They are lively, arguing, and sometimes downright lively. Thousands of people in the Arab world are turning to the fast-growing audio chat app Clubhouse, mocking and opposing long-time rulers, debating sensitive issues from abortion to sexual harassment, or arguing about where to find the best and cheapest shawarma sandwich. In the economic crisis.
The discussion is endless, endless.
Since the launch of the new platform outside the United States in January, more than 970,000 people from the Middle East have downloaded the platform. In the era of direct contact affected by the pandemic, it provides space for face-to-face dialogue and gathers many people at home and in exile or abroad.
However, in most cases, it has brought great frustration in areas dominated by violent conflicts and dictators, and this area has almost no path to change, or even speak out.
Lebanese journalist Diana Moukalled (Diana Moukalled) paid close attention to the social platform. He said: “This is an open cafe that can penetrate everything prohibited by the political system in the region.” “The clubhouse brings people back to each other. The state of the debate.”
Clubhouse launched in the United States a year ago had 15.9 million downloads worldwide, of which the Middle East accounted for 6.1%. According to data from Sensor Tower, a San Francisco-based mobile application analysis company, Saudi Arabia ranks seventh in the world in downloads of invitations alone, with more than 660,000, second only to Thailand and Italy.
One of the reasons for the popularity seems to be the boring atmosphere, which is driven by the activeness of group conversations.
Saudi Arabia has organized conference rooms to discuss who can replace the aging king instead of his ambitious son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. They argued with the Egyptians about what they considered democracy, and with the Lebanese and Jordanians that their kingdom was considered to interfere in their affairs.
Other rooms deal with taboo topics ranging from atheism to homosexuality. A Saudi woman discussed whether or not abortion should be allowed in the country, which led to fierce quarrels back and forth.
The platform has also become a place for information exchange, posing a challenge to the region’s mainly state-led media.
Minutes after reports of an attempted coup in Jordan last week, Jordanians from the country and abroad gathered in a room to share information about the confusing report issued and controlled by the government. In the ensuing raid, the families of the arrested shared their news. Some users defended King Abdullah, and supporters of the brother prince accused of launching the coup vowed to rally behind him.
There have been unimaginable debates between all classes of society before, otherwise they would avoid or obstruct each other on other social media.
Opponents debated the supporters of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group. Elsewhere, the Lebanese are opposed to private banks, they blame their country’s economic collapse-there are bankers in the room.
In another room, Iraqis-mostly exiles-criticized how many religious militias in the country affected their lives. The host is a woman from the southern Shiite city of Najaf, who now lives in Europe. She told her conservative family how to make her “like them” and opposed sending her to a mixed unisex university. She resisted a man, hinted that he was exaggerating, and told him that he had not experienced what he had done.
The host continued to nominate people from powerful Shiite militias and religious leaders, saying that she had seen how they scorned the rules they set for others. In the unimpeded dialogue, supporters of the militia often interrupted them, igniting a series of riots from the host and others until they were forced to leave.
The host said of the militia: “They use their muscles to control the ground.” “But social media needs brains. This (space) is ours.”
In the hundreds of rooms where the Syrian war was discussed, some users decided to relax. Opposition militants organized a spoof interview with someone posing as President Bashar Assad.
It aroused people’s laughter, but at the same time, it also recalled how the ten-year conflict destroyed the entire country. An exiled Syrian said to the fake “Assad”: “I fled you, but you still followed me to the Clubhouse.”
However, there is growing concern that open spaces may soon be subject to the same government supervision or censorship as other social media.
Ten years ago, activists of the Arab Spring protests flocked to Twitter and Facebook, the latter providing similar free space. Since then, the authorities have used these sites to target and arrest critics and spread their own propaganda.
Oman has blocked the Clubhouse application. In Jordan, it was blocked on certain mobile networks, while in the United Arab Emirates, users described unexplainable failures.
Pro-government commentators attacked Clubhouse on TV shows and newspapers, accusing it of helping terrorists plan attacks, spreading pornographic content, or destroying religious and national figures.
First, the clubhouse attracted rights defenders and political activists. Then there are government supporters.
“Because the Salman people are here to defend him, this room has been enlarged,” a room attended by an opponent of the Saudi Crown Prince shouted.
The discussion about the release of the imprisoned Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul fell into panic when some participants threatened to expose the participants and report them to the authorities. The chat was soon interrupted.
Club meetings were viewed as offensive conversations, and online records surfaced, such as claims that homosexuality has become acceptable, heightening concerns that pro-government Saudi users have been criticizing critics. One participant asked to chat among Lebanese if it was discovered that the Lebanese were Israelis, partly because some users feared that they would be prosecuted by Lebanon’s laws prohibiting intermingling with Israelis.
Some people worry that security personnel will be secretly in the room.
Most of the participants in the application are still exclusive to iPhone users, using their real names and sometimes with detailed resumes. But more and more people use pseudonyms.
Ali Sibai, a consultant at SMEX’s Beirut-based digital rights organization Social Media Exchange, said that without anonymity, differences in the clubhouse could turn into violence in real life.
He said that the “fuzzy” policy of the clubhouse has also aroused people’s attention. The company said it temporarily stores conversations to investigate abuse. He said, but it did not say how long or who will review the Arabic content, which raises questions about whether unknown third parties may be involved, thereby jeopardizing the safety of participants.
Moukalled, editor of the independent online media Daraj, said it would not be surprising if the authorities monitor the clubhouse.
But, she said, other things will happen.
“As long as people don’t feel that they are part of the decision-making process, they will find these platforms.”