Why New Media in Al-‘Arakeeb Mattered

Villagers, activists, and journalists differed in their accounts of the role social media and information and communication technologies (ICTs) played in Al-‘Arakeeb from the beginning of the forestation initiative through the first demolition and to its aftermath. Indeed, as a generalization, it can be said that the villagers believed that their use of the media and media technologies was far more effective than the journalists testified.

As an unrecognized village, Al-‘Arakeeb’s disconnectedness from the national water, electricity, and telecommunications grids is a major component of the state’s effort to delegitimize the traditional Bedouin way of life. As this case study demonstrates, the mobility of contemporary media was the most significant new media feature that enabled the rewriting of the rules to the extent it did. Mobility has allowed ‘Arakeebians to overcome the concerted effort to marginalize them and take part—even in a limited way—in civic society. Batteries and generators brought electricity; broadcast technology brought radio and television; but it was cellular technology, satellite television, and the mobile Internet that made “unrecognized” Al-‘Arakeeb a member of the international community.

Among the new applications, the most prevalent use was made of text messaging, an application associated with social movements since the beginning of this century (Shirky, 2011). While Facebook is said to have been an enabler of the mobilization for the “Arab Spring” (Stepanova,

  • 2011) , a perception reinforced by Arab governments’ efforts to shut it down (Dunn, 2011), it is hard to gauge what effect it had on Al-‘Arakeeb’s visibility, notwithstanding the fact that the villagers believed that it had helped spread the word. YouTube, which was seen as an effective tool for the dissemination of graphic images in the Egyptian revolution (Lim,
  • 2012) , was not effective at getting images from the villagers to the mainstream press in Al-‘Arakeeb’s case, as the journalists said they did not access YouTube videos on their own. Emailing video directly from the villagers to the journalists proved to be a more efficient way. Unlike in countries such as China (Hassid, 2012) and Malaysia (Lim, 2009), blogging played no significant role in the mobilization effort.

Of the four characteristics of contemporary media, mobility has clearly dominated in Bedouin life. However, access to abundance, interactivity and multimediality has made the use of mobile technology more effective, even if not very effectual. Perhaps a more advanced use of social media features would have led to better results; arguably, the provision of infrastructure and the capability to use these media would have made them more useful. The four features, as this chapter demonstrated, were utilized to serve as enhancers of both information richness and communication presence.

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