherhood uses its Internet site to rally support for specific activities, most notably demonstrations and elections. While the Brotherhood steers clear of providing explicit instructions to its members, the fact that the Brotherhood’s Web site has implored supporters to demonstrate against Jordanian policies signifies that the organization seeks to use the Internet for more than simple recruitment. In addition, the organization has placed its party platform and candidate lists on its Web site in preparation for parliamentary elections. This focus on domestic mobilization fits the general modus operandi of the Brotherhood, as the organization has traditionally focused on mobilizing support through speeches, seminars and conferences within Jordan. Unlike speeches and conferences which can reach only limited audiences at limited times, the power of the Internet allows the Brotherhood to provide mobilizational material to all of its supporters around the clock.


There is little if any evidence that indicates that the Jordanian Brotherhood is seeking to use the Internet for internationalization efforts. Since the entirety of the Brotherhood’s Web site is presented in Arabic, the only international audience for their online material would be regional Arabic speakers. However, the domestic focus of the organization’s Web site activities indicates that the Brotherhood is not in fact seeking outside support. It appears that the only possible international audience for the organization’s message would be diaspora Jordanians. However, there is no evidence that any of the organization’s online material caters specifically to this audience. This lack of internationalization is not surprising given the Brotherhood’s political objectives which focus on achieving domestic changes from within Jordan.

Support erosion

The Brotherhood does seek to erode support of the Jordanian regime, but it does so in an interesting way. While there is some criticism of specific Jordanian policies and actions, the Brotherhood most often seeks to attack Israel and its "Zionist" policies. This is an indirect way of attacking the Jordanian regime, which is one of two Arab countries with peace treaties with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is diametrically opposed to this relationship. By attacking Israel and its policies, the Brotherhood therefore seeks to criticize the Jordanian regime by association.

Dynamic II: State goals and access constraints


The Jordanian regime is one of the most progressive in the Middle East and operates as a constitutional monarchy [ 65]. In modern times, parliamentary elections have been allowed since 1989, though the parliament is largely symbolic in nature. The ruling Hashemite family holds the power within Jordan, and despite its moderate leanings, the regime closely guards its political power. While the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has been co-opted within the regime’s existing political structure as a loyal opposition party, the Brotherhood’s efforts to undermine the Jordan-Israel peace agreement and to create a more genuinely Islamic state are clearly potential threats to the stability of the Jordanian ruling regime.

Unlike many regimes in the region, the Jordanian government has actively sought more local Internet access and has been wary of imposing any sort of restrictions on its use. The state has been an active participant in expanding the scope and scale of the Internet infrastructure within Jordan [ 66]. While private ISPs rely on government-controlled communications infrastructure, the state has done nothing to filter out or limit Internet activities [67].

Despite this comparatively moderate view of the Internet, the Jordanian regime has typically maintained a certain level of control over information within the kingdom. In the past, the regime has censored newspapers and other published material that the state viewed as hostile to the regime. A press law within Jordan restricts any form of expression that "conflicts with the principles of freedom, national responsibility, human rights and values of the Arab and Islamic nation" [ 68]. In general, this law has not been applied to Internet activities within the kingdom [ 69].

Beyond this legal censorship, Jordan operates under a more subtle, informal censorship regime. While analyzing and critiquing state policies has been tolerated, critiques directed against the regime itself or against specific government officials, especially the royal family, are not tolerated. For example, in January 2002, the editor of a Jordanian weekly paper was arrested for publishing an article that directly criticized Prime Minister Ali Aboul Ragheb [ 70]. In a Human Rights Watch report, a former Web site editor within Jordan reported that "we can’t freely talk about the royal family, we wouldn’t think about it as long as the laws are what they are" [71].


Infrastructure constraints

As suggested by this paper’s model, the moderate nature of the Jordanian regime has translated into no attempts to impose limitations on the Internet infrastructure within Jordan. On the contrary, the regime has focused on increasing this infrastructure. This clearly derives from the regime’s progressive perspective that the benefits of the Internet far outweigh its negative aspects.


Jordan’s censorship regime is somewhat enigmatic. On the one hand it actively seeks to control local press, while on the other hand, the regime has not extended this legal censorship to the Internet realm. Rather, the regime has relied largely on informal censorship mechanisms that result in groups self-censoring themselves to avoid direct confrontation with the state. While the Jordanian regime clearly does seek to avoid direct challenges to its stability, this has been accomplished largely through informal censorship policies. This type of informal censorship is not directed at any particular organization such as the Muslim Brotherhood, but it nevertheless does serve to constrain the acceptable limits of expression for such political actors. This outcome of informal censorship is consistent with this paper’s model for moderate regimes. This informal use of implicitly understood "red lines" serves as an important barrier to the Muslim Brotherhood for using the Internet to directly challenge the stability of the Jordanian regime.

Dynamic III: Dissident response


With the Jordanian regime strongly opposed to any form of direct political challenge, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has responded in a surprising fashion. Nearly concurrent with the launch of its official Web site, a second unofficial Web site appeared in London, calling itself the "Letters of the Brotherhood" [ 72]. Associated with this London-based Web site is an underground e-mail list of Brotherhood supporters. This Web site and its e-mail list appear to be a joint endeavor between the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and in Egypt. Supporters who express interest in the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan by contacting the organization through their official e-mail address are directed to send an e-mail to a London-based e-mail account and to visit this unofficial Brotherhood Web site [73].

This unofficial Web site publishes and e-mails out a weekly newsletter that operates well beyond the red lines of informal censorship. The newsletter provides an overview of regional news then presents more in-depth analysis articles. These articles and analyses almost always concentrate on Palestinian issues and describe how Arab governments, especially Jordan and Egypt, have abandoned the Palestinian cause. The newsletter also provides a weekly column from Mustafa Muashur, an Egyptian radical associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This newsletter is uninhibited in its attacks upon the Jordanian regime, often naming the current King Abdullah by name and attacking him and his government’s policies. In an e-mail sent out 25 March 2002, this unofficial newsletter openly attacked King Abdullah of Jordan for seeking to normalize Jordanian relations with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whom the newsletter labels a "butcher" [ 74]. The Brotherhood uses this same e-mail group to send out other material that fits within its ideological framework. This list has been used to send out e-mail versions of the Brotherhood-supported, pro-Palestinian newspaper, as-Sabeel, and to circulate other pro-Palestinian newsletters. A telephone interview with an unnamed director of this Web site denied that the site had any connection with the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan or in Egypt [75].


Message adjustment

The Jordanian Brotherhood’s Internet activities fall within the rubric of message adjustment. The group’s official Web site and materials operate within the acceptable boundaries of political expression in Jordan. The organization uses its official Internet site to attack Israel and to voice concerns over government policies but never directly attacks the Jordanian regime itself. This is consistent with this paper’s model, as the Brotherhood has self-censored its official Internet content from the initial stages of its online presence, thereby avoiding direct confrontation with the regime.

Technological adjustment

Since the Jordanian regime has done nothing in the way of technological censorship, the Brotherhood has not been forced to undertake any technological adjustments.

Organizational adjustment

The Brotherhood’s move to establish an unofficial Web site and e-mail list based out of London highlights the transnational organizational adjustment expected within this paper’s model. The censorship constraints placed on the Brotherhood’s official Internet material have largely been bypassed by going transnational. Indeed, the rhetoric associated with this London-based material goes beyond the acceptable limits of expression within Jordan. By operating at a transnational level that is free from the sovereignty of the Jordanian regime, the Brotherhood has been able to present more radical views for mobilization and to more directly challenge the legitimacy of the Jordanian regime.

2. Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood

This second case study closely examines the dynamic between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian regime, a regime that falls somewhere in between the progressive policies of Jordan and the repressive policies of Saudi Arabia. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt does have an official Internet presence though Egyptian censorship policies that seek to control the Brotherhood’s political activism appear to constrain any efforts at overt political action. As with its Jordanian counterpart, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has moved towards covert, transnational Internet activities that allow the organization to operate outside the constraints found within Egypt.

Brief background of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood was first established in Eygpt by Hasan al-Bana in 1928. As an Islamist organization, the goal of Brotherhood has been and continues to be the establishment of an Egyptian state based on Islamic law (shari'ah) and ideology. During the early years of the organization, the Egyptian regime viewed the Brotherhood and its Islamic activities as an important component of Egyptian society and therefore supported its activities [ 76].

As the Brotherhood became increasingly involved in politics within Egypt, their political activities came to be viewed as a threat to the secularist policies of the Egyptian regime. Disenchanted by Egypt’s passive response to the Jewish-Palestinian violence in 1948, the Brotherhood began to carry out violent actions within Egypt, resulting in the banishment of the group. After being legalized again in 1950 as a religious group, political disputes again resulted in the Egyptian regime banning the Brotherhood once and for all in 1954 [ 77]. Since then, the relationship between the Egyptian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood has been erratic. Though it remains legally banned, the Brotherhood continues to operate within Egypt, walking a fine and fickle line between persecution and tolerance. At times, the state has harshly cracked down on the Brotherhood, rounding up and imprisoning members, [78] while at other times, the regime has sought political co-optation rather than outright confrontation [ 79].

Despite its history of political persecution at the hands of the Egyptian government, the Muslim Brotherhood remains in Egypt as a powerful political and social force. In its modern contexts, the Brotherhood remains committed to its original Islamist goals of establishing an Islamic state within Egypt. The organization operates largely though informal channels, as it has integrated itself into professional unions and student organizations within Egypt [ 80]. In addition to these informal avenues, the Brotherhood has become increasingly involved in Egyptian politics, viewing the parliament as an important way to reform Egypt through its political institutions. Beginning in the late 1980s, the Brotherhood has slowly exerted itself as a powerful opposition force within Egypt, as Brotherhood-backed Islamist candidates have consistently won parliamentary positions [81].

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has focused its activities in two areas. First, the organization operates as a da'awa organization, calling Egyptians to live their lives in accordance with the precepts of Islam. Operating through mosques, charitable organizations and other social service activities, the Brotherhood promotes its Islamic ideology [ 82]. Beyond this religious message, the Brotherhood likewise advocates its Islamist message via the political realm, calling for a change within the Egyptian government. Moderate Brotherhood members seek a gradual approach to change through political mobilization and integration. More radical members of the organization have actively sought confrontation and revolution [ 83]. While the Brotherhood has sprouted several violent offshoots including al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya and Hamas, [ 84] the activities of the mainstream Brotherhood have been largely non-violent in nature. Gaining support and applying political pressure have been critical to the Brotherhood’s Islamist activities. For this reason, the Internet has offered new possibilities for political action to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The following section provides evidences and then analyzes how the Egyptian Brotherhood's political activities fit within this paper’s model of Internet-based dissidence.

Dynamic I: Dissident objectives, political action and the Internet


The Egyptian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood movement began its first ostensible Internet activity in 1998 with the establishment of two separate Web sites. The first Web site is an English-only site that resides on a British server. This Web site has remained fundamentally untouched since 1998 and includes only two pages of information [ 85]. The homepage for this Web site provides a simple history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and then goes on to describe the organization’s structure, key goals and methods of action. This initial page also includes a list of notable scholars associated with the movement and describes several Brotherhood "accomplishments," such as assisting in the liberation of Muslim lands and developing Islamic institutions [ 86]. The second page is essentially a "frequently asked questions" section that includes in-depth responses to specific questions about the Brotherhood. This second page provides detailed answers about the Brotherhood’s position on Islamic economics, political involvement and the state of shari'ah in the Arab world [ 87]. The rhetoric of this English site is moderate yet Islamist in tone as it makes frequent references to the Qur'an and to Islamic thinkers while rejecting the idea of violence as a legitimate recourse within Egypt. The site has no e-mail address associated with it. There is a disclaimer on the first page that notes that "the maintainer of this page is not a member of the al-Ikhwan patry [sic]" and that the page therefore has no political purpose [88].

In conjunction with this English-only Web site, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt also launched an Arabic-only Web site in 1998. This Arabic Web site remained essentially unchanged until it was shutdown in 2001 [ 89]. While in operation, this Arabic site contained content very similar to that found on the English site. The largest component of the site was a page that laid out the Brotherhood’s history within Egypt and described the organization’s political objectives and programs [ 90]. Beyond this historical information, the only other content on this site was a summary of the religious credo of the Brotherhood [ 91]. Not surprisingly, the rhetoric associated with this content was peppered with Qur'anic quotations and exhortations from the Brotherhood’s founding father, Hasan al-Bana. Though the homepage of the site provided links to several other pages on the site, these other pages remained blank throughout the lifetime of the site. As with the English-only site, there was no e-mail account associated with this Web site.

Just as this Arabic Web site went out of commission in 2001, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt launched a newly revamped Arabic-only site. Interestingly, there is almost no dynamic content associated with this newly launched site, meaning that the Brotherhood rarely adds new sections or pages. Much like its predecessor, this new Arabic site provides a brief summary of the organization’s goals and activities [ 92]. These activities and goals are characterized entirely in religious terms, with no mention of politics or of Egypt. Beyond this basic information, the overwhelming majority of the site is focused towards providing Islamic materials, such as books, articles and tapes from Islamist scholars [ 93]. The Brotherhood prominently displays these materials on its homepage. The site likewise provides links to full-text verses of the Qur'an and to Islamic scholars on the Internet [94].



The Arabic Web sites of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt do appear to be a form of mobilization. This mobilization focuses on the religious aspect of the Brotherhood’s agenda rather than on outright political objectives. The organization’s Arabic-only Web site presents the Brotherhood as a religious movement. There is no mention of the Brotherhood’s broader political objectives within Egypt. In this way, the Brotherhood’s official Internet presence appears to be that of a da'awa organization, as it presents Islamic materials and rhetoric in order to call its Web site visitors to the message of Islam. As will be discussed later, this weak and rather static form of religious-focused domestic mobilization fits within the political realities of the Brotherhood which is forbidden by the Egyptian government from actively acting as a political movement.


As with its Jordanian counterpart, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt makes littler or no effort to gain international support for its cause. Besides its purely informational English Web site, there is no concerted attempt by the Egyptian Brotherhood to generate any form of international support for its political activities. The only potential consumer of the Brotherhood’s Arabic content would be other regional actors or diaspora populations. While the Islamist rhetoric and religious content associated with the Brotherhood’s Web site may appeal to users outside of Jordan, there is no evidence that any of the organization’s online material caters specifically to this audience. This lack of internationalization fits within the political objectives of the Brotherhood as the organization is largely focused internally towards Egyptian affairs.

Support erosion

Somewhat surprisingly, there is almost no mention of Egypt anywhere in the Brotherhood’s official Internet materials meaning that there is no material critical of the Egyptian regime. As will be discussed below, this is in agreement with the political realities within Egypt where anti-government sentiment is not allowed in any form.

Dynamic II: State goals and access constraints

The current Egyptian regime, led by long-time president Hosni Mubarak, has walked a fine line in its political dealings over the past several years. Outwardly, the regime has presented itself as a moderate one. It has normalized relations with Israel and is a regional partner with the United States. Internally, Mubarak has maintained autocratic rule within Egypt, intimidating opposition parties [ 95] and using a perennial state of emergency [ 96] to crack down on Islamist groups that threaten the regime’s stability. The Muslim Brotherhood, with its broad societal support and anti-secular ideology, represents one such potential threat to the Egyptian regime.

Egypt’s relationship with the Internet has been an ambivalent one. The regime has recognized the benefits of the technology, yet has moved gingerly towards embracing the technology without restrictions. In general, the regime has allowed Internet activity to expand unimpeded within Egypt. Private ISPs within Egypt utilize government-controlled telecommunications infrastructure, but there is no effort by the government to oversee or filter content within Egypt [ 97].

As is typical of most Middle Eastern regimes, the Egyptian government has been an active censor of all forms of media within Egypt [ 98]. Egyptian law provides stiff penalties for anyone who seeks to publish certain types of material that are deemed offensive by the state [ 99]. Thus far, the Egyptian regime has not extended these censorship laws to cover Internet materials. Indeed, within Egypt, material censored by government sources often appears on the Internet without consequence [100].

As in Jordan, Egypt operates within a system of informal censorship that seeks to prevent any material that directly criticizes the Egyptian regime or government officials. For example, in 1999, Egypt arrested and imprisoned a journalist for criticizing the minister of agriculture [ 101]. This threat of censorship is particularly acute for the Muslim Brotherhood which, as noted earlier, is forbidden from partaking in official political activism. The Egyptian regime has tolerated the Muslim Brotherhood’s religious activism while simultaneously opposing any effort by the Brotherhood to present political messages [102].


Infrastructure constraints

In accordance with the model presented in this paper, the quasi-moderate Egyptian regime has made no efforts to limit the scale and scope of the Internet within Egypt.


As expected, Egypt’s censorship regime is slightly more robust than Jordan’s. The government actively censors media within Egypt while also relying on informal red lines to induce self-censorship and thus limit direct political confrontation. This outcome is in agreement with the predictions of this paper’s model for somewhat moderate regimes. The informal use of implicitly understood "red lines" serves as an important barrier to using the Internet for outright challenges to the regime’s stability. The unique history between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood appears to further disincentify overt political activism by the Brotherhood.

Dynamic III: Dissident response

As discussed above, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, along with the movement’s Jordanian wing, have established an unofficial Internet presence that has allowed the Egyptian Brotherhood to overcome state-imposed constraints on its political activism. As noted earlier, this London-based unofficial Brotherhood newsletter contains significant political material. In April 2002, the Brotherhood utilized this unofficial e-mail list to circulate a leaflet that outlined specific products that Brotherhood supporters should boycott to show support for the Palestinian cause [ 103]. As has been noted previously, this unofficial newsletter also operates well outside the boundaries of informal censorship, as the weekly column by Egyptian Brotherhood notable Mustafa Muashur offers highly politicized commentary that is critical of Arab regimes, including Egypt.

Beyond this aforementioned unofficial newsletter, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has begun a move towards allowing its Internet-based supporters to communicate with each other directly through a Web-based discussion board. Users must register through the Brotherhood’s Web site and once users are approved, they can begin sharing and discussing information with each other. Currently, the board boasts over 2,300 members and over 70,000 messages exchanged [ 104]. This message board provides areas for Brotherhood supporters to discuss and exchange views about politics, regime legitimacy as well as about technical-related issues. This technology also protects the identity of registered users, [105] ensuring that discussions on the board are candid and free of self-censorship.


Message adjustment

The Egyptian Brotherhood’s official Internet activities clearly qualify as message adjustment. Confronted with an Egyptian regime that strongly opposes any efforts by the Brotherhood to express any outright political message, the Brotherhood’s official online material has adjusted to focus its attention towards government-tolerated religious activity. This is consistent with this paper’s model, as the Brotherhood has self-censored its official Internet content from the initial stages of its Internet presence, thereby avoiding direct confrontation with the Egyptian regime.

Technological adjustment

Since the Egyptian regime has done nothing in the way of technological censorship, the Brotherhood has not been forced to undertake any technological adjustments.

Organizational adjustment

As discussed earlier in the Jordanian case, the Brotherhood’s move towards an internationally based unofficial Internet presence highlights the transnational organizational changes expected by this paper’s model. The benefits to this adjustment appear to be significant for the Egyptian Brotherhood, as this transnational adjustment has allowed the organization to move beyond its religious messages to more overtly political messages. Furthermore, the Egyptian Brotherhood’s move towards a more interactive discussion board format highlights how the Internet enables more networked forms of organizations, allowing supporters to interact with each other rather than simply relying on top-down communication.

3. Saudi Arabia and the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia

This case study, which examines the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA), represents the most dynamic and vigorous interaction between dissident objectives and state interests. In MIRA, one finds a dissident actor that is actively and aggressively using the Internet for an extensive range of political purposes. Saudi Arabia, which is the most autocratic regime examined in this paper, has aggressively sought to limit the effectiveness of these political activities, first by limiting Internet infrastructure and then by employing a framework of legal and technological censorship. This in turn has forced MIRA to adjust both technologically and organizationally in order to overcome these constraints.

Brief background of MIRA

The Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) was founded in 1996 by Sa'ad al-Faqih, an exiled Saudi dissident with a long history of political activism. Al-Faqih began his history of political dissidence in 1991 when he and four other Saudi notables began openly calling for Islamic reform within the Saudi kingdom [ 106]. Al-Faqih and his four compatriots drafted a letter of demands that outlined specific concerns about Saudi Arabia’s commitment to shari'a or Islamic law. This first letter, which was further clarified by a lengthier and more detailed memorandum of advice, called for an examination of economic, military, domestic and foreign policies and demanded that these policies be brought in line with the tenets of Islam. Specifically, the letter called for the more equal distribution of public wealth, more accountability of public officials, "restructuring the media to bring them in line with the Kingdom’s policy of serving Islam," abandoning "illegitimate alliances," and codifying laws within the kingdom [107].

The Saudi response to these early attempts at political dissidence was predictably harsh. When al-Faqih and his four companions established an official political organization, the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), the Saudi regime cracked down immediately, threatening arrests and executions [ 108]. As a result, in 1993, al-Faqih and several other CDLR supporters were exiled to Great Britain where CDLR established new headquarters in London and vowed to continue its political activism from abroad. Relying largely on fax machines, CDLR began a campaign of electronic political activism, sending anti-Saudi faxes to over 600 locations within Saudi Arabia [109].

Though al-Faqih was initially involved in these early efforts by CDLR, he grew increasingly disillusioned with the group as it slowly shifted its focus away from Saudi Arabia to broader, more radical Islamic goals. In 1996, al-Faqih broke away from the radicalized CDLR and established the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) in an effort to refocus political action towards Saudi Arabia alone [ 110]. The departure of al-Faqih effectively stripped CDLR of much of its political and financial support, allowing MIRA and al-Faqih to inherit a pre-established support base that had been alienated by CDLR’s abandonment of the Saudi cause [111].

MIRA’s political program is committed to achieving the goals originally set forth by al-Faqih and his four companions in 1991. As with the original letter of demands and the memorandum of advice, MIRA seeks a wide range of reforms within Saudi Arabia designed to harmonize Saudi policies with Islamic laws and ideals. In the short run, MIRA has focused its attention towards achieving limited political goals such as freedom of expression, [ 112] freedom of assembly and the abolition of the secret police within Saudi Arabia [ 113]. Underlying these limited political objectives is a belief that true Islamic reform necessitates a more comprehensive overhaul of the Saudi Arabian regime. While official MIRA materials stop short of calling for an overthrow of the regime, MIRA’s leadership clearly believes that the desired Islamic reforms are incompatible with the ruling House of Saud. In a 1997 interview, al-Faqih remarked that MIRA does in fact expect and seek "either a fall or a change" of the Saudi regime [114].

In order to achieve these Islamic reforms within Saudi Arabia, MIRA "uses all peaceful legitimate means including information, communication and political pressure" [ 115]. For MIRA, Internet-based technologies have been a critical component of its political agenda. Operating from London, MIRA employs an impressive array of Internet technologies to communicate within and outside Saudi Arabia. For its part, Saudi Arabia has vigorously opposed these Internet-based forms of political dissidence, forcing MIRA to react and overcome various state barriers to Internet use. The following sections provide evidence and analysis of the dynamic interaction between MIRA’s dissident activities and Saudi Arabia’s responses.

Dynamic I: Dissident objectives, political action and the Internet


The core component of MIRA’s Internet-based political action has been and continues to be its Web site. MIRA’s Web site,, was activated in 1996 immediately following al-Faqih’s departure from CDLR and has been constantly updated and improved throughout the years. From 1996 to the present, MIRA’s Web site has provided both constantly updated dynamic Web content as well as more static, unchanging information [116].

The first and most important component of MIRA’s dynamic content is its weekly Arabic newsletter, The Monitor [ 117]. These newsletters almost always begin with a lengthy analysis of a current political issue within Saudi Arabia. In general, this analysis presents the facts of a situation, analyzes and attacks how the Saudi regime is handling the issue, and then presents a better and more Islamic solution to the problem. After this initial analysis, shorter articles and commentaries follow. These articles include reports from foreign media sources and articles written by MIRA itself. As with the initial analysis article, these shorter pieces are almost always sharply critical of the Saudi regime and are flavored with Islamic rhetoric. Every single Monitor dating back to the first issue in 1996 is available through MIRA’s Web site with the newest issue prominently displayed on movement’s homepage. This newsletter is also e-mailed to Arabic-speaking supporters within and outside of Saudi Arabia. According to al-Faqih, MIRA’s e-mail list currently numbers about 10,000 recipients, with the majority of those within Saudi Arabia [118].

The second component of MIRA’s dynamic Internet content is its "Arabia in the News" section. Unlike The Monitor, "Arabia in the News" is provided in both Arabic and English, though in slightly different formats. The Arabic component of this section provides Web links to Arabic newspaper articles about Saudi Arabia and the Arab world. MIRA presents articles from Saudi Arabian newspapers such as al-Riyadh, al-Watan and al-Sharq al-Awsat while also providing articles from the independent, London-based al-Quds al-Arabi [ 119]. These articles cover a wide range of topics but typically focus on the domestic, economic and foreign policies of Saudi Arabia. The English content does not provide Web links to Internet articles but rather provides entire texts of articles. MIRA presents articles from an impressive range of sources, including American and British papers such as the New York Times and the London Times and non-Western media sources such as Russia’s ITAR-TASS and several Chinese newspapers. Occasionally, MIRA provides English translations of articles from Arabic newspapers [120].

The third and final part of MIRA’s dynamic Web content is its "Issue of the Week" section. This section is provided only in Arabic and is a written transcript of a weekly in-depth interview with Sa'ad al-Faqih about an important political issue regarding Saudi Arabia. In the earlier days of the movement’s Web site, MIRA provided these interviews as full audio clips [ 121] but for the last two years has provided only a written transcript of the interview [ 122]. Questions are presented by an unidentified reporter to al-Faqih who responds and gives MIRA’s official point of view on the subject. For example, a recent segment involved al-Faqih commenting on the disclosure of Saudi Arabia’s budget and highlighting MIRA’s commitment to economic reforms within the kingdom [123].

In addition to this frequently updated Web site content, MIRA provides static and infrequently updated information via its Internet site. The critical component of this static content is MIRA’s description of its political program. MIRA provides an online version of the 1991 letter of demands in Arabic and in English [ 124]. A lengthier description of MIRA’s political program is likewise provided in Arabic and English [ 125]. The Arabic program is decidedly Islamist in tone as it frequently uses Qur'anic quotes and references to shari'a to justify its political approach. The English content is not entirely devoid of these Islamic references but the English content does focus more attention on broader concepts such as legitimacy and human rights. Consistent with this focus, MIRA provides many links to outside reports from groups such as Amnesty International and Freedom House that criticize the Saudi regime’s human rights record [126].

In addition to this description of the political program, MIRA’s static content is devoted largely to publications. MIRA promotes several Arabic books critical of the Saudi regime, presents a "History of Dissent" within Saudi Arabia and provides Arabic letters from Saudi notables who support MIRA [ 127]. MIRA also provides Arabic audio versions of many of these books and reports in Real Audio® format [ 128]. Much of the English content on MIRA’s site has not changed since 1997 when MIRA discontinued its monthly English newsletter Arabia Unveiled. MIRA’s English content is mostly material that appeared in these newsletters, such as reports commissioned by MIRA in 1996 and 1997 that examine the political and economic situation of specific companies and institutions within Saudi Arabia [ 129]. Other content dating back to Arabia Unveiled includes a "Prince of the Month" segment that gives a sharply critical and usually fictionalized biography of one of Saudi Arabia’s princes [130].

In addition to this Web site content, MIRA makes extensive use of e-mail as it uses an e-mail list of supporters to send out updates and reports regarding MIRA’s Web site or the Saudi kingdom writ large. As noted earlier, one of the primary purposes of this e-mail list is the circulation of MIRA’s Monitor publication which is e-mailed out weekly to those on the list. In addition to these regular newsletter updates, this list also allows MIRA to send out critical updates about evolving situations within Saudi Arabia. These critical e-mails are always in Arabic and are sent out infrequently. In April 2002, the movement sent out an e-mail to alert its supporters that a certain Sheikh Abdul Hamid had been arrested by the Saudi authorities and that all MIRA supporters ought to show their support for the sheikh by demanding his release [ 131].



MIRA is clearly using the Internet to mobilize support for its cause within Saudi Arabia. The majority of the movement’s dynamic Internet content is presented in Arabic for local consumption. MIRA seeks to generate support by presenting its political program as a viable and "truly" Islamic alternative to the Saudi regime. As mentioned above, these religious motifs are plainly evident throughout much of MIRA’s Arabic content. The constant updating of MIRA’s Arabic material and the e-mailing of the Monitor to supporters within Saudi Arabia clearly indicate that the movement is indeed focusing its attention towards generating domestic support for its cause. MIRA legitimizes itself to its support base by presenting itself as an alternative to Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled media. This is most evident in the movement’s Arabic "Arabia in the News" section since it provides articles from state controlled newspapers as well as from independent news sources.

While MIRA is using the Internet in an effort to recruit and maintain supporters, there is no evidence that MIRA is using these technologies to rally this domestic support to engage in specific actions. While some of the emergency e-mail appeals do call for general action against the state, as evidenced by the e-mail about Sheikh Abdul Hamid, specific instructions or locations are not communicated through official MIRA e-mails. This is in accord with al-Faqih’s belief that MIRA’s main goal ought to be building strength within the kingdom before undertaking more ambitious forms of political pressure [ 132].

MIRA appears to direct its mobilization efforts towards society at large and notables, a point which al-Faqih confirmed in an interview [ 133]. MIRA’s Web site is extremely user friendly and provides technological help throughout its pages for general users. In addition, the move towards more audio content appears to be directed at societal users more comfortable listening to than reading Arabic. Regarding the support of elites, al-Faqih has remarked that "... change does not require that the whole people rise up ... It only requires that a group of people, who are ready for the sacrifice and who are flexible, to lead the nation and take the initiative for change." The many Arabic letters from prominent Saudi supporters evidence MIRA’s efforts at gaining elite support.

MIRA’s extensive efforts to use the Internet for mobilizing domestic support clearly derive from the technology’s reduction of transaction costs. According to al-Faqih, the Internet is simply faster and more cost effective than leaflets and fax machines, two of the traditional technologies of domestic mobilization [ 134]. This has allowed MIRA to communicate and interact quickly with large numbers of supporters while using only very limited resources.


MIRA’s Internet site does seek to gain international support, though this goal is secondary to its domestic focus. The fact that MIRA provides a significant amount of English content indicates that the movement is directing some of its message towards international groups. The tone of this English content differs from the Arabic content. Whereas the Arabic material focuses on the Islamic aspect of MIRA's message, the English content presents MIRA as an organization committed to human rights, free speech and political legitimacy within Saudi Arabia. According to al-Faqih, this English content is specifically designed for Western audiences [ 135]. The static nature of much of this English content indicates that this goal of internationalization is indeed secondary to domestic mobilization. That MIRA abandoned its English-only newsletter in 1997 is further evidence of this.

The secondary nature of MIRA’s internationalization efforts makes it difficult to determine MIRA’s intended audience with precision. Many of the English reports put forth by MIRA require detailed knowledge about the inner-workings of Saudi Arabia, suggesting that their focus is the Saudi diaspora community. This is consistent with the fact that MIRA directed its English newsletter, Arabia Unveiled, to this diaspora community. The human rights focus of MIRA’s English content also indicates that the movement may seek to gain INGO support for its activities. Al-Faqih suggested that the English component of the site would be useful for "generalists," researchers and politicians interested in Saudi Arabian affairs [ 136].

Support erosion

Combined with its efforts to gain domestic and international support, MIRA’s Internet activities are also designed to erode support for the Saudi regime. For the domestic audience, nearly all components of MIRA’s Arabic content include some attempt to attack or delegitimize the ruling House of Saud. Consistent with its use of religious rhetoric directed at local Saudis, MIRA uses its entire repertoire of Arabic newsletters, publications and audio clips to characterize the Saudi regime as un-Islamic and therefore illegitimate and corrupt. From the point of view of MIRA, the Saudi regime seeks to control domestic media in an effort to hide its un-Islamic tendencies [ 137]. Therefore, a core component of MIRA’s domestic support erosion revolves around increasing political transparency within the Arabian kingdom by presenting news items in "Arabia in the News" and the Monitor that are not available through state-run media.

As with the Arabic content, the English component of MIRA’s Web site content consistently attacks the Saudi regime. The focal point of international support erosion concentrates on presenting human rights abuses within the kingdom. The English "Arabia in the News" and the movement’s publications are the locus of these efforts to erode support for the regime. Furthermore, MIRA’s Internet links to INGO reports that are critical of the Saudi regime fit within this political goal. Ultimately, MIRA’s poorly defined international audience and the static nature of its English content limit MIRA’s attempts at international support erosion.

Dynamic II: State goals and access constraints


The response of the Saudi Arabian regime to MIRA’s calls for Islamic reform within the kingdom has been expectedly vigorous. Since its earliest days, the Saudi regime has struggled to legitimize its right to rule over the Arabian kingdom. Contrary to the opinions and views of MIRA and its supporters, the House of Saud identifies itself as a truly Islamic regime and has identified itself as the defender of the Islamic faith. To this end, the regime has frequently sought to co-opt religious elites in an effort to legitimize their rule to the people [ 138]. Along with this elite co-optation, the Saudi regime has maintained strict control over all forms of political expression within the kingdom in an effort to squelch any attacks against the regime’s Islamic nature [ 139]. Religion is therefore a key legitimizing force for the ruling House of Saud. For this reason, MIRA’s Islamist political program serves as a potential threat to the Saudi regime.

The government’s initial response to the call of the Internet was to largely reject the new technology. While much of the world, including many of its Arab neighbors, tapped into rapidly spreading Internet technologies, the Saudi regime moved extremely slowly in allowing these technologies within the kingdom. Beginning in 1994, Internet access in Saudi Arabia was limited by the regime to universities and other research-oriented institutions [ 140]. No domestic Internet access was permitted in the kingdom.

In 1997, the regime began moving towards allowing private Internet access within Saudi Arabia and such access debuted in 1999 [ 141]. However, this domestic Internet access has been subject to strict censorship. Prior to the establishment of the Internet within the kingdom, Saudi Arabia had in place a strong censorship regime that placed all media in the hands of the state and punished any form of political dissent or un-Islamic expression [142]. This legal censorship applies to all Internet activities in the kingdom.

This pre-existing legal censorship regime has been bolstered by a powerful technological approach to Internet censorship. All Internet traffic going into and leaving Saudi Arabia goes through a centralized bank of proxy servers in the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology. While the Saudi regime does allow private ISPs, these private companies must still utilize the government’s proxy servers [ 143].

The primary focus of this proxy server technology has been to filter and log Internet activity within the kingdom. This centralized server uses filtering software that blocks Web sites that have been deemed inappropriate or threatening to the Saudi regime [ 144]. Users can request that specific sites be blocked or can request the unblocking of mistakenly banned Web sites. Users attempting to access a blocked site are alerted that their access to the site has been logged [ 145]. According to Saudi Arabia’s Internet Services Unit, these proxy logs are kept confidential but can be used to prevent "excessive network abuse" [ 146]. While the official purpose of the filtering software is to block out pornography, MIRA’s Web site is one of the many political Web sites that the Saudi regime has sought to ban within the kingdom, and al-Faqih reported that several active MIRA supporters have been traced and arrested with the help of this proxy server technology [147].


Infrastructure constraints

The first stage of the Saudi’s response to the Internet clearly falls within the rubric of limiting domestic infrastructure. This effort to limit Internet access in the Saudi kingdom was not ostensibly directed at MIRA nor at any other specific group. Rather, these attempts to limit Internet access arose from general fears about the subversive nature of the Internet. The possibilities of free political expression and dissident activities along with undesirable content such as pornography and gambling came to be viewed as a threat by the regime. Rather than selectively limit certain types of Internet activity, it was simply easier for the regime to limit the technology altogether. Of course, the regime’s overall rejection of the Internet imposed costs on the country, as it was unable to integrate itself into the growing possibilities of the Internet. As a result, the regime moved towards allowing domestic access, albeit censored access.


The solution to the state’s fears about the potential negative uses of the Internet was the establishment of its highly complex censorship regime. This censorship regime has allowed the Saudi government to tap into the Internet while filtering out unwanted or threatening content. As indicated above, this technological censorship has been more clearly directed at specific groups, such as MIRA. The fact that Saudi Arabia has bolstered its pre-existing censorship laws with its technological approach signals how seriously the regime views the threats from Internet-based political action. This combination of infrastructure limitations and censorship activities is consistent with this paper’s predictions for authoritarian regimes that view uncontrolled political information as inherently threatening.

Dynamic III: Dissident response

MIRA’s response to Saudi Arabia’s efforts to limit Internet-based political action have been surprisingly dynamic and sophisticated. Prior to 1999, when domestic Internet infrastructure was limited by the Saudi regime, MIRA provided detailed instructions on ways that supporters could overcome these barriers. MIRA instructed its supporters to use Internet access available through universities in order to gain access to MIRA materials and then to use word of mouth or low technologies such as photocopies to pass the information on. It likewise instructed members to open Internet accounts in neighboring Gulf countries and dial out of the country to get online [ 148].

As Internet access became more available within Saudi Arabia, MIRA turned its efforts towards developing ways to overcome the intensive censorship efforts. First, MIRA began changing its Web site address name so as to avoid the state’s filtering mechanism. As the state responded more quickly to these address changes, MIRA turned towards an even more complex system. MIRA’s Web site now uses an automatically randomized port changer that slightly alters the Web site’s address to one of 64,000 possibilities without actually registering a new domain [ 149]. According to al-Faqih, since moving to this technology, Saudi authorities have been unable to block out MIRA’s Web site, which reportedly has increased the number of page accesses per day from 20,000 to over 300,000 [ 150]. Supporters simply send an e-mail to a specified account and they receive an automated response telling them the address of the Web site.

In addition to this address changing, MIRA has instructed its members to use Internet-based technologies that protect their identities in an effort to decrease the threats of censorship. MIRA’s Web site recommends that its supporters use anonymous e-mail accounts from Yahoo! or Hotmail. Moreover, MIRA has provided links to anonymous proxy servers such as Anonymizer and Safeweb in order to further limit the effectiveness of online censorship [ 151].

Finally, MIRA has recently moved towards allowing its users to communicate with each other through a newly started discussion board and through audio chat rooms. To utilize the discussion board, users must register through MIRA and, once users are approved, they can begin sharing and discussing information with each other. Currently, the board boasts over 7,000 members and over 130,000 messages exchanged [ 152]. MIRA posts its Monitor as well as emergency e-mails on this board but the interaction is largely between members. The message board provides areas to discuss politics, regime legitimacy along with technical Internet-issues. Users often share information and articles not provided by MIRA and provide technical advice for other MIRA supporters. MIRA has also begun to use PalTalk, a voice enabled chat Web site that allows MIRA supporters to talk to each other and to MIRA’s leaders during scheduled chat sessions. Though these rooms are limited to 200 concurrent users, al-Faqih reports that this technology is useful for allowing supporters to share information amongst themselves [153].


Message adjustment

There is no evidence that MIRA has attempted to adjust its Internet messages in order to avoid Saudi censorship. Since MIRA’s leadership operates out of London and is immune to political pressure from the Saudi regime, it has not been forced to alter its political content. The movement has remained consistently critical of the Saudi regime and similar anti-regime rhetoric has filled MIRA’s Web site from 1996 up until the present.

Technological adjustment

MIRA has clearly focused its adjustment efforts at using technology to overcome state-erected barriers to Internet use. As the situation within Saudi Arabia has changed, these technological responses have likewise changed. MIRA has used a combination of simple technologies, such as easily accessible anonymous browsing services, and more complicated solutions such as its address randomizer. What is so remarkable is the balance that MIRA has struck between technological complexity and ease of use. The address randomizer is ostensibly technologically complex, but MIRA has used it in such a way so as to limit the complexity for the end user.

Organizational adjustment

MIRA has clearly demonstrated the organizational changes predicted by this paper’s model of Internet-based dissidence. First, the organization operates at a transnational level from London. This has allowed the movement to avoid political pressure from Saudi Arabia because it operates outside the locus of the regime’s sovereignty. The movement’s move towards using more interactive technologies such as the discussion board and audio chat room highlights how the Internet enables networked organizations. These two technologies have subtly changed the organizational structure of MIRA because they allow MIRA supporters to interact with each other, rather than simply relying on top-down communication from London. Al-Faqih himself has noted that MIRA lacks any sort of vertical, hierarchical organization within Saudi Arabia but that the movement does enjoy a "broad horizontal popularity" [ 154].




The Internet-based dissident model presented in this paper is a useful tool for understanding how and why non-state dissident actors seek to use the Internet for political action. For all three case studies examined, the dynamic interaction between dissident objectives and state interests progressed in ways that were consistent with the overall structure of the model.

First, it is evident that non-state dissident actors do seek to use the Internet for political action. Even in the Middle East, where one finds rather limited Internet infrastructures and active censorship regimes, dissident actors are clearly seeking to use the Internet to engage in political activities. MIRA and the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and in Egypt all maintain Web sites and operate e-mail lists for political purposes.

The nature of these political activities is likewise generally consistent with this paper’s model. This model presented three typologies of Internet-based political action sought by dissident actors: Mobilization, internationalization and support erosion. In the case studies examined in this paper, there was a clear bias by the three dissident actors towards domestic audiences. MIRA and the two Muslim Brotherhood wings clearly focused the majority of their Internet efforts towards domestic mobilization. The groups’ Internet sites and e-mail lists provide the vast majority of their information in Arabic and their content focuses on Islamic rhetoric and motifs familiar to domestic users. Support erosion is likewise domestically focused. MIRA directly attacks the Saudi regime through its Internet activities while the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in Jordan utilize their underground non-official Internet activities to attack the Egyptian and Jordanian regimes.

While internationalization and international-based support erosion present themselves as theoretical forms of political action in this paper’s model, the dissident actors examined in this paper exhibited only limited efforts to appeal to international audiences. Only MIRA attempted any serious efforts to generate international support for its cause and to bring international attention to the Saudi regime and its human rights record. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in Jordan demonstrated extremely limited efforts at political activities focused towards international actors. This may be a result of the unique political objectives of the actors rather than an overall weakness with the model. The inherently politico-religious objectives sought by these three Islamist organizations have limited international appeal beyond their domestic audiences.

Beyond simply describing how dissident actors seek to use the Internet for political action, this paper’s model likewise succeeded in explaining why groups use this technology. In all three cases, the reduced transaction costs associated with the Internet allowed dissidents to communicate and interact with their respective powerbases. Furthermore, efforts by MIRA and the two Muslim Brotherhood wings to provide information and news not officially sanctioned or covered by local media are clear attempts to increase political transparency within Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

The three regimes likewise acted in ways consistent with the predictions of this paper’s model. Saudi Arabia’s dual efforts to both limit the domestic Internet infrastructure and to censor, through technological and legal means, overtly political Internet content is consistent with the regime’s authoritarian tendencies which perceive Internet technologies as a political threat. As expected, the more moderate regimes of Jordan and Egypt relied solely on informal censorship regimes to limit the range of acceptable Internet content.

In all three cases studies, the dissident actors took actions to overcome the government-established barriers to Internet-based political action. MIRA clearly demonstrates the widest range of responses, largely because it faced the most aggressive state constraints. MIRA demonstrated its ability to overcome Saudi-imposed infrastructure constraints and has since demonstrated its ability to respond technologically to the Saudi filtering system. The responses of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in Jordan have been decidedly subtler. In the face of informal censorship regimes, these organizations have kept their official Internet material within the understood limits of political acceptability. Yet, these two wings of the Muslim Brotherhood have moved towards providing unofficial Internet material covertly that pays no heed to the Jordanian and Egyptian informal censorship regimes. Likewise, all three dissident groups, or at least their Internet-savvy support base, have demonstrated their tendencies to move towards more networked structures, particularly at a transnational scale. MIRA’s case necessitated transnational networking due to the organization’s state of exile, yet the two camps of the Muslim Brotherhood have likewise moved towards a transnational structure via their London-based "unofficial" newsletter. MIRA and the Egyptian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood have also facilitated intra-group networking by establishing chat rooms and message boards.

Broader implications

Based on the evidence presented in this paper, a series of broader implications emerge that will be critical for understanding the future of Internet-based political action.

The censorable nature of the Internet

First, contrary to conventional wisdom, the Internet can be censored. While the Internet is often portrayed as a free for all, where individuals and groups can express a limitless range of opinions and beliefs, this view does not reflect the reality of the situation. The Saudi Arabia case clearly demonstrates that a committed state is capable of censoring a staggeringly large portion of the Internet. While it is true that MIRA has found ingenious ways to circumvent this censorship, this group represents the pinnacle of technological expertise. Dissident actors that lack the expertise and resources of MIRA simply cannot function effectively within Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the Egyptian and Jordanian cases demonstrate how censorship functions in the absence of technological instruments. My research agrees with Jon Anderson’s findings that political expression does not exist within a vacuum, but rather operates within accepted societal norms [ 155]. These norms can induce self-censorship, as is found on the official Internet sites of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in Jordan. This is good news for states concerned about outright political challenges. It is possible to reap the rewards of Internet access without accepting all of the potential negative consequences. My research finds that idealists who believe that the Internet is uncensorable need to check their assumptions.

Message segmentation

This paper also indicates that the Internet does allow for the segmentation of messages to different audiences, particularly where those audiences speak different languages. This finding directly challenges scholars such as McLuhan and his followers who view technology and therefore the Internet as homogenizing force [ 156]. The interconnected structure of the Internet may make it appear difficult to segment and separate information for different audiences, but this task is greatly enhanced when linguistic differences distinguish potential audiences. The vast linguistic differences between Arabic and English allow a group such as MIRA to present itself one way to its domestic audience and another way to its international audiences. Of course, this is not limited exclusively to Arabic and English, but can be generalized to any sufficiently dissimilar languages. This fact may prove to be an important enabling factor in Internet-based dissidence, allowing a single group to present multiple messages and narratives to various audiences, thereby increasing its potential support base.

Audience selection: Political utility vs. accessibility

As noted above, international-focused forms of political action were largely ignored by the dissident groups examined in this paper. Rather, dissident actors focused their attention towards domestic audiences. This indicates that dissident actors seeking to engage in Internet-based political action favor political fungibility over audience accessibility. In the case of the Middle East and for other areas with low domestic Internet diffusion, international audiences, particularly from Europe and the United States, present themselves as a more readily accessible audience. Despite this high accessibility, international audiences offer limited political utility when compared with local domestic audiences that can more readily impact political realities on the ground within their own locale. Dissidents therefore appear willing to devote resources in order reach audiences with limited accessibility but high political utility. This preference is bound to shape and mold the behavior of dissident actors, as the Internet becomes an increasingly fertile technology for political dissidence. While the Internet presents itself as a portal to a global audience, my research supports Appadurai's argument that political activity remains rooted in local realities [ 157]. These findings indicate that scholars, such as Florini [ 158], who concentrate much of their attention towards international audiences and transnational civil society, should rethink where the focus of Internet-based political action lies.

The emerging balance of power between states and dissidents

The final broad implication emerging from this paper concerns the balance of power between states and dissident actors. It is clear both from the theoretical model presented and from the three case studies examined that there is a dynamic interaction of state and dissident interests that is playing itself out on the Internet. Dissident actors are clearly seeking to use the Internet to engage in political activities while states are constantly trying to contain and limit these potentially threatening political activities. The trends presented in this paper indicate that the future lies with dissident actors. In this way, my research corroborates the work done by Arquilla and Ronfeldt who have argued that power is shifting away from hierarchical states to more networked sub-state actors [ 159]. While it is true that the Internet is limitable and censorable, it is likewise evident that truly committed dissident actors with sufficient resources are capable of finding ways around state-imposed barriers. While the Egyptian and Jordanian cases present rather mundane examples of the adaptability and flexibility, the MIRA case demonstrates a much more dynamic and vigorous response to state-imposed constraints. It is even more striking that such responses emerged in a region where initial Internet access is so limited. As Internet access grows around the world and diffuses to poorly connected regions, it is likely that Internet-based political dissidence will grow and evolve as well. Any state that accepts the benefits of the Internet therefore accepts the technology’s potential threats as well. The result is likely to be a further weakening of individual nation-states and the empowerment of dissident actors with powerful political messages End of article

About the Author

W. Sean McLaughlin is a research analyst with DFI Government Services, a Washington, D.C.-based defense research and analysis firm. He is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service where he majored in Science, Technology and International Affairs and minored in Arab Studies. The views presented in this paper are his alone and do not represent the opinions or views of DFI Government Services, DFI International or any of its clients.



This paper was originally conceived and written as a senior honors thesis at Georgetown University. Special thanks go to Dr. Bernard I. Finel for his role as advisor and mentor on this project.



1. See Thomas L. Friedman, 2000. The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization. New York: Anchor Books.

2. See Clifford Bob, 2000. "Beyond Transparency: Visibility and Fit in the Internationalization of Internal Conflict." In: Bernard I. Finel and Kristin M. Lord (editors). Power and Conflict in the Age of Transparency. New York: Palgrave, pp. 298-300.

3. For a good overview of non-violent dissidence, see Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, 2000. A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. New York: St. Martin's Press.

4. See Manuel Castells, 2000. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: Volume I: The Rise of the Network Society, Second edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers; Manuel Castells, 1997. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: Volume II: The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers; and, Manuel Castells, 2000. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: Volume III: End of Millennium. Second edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

5. Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: Volume I: The Rise of the Network Society, p. 500.

6. See for example Arjun Appadurai’s work on "scapes": Arjun Appadurai, 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota; and, Ithiel de Sola Pool, 1990. Technologies Without Boundaries: On Telecommunications in a Global Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

7. For a general discussion see, David J. Gunkel, 2001. Hacking Cyberspace. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press; and, Philip M. Taylor, 2000. "New Ways to Break the Law: Cybercrime and the Politics of Hacking." In: David Gauntlett (editor). Web Studies: Rewiring Media Studies for the Information Age. New York: Oxford University Press.

8. See Dorothy E. Denning, 2000. "Activism, Hacktivism and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool for Influencing Foreign Policy." Computer Security Journal, (Summer).

9. See Dorothy E. Denning, testimony on Cyberterrorism, before the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism, Committee on Armed Services, U.S. House of Representatives, 23 May 2000, at

10. See John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, 2001. Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND; and, John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, 1997. "A New Epoch – And Spectrum – of Conflict," In John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt (editors). In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND.

11. A general overview is found in C.B. Gabbard and G.S. Park, 1995. The Information Revolution in the Arab World: Commercial, Cultural and Political Dimensions: The Middle East Meets the Internet. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND.

12. Jon W. Anderson, 1998. Arabizing the Internet. Emirates Occasional Paper. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research.

13. Jon B. Alterman, 1998. New Media, New Politics?: From Satellite Television to the Internet in the Arab World. Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

14. Based on a research survey done by the Research Unit of the magazine Internet Arab World. See Survey included the following countries within the Middle East: United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Sudan, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. Population statistics from Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook 2000 (Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 2000).

15. See Global Reach, "Global Internet Statistics (By Language)," 30 September 2001, at

16. See Human Rights Watch, 1999. The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa: Free Expression and Censorship. New York: Human Rights Watch.

17. Dahl’s work on oppositions has noted the factionalization that is associated with political oppositions; see Robert A. Dahl (editor), 1966. Political Oppositions in Western Democracies. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press; and, Robert A. Dahl (editor), 1973. Regimes and Oppositions. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

18. See Craig Calhoun, 1994. Neither Gods Nor Emperors: Students and the Struggle for Democracy in China. Berkeley: University of California Press.

19. Calhoun, 1994. Neither Gods Nor Emperors.

20. See Guilain Denoeux, 1993. Urban Unrest in the Middle East: A Comparative Study of Informal Networks in Egypt, Iran, and Lebanon. Albany: State University of New York Press.

21. See Thomas M. Ricks, 1979. The Iranian People’s Revolution Its Nature and Implications for the Gulf States, CCAS Reports, number 9. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.

22. See "Falun Gong Used Internet to Mobilize Demonstrations," Hong Kong Voice of Democracy, 14 May 1999, at

23. See Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi and Ali Mohammadi, 1994. Small Media, Big Revolution: Communication, Culture, and the Iranian Revolution. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

24. See, for example, Anthony Shadid, 2002. "CIA Met with Iraqi Opposition Agents, Discussed Ousting Hussein, Dissidents Say," Boston Globe, 28 February 2002, p. A1.

25. See Chetan Kumar, 2000. "Transnational Networks and Campaigns for Democracy," In: Ann M. Florini (editor). The Third Force: The Rise of Transnational Civil Society. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, pp. 115-142.

26. See BBC News, 2002. "U.S. Freezes Saudi Charity Assets," BBC News, 12 March, at

27. See Sandra Braman and Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi (editors), 1996. Globalization, Communication and Transnational Civil Society. Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press.

28. Ann M. Florini and P.J. Simmons, "What the World Needs Now?" 2000. In: Ann M. Florini (editor). The Third Force: The Rise of Transnational Civil Society. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

29. Kumar, "Transnational Networks and Campaigns for Democracy."

30. See Zhou He, 1996. Mass Media and Tiananmen Square. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

31. See David Ronfeldt and Armando Martinez, 1997. "A Comment on the Zapatista 'Netwar'," In: John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt (editors). In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, pp. 369-391. For a sampling of this network of support, see

32. A 2000 report noted that 78 percent of Internet content was in English; see United States Internet Council and ITTA Inc., "State of the Internet 2000," 1 September 2000, available at

33. See John Pomfret, 2002. "Fight Over Banned Chinese Sect Moves to US," Washington Post, 12 March, p. A15.

34. See Falun Dafa Information Center, "Falun Gong Human Rights Update," at, accessed 1 March 2002.

35. Gabbard and Park, The Information Revolution in the Arab World, pp. 14-16.

36. New York Times, 2001. "The Ruin of Myanmar," 19 November 2001, Section 4, p. 14.

37. Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa, pp. 55-58.

38. Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa, pp. 58-66.

39. Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa, p. 48.

40. Brian Whitaker, 2000. "Saudis Claim Victory in War for Control of the Web," The Guardian (London), 11 May, p. 17.

41. Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa, pp. 60-61.

42. Douglas Jehl, 1999. "The Internet’s 'Open Sesame' Is Answered Warily," New York Times, 18 March, p. A4.

43. See John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, 1997. "The Advent of Netwar," In: John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt (editors). In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, pp. 275-293.

44. For a good overview of the organization’s history in Jordan, see Shmuel Bar, 1998. Data and Analysis: The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. Tel Aviv, Israel: Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, June.

45. Hani Hourani, Taleb Awad, Hamed Dabbas and Sa'eda Kilani, 1993. Islamic Action Front Party. Amman, Jordan: al-Urdun al-Jadid Research Center, September, pp. 8-16.

46. Bar, Data and Analysis: The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, pp. 27-28.

47. See Alan Cowell, 1989. "Militan Muslims Gain in Jordan Voting," New York Times, 10 November, p. A3; and Bar, Data and Analysis: The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, p. 41.

48. The exception being in 1997 when the Brotherhood boycotted parliamentary elections; see, "Jordan Faces Political Crisis as Opposition Parties Boycott Elections,", 17 July 1997, at

49. For an overview of the Islamic Action Front, see Hourani, et al., Islamic Action Front Party.

50. See especially Quintan Wiktorowicz, 2001. The Management of Islamic Activism: Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and State Power in Jordan. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 83-110.

51. Hourani et al., Islamic Action Front Party, p. 30. Shari'ah is the Arabic term for Islamic law.

52. Wiktorowicz, The Management of Islamic Activism, pp. 4-5.

53. This is based on examining archived versions of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s Web site ( through the Internet Archive, which provides archived copies of Internet sites, at

54. See for example Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, "Declarations and Statements," archived version at, accessed 22 March 2002.

55., accessed 20 March 2002.

56. Jordan Times, "Islamist Pragmatism," Jordan Times, 3 March 2002.

57. See Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, "Statement," 10 July 2000, at

58. See Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, "Statement About the Removal of the Political Office of Hamas," 22 November 1999, at

59. Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, 2000. "Statement on the Occasion of the Convening of the Unscheduled Arab Summit," 20 October 2000, at

60. Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, "Foundation [of the Brotherhood]," at, accessed 21 March 2002 ; and Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, "The Brotherhood and Party Pluralism," at, accessed 21 March 2002.

61. Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, "Establishment of the Organization in Jordan," at, accessed 21 March 2002; and Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, "Goals and Means," at, accessed 21 March 2002.

62. Da'awa is Arabic for a religious calling or invitation. Da'awa organizations are Islamist in nature and seek to call and invite people to the Islamic faith.

63. Fatwa is Arabic for a legal opinion or decision.

64. See for example Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, "Fatwa of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi," at, accessed 20 March 2002.

65. See The Constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (1952), at

66. See for example Jordan Times, 2000. "Jordan Telecom to Invest $400 Million to Upgrade Telecommunications Infrastructure," 29 March 2000.

67. Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa, pp. 45-46.

68. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 1998. Press and Publications Law, article 5, quoted in Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa, p. 48.

69. See Ambassador Marwan Muasher, 1999. "Impacts of the Internet in Jordan," (speech delivered to Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies on 23 March 1999), at

70. Center for the Protection of Journalists, 2002. "Jordan: Editor Arrested for Publishing 'False Information," 15 January 2002, at

71. Quoted in Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa, p. 48.

72. See Muslim Brotherhood, "Letters of the Brotherhood," at, accessed 28 March 2002.

73. This is based on e-mail correspondence by the author who presented himself as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan by using an anonymous e-mail address.

74. E-mail of unofficial Muslim Brotherhood newsletter received by the author, 5 April 2002.

75. Anonymous male, editor of "Letters of the Brotherhood," interview by author 10 April 2002.

76. For the seminal work on the initial history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, see Richard P. Mitchell, 1993. The Society of the Muslim Brothers. New York: Oxford University Press.

77. For a complete chronology of these important events, see Tore Kjeilen, "Muslim Brotherhood – Egypt," Encyclopaedia of the Orient, at, accessed 3 April 2002.

78. For example, see Michael Georgy, 1994. "Taking on the Brotherhood," Jerusalem Post, 28 July 1994, p. 28.

79. For example, see Mary Curtis, 1987. "Islamic Militants Join Egyptian Mainstream," Christian Science Monitor, 13 July 1987; and, Robin Wright, 1987. "Third World Review: Will the Brotherhood Come Into the Family?" The Guardian (U.K.), 18 September 1987.

80. Geneive Abdo, 2001. "How Moderate Islam is Transforming Egypt," Washington Post 5 November 2001, p. B-05.

81. See Wright, 1997. "Third World Review: Will the Brotherhood Come into the Family?" Christian Science Monitor, 18 September 1997; and, James Drummond, 2002. "US Attacks Put Cairo Islamists on Defensive," Financial Times (U.K.), 9 January 2002.

82. See Chris Hedges, 1994. "Egypt Begins Crackdown on Strongest Opposition Group," New York Times, 12 June 1994.

83. See Al-Ahram, 1995. "Politics in God’s Name," Al-Ahram (Egypt), 16 November 1995, at

84. Federation of American Scientists, 2002. "Muslim Brotherhood," 8 January 2002, at

85. This is based on examining archived versions of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Web site ( through the Internet Archive, which provides archived copies of Internet sites, at

86. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Muslim Brotherhood Movement Page," at, accessed 2 April 2002.

87. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Frequently Asked Questions," at, accessed 2 April 2002.

88. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Muslim Brotherhood Movement Page," at, accessed 2 April 2002.

89. This is based on examining archived versions of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Web site ( through the Internet Archive, which provides archived copies of Internet sites, at

90. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "A Glance at the Muslim Brotherhood Group," at, accessed 1 April 2002.

91. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Doctrine," at, accessed 2 April 2002.

92. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Goals of the Site," at, accessed 2 April 2002; and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Method of the Movement," at, 2 April 2002.

93. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Books of the Movement," at, accessed 3 April 2002; Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Chosen Articles," at, accessed 3 April 2002; and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Lectures," at, accessed 3 April 2002.

94. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Under the Auspices of the Qur'an," at, accessed 1 April 2002; and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "The Authorities of the Movement," at, accessed 1 April 2002.

95. See Douglas Jehl, 1995. "Egyptians Vote Today, but Islamic Opposition Group is Barred," New York Times, 29 November 1995.

96. Arabic Republic of Egypt, Law Number 162 Concerning the State of Emergency (1958, as amended).

97. Human Rights Watch, 1999. "Censorship, Restrictions Curb Internet Growth in Mideast," 7 July 1999, at

98. Committee to Protect Journalists, "Egypt (2001)," at, accessed 2 April 2002.

99. For a list of such offensive activities, see Middle East Times, "11 Commandments of Censorship," Middle East Times, 14 September 1997, at

100. See Sarah Gauch, 2001. "Technology: Effects of Arab Censorship Blunted by the Internet," Christian Science Monitor (29 January).

101. Committee to Protect Journalists, "Egypt (1999)," at, accessed 3 April 2002.

102. See U.S. Department of State, "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Egypt," 3 February 2001, at

103. E-mail received by the author, 5 April 2002.

104. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, "Discussion Board," at, accessed 3 April 2002.

105. Registered users can find out information about other registered users, but the e-mail identity of all users remains confidential to all.

106. The most complete history of this dissident activity can be found in Mamoun Fandy, 1999. Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent. New York: St. Martin's Press, pp. 116-167.

107. For English text of the letter of demands, see MIRA, "Appendix: Text of the Letter of Demands," at, accessed 15 March 2002.

108. Aziz Abu-Hamad, 1994. "Saudi Dissent – US Silence," Christian Science Monitor, (11 May), p. 23.

109. Louise Lief, 1995. "Waging War by Fax Machine," U.S. News & World Report (27 November), p. 51.

110. See Mamoun Fandy, 1999. "CyberResistance: Saudi Opposition Between Globalization and Localization," Comparative Studies in Society and History, volume 41, (January), pp. 137-138; and, Con Coughlin, 1996. "Focus: Middle East Terror," Sunday Telegraph (U.K.) (30 June), p. 24.

111. Fandy, Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent, pp. 141-144.

112. In Islamic law, freedom of expression is a basic right but Islamist groups often add the caveat that this expression cannot overstep the boundaries of Islamic law and ideals. For a detailed discussion on this see Mohammed Hashim Kamali, 1997. Freedom of Expression in Islam. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society.

113. For a complete rundown of MIRA’s political program, see MIRA "The Political Program of the Movement," at (Arabic) and (English), accessed 14 March 2002.

114. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 1997. "Internet Interview with Saudi Opposition Leader," 18 August 1997.

115. MIRA, "About MIRA," at, accessed 1 March 2002.

116. This is based on examining archived versions of MIRA’s Web site ( through the Internet Archive, which provides archived copies of Internet sites, at

117. The following evidence is based on examining a random selection of MIRA Monitors, available through

118. Sa'ad al-Faqih, Director of MIRA, interview by author, 8 April 2002.

119. This is based on an examination of MIRA’s archives of Arabic "Arabia in the News," at

120. This is based on an examination of the MIRA’s archives of the English, "Arabia in the News," at

121. For example see the 16 May 1998 archived version of MIRA’s Web site at, accessed 12 March 2002.

122. The archive is at

123. See MIRA, "Issue of the Week (142)," at, accessed 17 March 2002.

124. See MIRA, "Appendix: Text of the Letter of Demands," at , accessed 15 March 2002.

125. See MIRA "The Political Program of the Movement," at (Arabic) and (English), accessed 14 March 2002.

126. See MIRA, "Analyses and Studies," at (Arabic) and (English), accessed 19 March 2002.

127. For books, see MIRA, "New Books," at (Arabic), accessed 17 March 2002; for dissent history, see MIRA, "History of Dissent," at (English), accessed 16 March 2002; for letters, see MIRA, "Written Responses," at, accessed 16 March 2002.

128. See MIRA, "Audio Materials," at (Arabic), accessed 19 March 2002.

129. See MIRA, "Other Publications," at (English), accessed 21 March 2002.

130. See MIRA, "Prince’s Profile," at (English), accessed 21 March 2002.

131. E-mail received by the author via MIRA’s e-mail list, 6 April 2002.

132. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 1997. "Internet Interview with Saudi Opposition Leader," 18 August 1997.

133. Sa'ad al-Faqih, Director of MIRA, interview by author, 8 April 2002.

134. Sa'ad al-Faqih, Director of MIRA, interview by author, 8 April 2002.

135. Fandy, Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent, p. 164.

136. Sa'ad al-Faqih, Director of MIRA, interview by author, 8 April 2002.

137. Sa'ad al-Faqih, Director of MIRA, interview by author, 8 April 2002.

138. See for example Joshua Teitelbaum, 2000. Holier than Thou: Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Opposition. Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, pp. 17-22.

139. Fandy, "CyberResistance," pp. 129-130.

140. Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa, pp. 51-52.

141. Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa, pp. 52-53.

142. For an overview, see U.S. Department of State, "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Saudi Arabia," 4 March 2002, at ; for a list of Saudi-imposed Internet regulations, see Arab Media, "Saudi Internet Rules," 25 February 2001, at

143. Human Rights Watch, The Internet in the Mideast and North Africa, pp. 52-53.

144. See Jennifer Lee, 2001. "Companies Compete to Provide Internet Veil for the Saudis," New York Times (19 November), C1.

145. Douglas Jehl, 1999. "The Internet’s 'Open Sesame' is Answered Warily," New York Times (18 March), p. A4.

146. Internet Services Unit, "Frequently Asked Questions," at, accessed 2 March 2002.

147. Sa'ad al-Faqih, Director of MIRA, interview by author, 8 April 2002.

148. See Fandy, Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent, p. 163.

149. Brian Whitaker, 2001. "Losing the Saudi Cyberwar," Guardian Unlimited (U.K.), (26 February).

150. Sa'ad al-Faqih, Director of MIRA, interview by author, 8 April 2002.

151. MIRA provides these instructions through its virtual discussion board which can be accessed through

152. See MIRA’s discussion board at, accessed 1 March 2002.

153. Sa'ad al-Faqih, Director of MIRA, interview by author, 8 April 2002.

154. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 1997. "Internet Interview with Saudi Opposition Leader," 18 August 1997.

155. See Anderson, Arabizing the Internet.

156. See for example H. Marshall McLuhan, 1962. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

157. See Appadurai, Modernity at Large.

158. See Florini, The Third Force.

159. See Arquilla and Ronfeldt, "A New Epoch — And Spectrum — of Conflict."

Editorial history

Paper received 18 May 2003; accepted 27 October 2003.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2003, First Monday

Copyright ©2003, W. Sean McLaughlin

The use of the Internet for political action by non-state dissident actors in the Middle East, by W. Sean McLaughlin
First Monday, volume 8, number 11 (November 2003),