Ever since Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, Twitter and other social media have been abuzz with citizens of these countries freely expressing their views on the issue. Though there is nothing wrong with people engaging in a debate, what is happening in the social media in the region is deplorable and quite shocking — there are threats made and foul language used by bloggers, including some officials. There is no doubt that this deterioration in the debate can affect national security, even if the governments are allowing the discussions. This kind of a debate will create sectarian tensions and sow hatred among people.
In another sense, the heated debate shows that there is a higher level of freedom of expression in the Gulf now. Since most countries in the GCC do not have elected parliaments, Twitter has become an open parliament for people. There are suspicions that some governments are using Twitter and other social media to further their interests.
It’s surprising that only in this region are people behaving like this. Why can’t we have healthy, informed debates when it is possible in other parts of the world? Look at other regions where there are tensions between governments. There are problems between India and Pakistan, South Korea and North Korea, Russia and Ukraine, etc., but the people of those countries are not at each other’s throats. Hatred and enmity will not help solve problems, only worsen them.
The problem in the GCC is between governments due to foreign policy, not between people, but citizens are attacking and insulting each other as if the issue affects their daily lives. If governments allow diplomatic disputes to filter down to the people’s level and decide to watch their recriminations silently, it shows that they want to divert public attention from larger issues like reforms. The governments must realise that what is happening in the social media will come back to haunt them — people appreciate the new level of freedom on Twitter and other social media and would expect to enjoy the same freedom when discussing other issues, after the current tension between the governments ends.