Last updated: June 16, 2011 - 8:33am
Social media, which helped drive protests across the Arab world, seems tailor-made for Saudi Arabia, where public gatherings are illegal, women are strictly forbidden to mix with unrelated men and people seldom mingle outside their family.
When Manal al-Sharif posted a video of herself breaking the law by driving her own black S.U.V. around this hot, flat city and called for a collective protest on Friday, the government responded harshly: she was jailed for nine days. But unlike in the past, government censure did not quash debate. Instead, the Internet buzzed to life in Ms. Sharif’s defense, building on the surge of social media here after the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Twitter and Facebook overflowed with comments denouncing both Saudi Arabia’s ruling princes and the clerics who called for her to be flogged as Neanderthals completely detached from the realities of life for women here. More than 30,000 comments about Sharif’s arrest showed up within days on Twitter, the vast majority from supporters, said Abdulaziz al-Shalan, who tracks Saudi-related Twitter messages.
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